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Why should I pick him?
An incredibly high-profile junior, Wardlaw went at pick 2 in the 2022 AFL Draft despite missing time in his draft year with hamstring injuries. The rehab of these injuries continued once arriving at Arden Street, delaying his debut. After a block of games in the VFL, Wardlaw launched into the big time with a 16 disposal, 9 tackle game against Sydney in round 10. He would play a further 7 games in 2023, averaging 15 disposals, 2 marks and 6 tackles in only 59% TOG.
It’s not just the surface, or ‘counting’ stats that are impressive. Wardlaw led North Melbourne in pressure acts per game, had one of the highest disposal efficiency ratings in the North midfield, won clearances and had a solid centre bounce clearance rate. In short, this guy is a workrate machine who can burst out of stoppages with the ball and cause havoc without the ball. In a midfield full of potential, perhaps no ceiling is higher than Wardlaw’s. We now hope that translates into fantasy points.
He’s been front and centre of the North Melbourne media releases over the preseason, and according to reports hasn’t skipped a beat thus far. There’s no question about his role. His TOG will rise, his disposal numbers will rise and a 20 point increase in fantasy points is well within reach, if not expected by this author.
He also doesn’t play Opening Round, avoiding the early bye.
Why shouldn’t I pick him?
There’s a few good reasons not to pick Wardlaw. Second year breakouts are notoriously difficult to predict. In fact, if we look at players ages 21 or under heading into 2024, there’s only 5 players with an average over 80 and none of them average 50% of their team’s CBAs. It’s a role for the seasoned senior footballer, as a rule. The players who get that role (in those age brackets) are also getting low TOG. The second year breakouts through the midfield are typically the exception, not the rule.
Another reason is his injury history. Through his draft year, preseason and debut year, soft tissue injuries were an issue. We know they often reoccur, and they through wrenches into whatever plans you have. Whilst he’s burning up the track at the minute, it’s a point to consider.
And yet another reason would be his price point. Whilst not super expensive, he does fall into the ‘mid-pricer’ bracket, which is typically fraught with danger. With so many opting for a guns and rookies approach, do you want to zig whilst the field zags? Also around his price point are other potential good midfield options – Jason Horne-Francis, Travis Boak, Reuben Ginbey, Paddy Dow…..well, maybe they’re not all good options, but options nonetheless.
Deck of DT Rating.
Make no mistake about it, this is the classic risk/reward option. I love Wardlaw in draft where he’s a late pick, and personally like him to be a stepping stone to a premo in Classic where I have no idea what I’m doing. There’s always the chance he does a Clayton Oliver second year break out and hangs around whilst you solve other problems. That second year from Oliver was underpinned by what is still his best tackle average – something Wardlaw can replicate. That’s the best case.
One thing that often gets overlooked in fantasy is having shares in players you love watching and cheering for them to succeed. That was Flanders last year for me, this year it’s Wardlaw.
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