The Next Step – Part Three

The Next Step – Part Three

Recent AFL history is littered with remarkable stories of players both young and mature proving themselves on the big stage; of seizing the responsibility for their team and taking their game to new heights – often in the span of just 12 months. The Next Step will move the spotlight over each club to find one player who is ready to show the footballing world that they are ready to stand up and deliver. Not only is this good news for these players’ teams, but it is even better news for our fantasy teams.

From Rocky’s outstanding third-year-breakout in 2011 to Hibbo’s leap forward in 2013 to the premium defender’s circle; and even further to the dizzying heights of young pup Macrae, who’s 2014 season saw him up his fantasy average by over 40 points per game – I’m here to run the gauntlet and try to predict those who are every chance of mirroring these feats; of climbing the ladder to fantasy relevance; and telling the football universe “I am here”. Last week in Part Two, I continued the series with a combination of young and old, as I widened the group of Next Step Alumni to 10. Part Three sees me take on another four AFL Players ready to show the football world that they’re ready to take The Next Step. Here we go.


Greater Western Sydney

Dylan ShielShiel
Position: Midfielder
Age: 21
2014 Season:  90.06 average from 17 games
2015 Starting Price: $510,000 (AF) $508,300 (RDT)
Years in AFL system: 3

With so many ridiculously talented young players on the Greater Western Sydney roster, it’s easy to get lost amongst the potential future A-grades. One name that could stand tall – sooner rather than later – is Dylan Shiel. One of the inaugural 17-year olds taken in by GWS, 2014 saw Shiel entrench himself in the Giants on-ball brigade as he stormed home to play the last 16 games straight to finish off a career-best season. Turning 22 in a month, the classy midfielder finished the season with an average of 23.1 disposals (8.1 contested), 3.8 marks, 4.8 tackles, 4.2 clearances and 75.8% disposal efficiency from 17 games. Primed and ready for his fourth season in the AFL, this tank of a young player is set to explode into Season 2015; and will be a key driver in pushing his team up the ladder.

The Case For: Starting the 2014 season in ordinary fashion, Shiel didn’t truly hit his straps until Round 7. His first post-bye performance (Round 10) was even better. In a massive loss against a red-hot Tigers, Shiel tallied 34 touches, 7 clearances, 8 tackles at 76.5% efficiency; and 126 points – a performance that set the tone for his brilliant run home. Averaging 95.96 from that Round 10 game onwards, it was a stretch of football that – in years gone by – will prove to have been the making of him as an AFL footballer. Just on that 14-game period – he scored 6 x 100+ scores, 5 in between 85-100 and just 3 below that mark. This level of consistency (towards the backend of an ultimately unsuccessful year for the Giants) tells me that Shiel is at the beginning of his imminent rise to AFL stardom.

Projected 2015 Output: It’s hard to think of any bad things to say about Dylan Shiel, and GWS would do well to re-sign this gun youngster with the highest of priority. Between you and me, he’s looking just about as ready as anyone to make the step up in 2015; and he’s yet to give us a good reason to doubt this forecast. Lining up as a key cog in what is fast becoming one of the most insanely scary-talented midfields ever assembled, this season looms large for Shiel as he begins to truly stamp his authority on the competition. An average of 95 would be a minimum expectation, with something around 103 being my prediction for the year ahead. Jump on!

Will Shiel take The Next Step in 2015?

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Richmond Tigers

Nick VlastuinVlastuin
Position: Defender, Midfielder
Age: 20
2014 Season:  65.42 average from 19 games
2015 Starting Price: $370,000 (AF) $369,300 (RDT)
Years in AFL system: 2

Nick Vlastuin – the man with one of the most contentious and talked about surnames in the AFL; 2012 Vic Metro captain; and Pick 9 at the subsequent AFL Draft. The adequately nicknamed ‘Tigga’ was picked up by Richmond, and continues to spring forward as Tigers fans enjoy watching his progression into a remarkable AFL footballer. In a year besieged by defensive jobs and a steep learning curve, the red-haired fan-favourite battled through 2014 to help the Tigers to consecutive finals appearances after impressively winning their last nine games of the season – of which, Vlastuin played in eight.

The courageous midfielder has now had two years in the system, and is set for a big jump in both expectation and responsibility heading into 2015. On this note, Vlastuin shares multiple similarities with fellow teammate and former-first round pick Brandon Ellis’ progression. Both were blooded early in their debut year, playing a majority of games and getting a good taste of midfield action as they bided their time across half back. History will show that Ellis’ third year (2014) saw him explode with a full-time move to the midfield; and Tigga is set for the same move, with the Tigers faithful hopeful of a similar result.

The Case For: It’s been well documented now, but it’s worth remembering that Vlastuin’s first 7 games of AFL football saw him average 87, including huge a 101 and 131. Since then, he has been given different roles as ‘Vlossy’ has gone on a learning spree. Now into his third year, many Tigers’ fans are spruiking a move into the midfield where he belongs, touting him as a long-term Sam Mitchell-type no fuss player. With a NVA (non-vested average) of 70 in 2014 and some glimpses of premium potential, Tigga is set to be a huge part of Richmond’s 2015 campaign as they push to make the finals yet again; and progress further than the first round – something they haven’t done since 1995. With former midfield stalwart Daniel Jackson no longer playing, it’s time for a young Richmond midfielder to step up; and that man is (in my opinion) undoubtedly Nick Vlastuin.

Projected 2015 Output: I’m a huge fan of this kid, and I’m confident that he can emulate Ellis in his third year in having a breakout season. Being careful not to put the same incredibly high expectations on him for 2015 (Ellis averaged 96 in 2014 after 79 in 2013); Vlastuin is ready and capable of increasing his output by the same amount at the very least (relative to his second year). That magic number is 17, which would put his output around the 82 mark. I believe he can go even higher, and scrape the edge of premium status this season; and in a year with dire defensive stocks – this could be one of the best calls you make in 2015.

Will Vlossy break out in his third year?

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St Kilda

David ArmitageArmitage
Position: Midfielder
Age: 26
2014 Season:  88.67 average from 15 games
2015 Starting Price: $502,000 (AF) $500,500 (RDT)
Years in AFL system: 8

David Armitage is in the unfortunate position of having his rise as an AFL player coincide with his team’s fall from grace. As St Kilda missed the finals in 2012 and began their fast slide towards 2014’s wooden spoon, this man struggled to elevate himself from promising midfielder to AFL star. Now 26, ‘Armo’ is now one of the elder statesman at the Saints; and is ready to overcome his stagnating lull – whereby he has failed to eclipse an average of 90 in the past three years, thrusting his potential forward and helping set the tone for his young teammates.

After rumours that he was courted by Richmond in the 2014 Trade week; Coach Alan Richardson quickly moved to veto any offers, and ensure Armitage would stay a Saint in 2015. Now looking to repay that faith, the 107-gamer is working hard in the offseason and determined to have an impact in 2015. A key part of the Saints’ leadership group, he is looking to take that next step and fill the hole left by recently retired champion Lenny Hayes – pumping up his AFL Fantasy average in the process.

The Case For: All you have to do is take a peek at a few of his best games to know that this guy has a premium ceiling (High Score of 153 in 2014; 136 in 2013). The former pick Queenslander and #9 pick has the ability to make the jump; the opportunity to lead the young Saints’ on-ball brigade; and carry through to have a break-out season. All evidence suggests that he’s never had more motivation; his pre-season suggests he is fit and firing; and he has the complete support and belief of his coach. The rest is up to him, but all signs point towards an upwards progression.

2015 Projected Output:  This season should see Armo move towards the flood of midfielders in that 95-100 range, but he definitely has the potential to progress further. Without a definitive premium midfielder in the St Kilda engine room, the path is lined for David Armitage to step up and become that man in 2015.

Will Armo finally step up?

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Jamie Elliottelliott
Position: Forward
Age: 22
2014 Season: 83.88 average from 17 games
2015 Starting Price: $475,000 (AF) 473,500 (RDT)
Years in AFL system: 3

2014 saw 178cm Collingwood small forward Jamie Elliott become one of the most dangerous forward 50 players in the AFL, regularly kicking bags of goals and taking screamers (like the one pictured) – a pure black and white excitement machine, and a huge pain in the side for opposition coaches. Despite battling hamstring tendinitis for much of the year, he still managed to play 17 games and have a tremendous third season. He eventually succumbed to injury and was forced to sit out the final 3 rounds of the season, but is back in full training and has a spot in Collingwood’s Best 22 locked away.

2015 will be an interesting year for the Magpies, with some big list changes bringing about a huge question mark over how they’ll go this season. The major points are the holes left by midfield stars Luke Ball (retired) and Dayne Beams (Brisbane); with the net result leaving plenty of opportunity for others to spend more time in the middle – golden minutes that will be shared amongst Adams, Greenwood, Crisp, Thomas and Elliott himself. In a sign of great faith by the club, ‘Billy’ will now wear the famed #5 Guernsey most recently worn by retired captain Nick Maxwell. Time will tell how he honours this faith, but if his stellar 2014 season was anything to go by; I can’t see this being a problem. Just on last season – despite the Pies being 12th for inside 50’s and 15th for goals scored; Elliott was somewhat unstoppable as he finished 2nd for goals scored (33) as well as averaging 15 disposals, 6 marks, 3.5 tackles and 2.7 i50s per game. He scored multiple goals on nine occasions; including hauls of 3 (twice), 4 (twice) and 5 – gold for fantasy coaches.

The Case For: In fantasy terms, his big year makes for good reading. With the one red-vested game, he has a NVA of 87.4 – already premium for a Fantasy Forward. His goal-scoring and tackling also lead to 5 x tons in 2014, with only 3 sub-65 scores – rubbishing the myth that he was inconsistent in 2014.

In fact, he really showed his fantasy scoring ability throughout the year – no more than when he averaged a huge 103 from Rounds 3 to 7 against quality opposition – 3 of whom were 2014 finalists (Cats, North and Tigers). His best game perhaps came in Round 20, where he tallied 21d, 9t, 7m and 3 clearances for a nice 114 points rotating forward and through the midfield – a sign of things to come in 2015 and beyond. Expect more games with 20+ touches and 100+ fantasy points as he increases his time in the guts this season.

“I don’t see myself as a full-time forward, if I can get a big chunk of the pre-season in maybe I can go 50-50 (midfield/forward) and it will make us harder to play against and give the other guys a rest.”                          – Jamie Elliott

Projected 2015 Output: I can easily see Elliott going the way of Sidebottom and Beams in 2015, whereby they famously graduated from small forwards and part-time midfielders to become big scoring midfielders in their own right. This transformation will begin this season, which could see the enigmatic Magpie up his average to as much as 90-95 without breaking a sweat – becoming a huge point of difference in your side for the season ahead.

Can Billy Elliott dance his way to premium-status in 2015?

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Until Next Week

Cheers for the continued support of The Next Step series – in only seven short days, I’ll be back with the final installment of this mini-series. It’s come down to just four clubs for Part Four: Port Adelaide, Brisbane, Essendon and Geelong. Who will be featured? You’ll just have to come back to find out.

Tell me your thoughts below, and give me some feedback on Twitter @McRathDT or help spread the word by using the hashtag #TheNextStep


  • i was seriously considering vlastuin but you sir just made yourself as sale!

  • Happy to help lads – mid-price backs will be ultra-important this year. So nailing the right one from the get go is essential.

  • Is there any talk from the club about Vlastuin playing mids/not tagging if he does, or is it all just wishful thinking because it makes so much sense? I love the guy in theory, but I haven’t seen any real evidence of it yet, just lots of people going “duh? Come on Hardwick!”, because it’s such an obvious thing.

  • Vlastuin is certainly on the radar now, thoughts on Kade Kolo to?

    • Liking Kade Kolo – having a cracking pre-season and talk is that he’ll play more wing this year. Confident that he’s in the Best 22 for the Suns, and has a huge fantasy game… I’d pin him for around a 75-80 average in his 2nd year – great for draft leagues.

  • I legitimately look forward to reading these articles every week now. If you’re right in thinking Vlossy will make the move to the midfield again he has to be considered. Armitage is another I’ve considered for the last few seasons now, but at his price (and bye 12) it’s a huge risk I don’t think I’ll be taking. Well done again mate.

    • Cheers for the kind words Sammy – I hope I’m right about Vlossy… a move to the middle would make him a sure-thing barring injury. The other guys are draft-league specials though – but agree with the consensus in that there’s a lot of options there, so you’d have to really believe in a player to pick them in salary-based comps.

      Hoping Part Four can wrap it all up nicely. The support has been awesome, so thanks again to all.

  • Thanks mate! I had been considering Vlastuin but if he does make that midfield move i’m on (i had Ellis for his breakout too).
    I love Shiel as a player and think he is a gun but can’t see him becoming a full premo with so much competition and an awkward price

  • What do you think of Rampe and Rohan this year? Both have been linked to Malceskis rebounding role

    • Rampe is on my radar – don’t trust Rohan, not enough exposed consistent form for mine. Wait n see on both – maybe NAB will give us the answer.

  • Loving the series, McRath. Whether or not we take your suggestions you are putting these guys front and centre. Especially good for us draft players.

    • Cheers Henry – the series has certainly developed that way, hasn’t it? (Draft-focus) Mainly due to risk and the tons of options. Still, I’ll be considering at least half of these guys (from the entire series) in AFL Fantasy for sure.

  • It’s the consistency that Jelliott lacks
    if he can lift his low scores, then he’d be a great POD option

    is pretty good to win you the odd league game, but is probably going to lose you more right now (and has been for his first couple of years)