Tom Phillips ($691,000, MID) V Bryce Gibbs ($683,000, MID)
Positives: Ceiling: Phillips has managed four scores of 120+ so far this year: 135 against the Crows, 122 opposed to the Bombers, 147 in the loss to Richmond and 130 against the Bulldogs. Given how he is able to float under the radar of opposition sides, Phillips has so often been able to use his superior aerobic capacity to roam untroubled along the wings, racking up a stack of uncontested marks and possessions as a result. In the past three weeks, Phillips is averaging 128 Fantasy points. This awesome run can partially be accredited to his goal scoring ability which has seen him send five kicks through the big sticks, lifting his total for the year to eleven. His role is extremely positive from a Fantasy perspective and Phillips, along with his select group of owners are certainly reaping the rewards.
Consistency and Uniqueness: The key to Phillips’ brilliant season to date has been his consistency. Last year he recorded five tons and an overall average of 83. We’ve been given hints that he may be able to one day become a premium option, but the consistency was never there. Sure, his big scores are great for his limited number of owners, however if he wasn’t able to produce at this level on a consistent basis, we wouldn’t be raving about him as a potential trade-in candidate. Excluding his injury affected 49 against the Cats and his 67 in the first round, Phillips is averaging a massive 113 points. Also considered a positive to bringing the running machine in is his low ownership rate which, at the time of writing, sits at a tick over 1.5% – an incredible figure given the types of numbers he’s been producing.
Negatives: Added Attention: When you think of Collingwood, their star-studded midfield first springs to mind. The likes of Pendlebury, Treloar, Sidebottom and Adams have been household names for a couple of years now. but Phillips’ season demands he be included alongside of those names as well. Pendlebury is close to untaggable having had years to learn to deal with attention, Adams isn’t the sort of player to tag, Sidebottom so often slips under the radar and Treloar hasn’t been troubled by added opposition attention either. Given how important and damaging Phillips has been so far, could he be the one teams look to curb the influence of?
Will The Run End?: It’s been a brilliant start to the year for the Phillips family, with St.Kilda wingman Ed making his AFL debut and Tom playing a starring role for the Magpies. In my opinion Tom has to be in the All-Australian side at the moment but surely this fairy-tale-like high-scoring run comes to an end, or at least tails off a bit soon.
Positives: Ceiling: Those who played the game last year will likely be aware of Gibbs’ score against the Suns at Metricon Stadium last season, when he still wore the navy blue of Carlton. Gibbs had 43 disposals (31 kicks and 12 handballs), 8 marks, 10 tackles, 4 free kicks for and slotted home two goals to finish off an amazing day at the office with 194 Fantasy points. He went over 120 on five occasions in 2017 and, since returning to his native South Australia, has continued his solid scoring on a consistent basis. Gibbs has so far tallied eight hundreds and is on track to beat his five 120+ scores from last campaign, having notched up scores of 139, 129 and 142. Make no mistake about it, his ceiling is high.
Consistency: Gibbs is yet to turn in a bad performance for the Crows. His transition into the Adelaide line-up has been seemless and just goes to show what a terrific player he is. In round one, he hit the ground running, almost single-handedly carried the Crows to victory against Essendon in his first game in the tri-colours. Just about the only Crow to not be struck down with some sort of injury so far, Gibbs is averaging 26 disposals, 4 marks, 5 tackles and 0.5 goals per game. Gibbs has become one of those players you just know what you’re going to get each week. His consistency appears likely to see him finish the year amongst the top selection of Fantasy midfielders.
Negatives: Tough Upcoming Fixtures: Whilst his club continues to battle with a staggering amount of injuries, Gibbs has stood tall, leading a depleted midfield group through tough times. He, along with Paul Seedsman would be right up there in the clubs best and fairest at this stage, in his first year at West Lakes. But Adelaide have a set of tricky fixtures coming up, sandwiched between a round 14 bye. This week they play Fremantle at Optus Stadium which, admittedly, should be a game where Gibbs continues on his ton-scoring way. But then it gets tougher, with Hawthorn (MCG), West Coast (Adelaide Oval), Richmond (MCG) and Geelong (Adelaide Oval), rounding out a challenging month which will make or break the sides year. After playing Brisbane at the Gabba in round 18, which is no easy win anymore, the Crows then face Melbourne, Port Adelaide, GWS and North Melbourne. It’s not going to get any easier for the Crows and Gibbs.
Verdict: Whilst Bryce Gibbs has long been a member of the premium midfielder club, Tom Phillips is just arriving on the scene. Bryce has impressed in the tri-colours and has maintained his level of performance since crossing the border. However Phillips has taken his game to heights we thought were unreachable from the endurance beast. As a more conservative coach (and an Adelaide fan for that matter), Gibbs in my pick here but I will say Phillips has the potential to average more than the former Blue.
Michael Walters ($575,000, MID/FWD) V Alex Neal-Bullen ($547,000, FWD)
Positives: Role: Michael Walters has gone from being an average, non-relevant Fantasy player to a genuine premium option over the past couple of seasons. Originally drafted as a pure small forward, possessing electrifying speed and a creative knack around goal, Walters has transitioned into the midfield of late, which has seen him elevate his production to a career-high level. Along with his accumulation and ability to his the scoreboard (14 goals so far), Walters tackling has proven to be his most productive statistic area throughout 2018, having notched up 37 in his 9 games, which included two consecutive weeks without managing a tackle.
Consistency: The Fremantle star kicked off the year with a score of 92 against the Power, before producing back-to-back tons against Essendon and the Gold Coast in the Dockers first two games at the new Optus Stadium. Walters was restricted to 68 in the loss to the Giants in Canberra before succumbing to a minor knee injury in the derby defeat which saw him exit the game on just 11 points and sidelined the Western Australian native for two a fortnight. Upon returning, he has scored 99, 125 and 102 – all in losses. His side is under the pump but Walters keeps racking up the sorts of numbers you would expect from a seasoned on-baller on a consistent basis.
Value: Take out his severely injury affected 11 against West Coast, and Walters is averaging 100. That includes his 68 against GWS which we’ll just accredit as an off game. Remove this score and he is going at 105 over 7 games. This particular figure would see him place second behind only Toby McLean in terms of forward rankings by average. But at $575,000, he is quite significantly cheaper than just about all top forwards. Also available in the midfield, his DPP may come in handy during the upcoming bye rounds.
Negatives: Ceiling: It’s not easy to genuinely criticize what Walters is currently doing, especially for someone of his small, slim stature. However his ceiling doesn’t appear to be as high as his fellow midfielders/forwards. Amongst others, the likes of Westhoff, McLean and Hogan have all managed higher top scores than Walters, and appear to be more likely to explode. In terms of midfield competition, there are a vast range of premo’s that have far higher ceilings than the Freo on-baller/small forward.
Durability: Never, in his 10 year AFL career, has Michael Walters been able to play all 22 games in a season. In fact, he’s got to 20 games just twice. Whilst its unfair to suggest he will get injured again, history suggests his durability will again be tested in 2018, having already missed two games this season through injury. If he can stay on the park he is a top 6 forward and unique option in the midfield, but there are question marks over his ability to stay healthy for the rest of the campaign.
Positives: Role: Alex Neal-Bullen was drafted out of Sacred Heart College and Glenelg in South Australia. He was a tough inside midfielder who could win an abundance of contested ball, tackle hard and make an impact on the scoreboard when sent up forward. After spending a couple of pre-seasons building up his tank, the plan with Neal-Bullen was to have him progress into the midfield group. However, with the likes of Oliver, Nathan Jones, Brayshaw and Viney running the show on-ball, there just isn’t a permanent space available for a tough, in and under type player like ANB. However, his talents were far superior to VFL level and he has acclimatized himself well to a role across the half-forward line. He has won 62% of his possessions in the forward half of the ground, with his heat maps warming up across centre half forward in particular. Having kicked 15 goals so far, I’d suggest his role can be seen as a genuine positive.
Upside: Neal-Bullen has always been able to find the footy. And despite moving to a HF role, Neal-Bullen’s statistics are still solid and well-rounded – averaging 18 disposals, 3.5 marks, 3.4 tackles and 1.4 goals. He’s managed 8 goals in his past three games for Fantasy scores of 91, 122 and 108. After a hot and cold sort of start to the campaign (netting just one ton in the opening 8 games and three scores of 80+), Neal-Bullen is reaping the rewards of Melbourne’s recent in-game dominance over the Bulldogs, Crows and Blues. In this period he has laid 16 tackles and found the footy 65 times as well.
Uniqueness: To find a guy who is on the cusp of becoming a premium forward line option in the back half of the year, available for under $550k with a breakeven as low as 37 and ownership rate below 1% is pretty rare. Neal-Bullen is ripe for the picking at the moment, having hit his straps in the last few weeks, rising in price considerably as a result. The Demons are well and truly up and about on the backs of guys like Neal-Bullen. If you’re gonna go and the bye structure allows, get him in this week.
Negatives: Consistency: Form has been the main restriction to Alex Neal-Bullen, who has played just 45 of a possible 77 games in his first four years at the Demons. He has dealt with knee issues but has had a pretty good crack at it, managing to stay fit for the majority of his career. However questions must be asked of his consistency, after he recorded four scores below 60 in his first seven matches of the season. And whilst he has certainly picked it up lately, Neal-Bullen may be relying on his goalkicking to net him the big scores. I would be expecting a drop off sooner or later if I’m totally honest.
Verdict: As much as Neal-Bullen has impressed in the forward line, particularly in recent weeks, my verdict swings towards Walters. His consistency, dual position status and role make him the superior pick up in the forward line, available for sub-$600k.