The AFL Draft is the occasion on which young, budding stars from around the country realise their footballing dreams.
Every player’s road to the draft is different, with some players standing above the rest as first-round candidates as early as their under-16 years, while others find themselves bolting into contention late into their draft year.
While there’s a lot of training and effort required to forge a path to – and a career at – the AFL level, some players are aided by their footballing heritage as father/son prospects, while others are afforded the ability to develop in a club-associated academy.
The top end of recent draft pools have been heavily populated with father/son and academy talent, with Lions pair Will Ashcroft and Jaspa Fletcher both arriving at the club inside the top 12 as father/son selections. Collingwood star Nick Daicos (pick 4, 2021) and young Bulldogs key forward Sam Darcy (Pick 2, 2021) are two more to have found their way to their current clubs in the same way, while current AFL stars such as Errol Gulden, Tom Green, Keidean Coleman and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan were all selected by their clubs as academy prospects.
The 2023 draft pool looms as the one that’s set to be the most heavily impacted by father/son and academy selections, with five of our top 20 prospects set to find their way to their designated clubs in this way.
This year’s crop also boasts a strong handful of Next-Generation Academy (NGA) talent, with clubs able to match bids beyond the top 40 on their NGA prospects, following a re-shuffle of the rules ahead of last year’s draft.
Here are thirteen notable academy and father-son players in this year’s draft, which clubs they’re tied to, and where they’ll hear their name called on the night of the draft.
Club Academy Prospects
Midfielder | 182cm/79kg
Tied to Sydney
A Swans Academy prospect that’s set to add to the Swans’ extensive list of young, exciting midfielders, Cleary is regarded as one of, if not the best, tacklers in the 2023 draft crop. While on the smaller end for a modern inside midfielder at 182cm, there’s no questions over Cleary’s physicality or ability to win the ball at the stoppage. He was named in the All-Australian side after a strong National Championships with the Allies, where he averaged 29.3 disposals and 6.3 tackles.
Cleary is likely to be selected in the second round of this year’s draft, with some phantom drafts suggesting clubs could place a bid as early as inside the top 30. The Swans will need to match a bid to obtain Cleary – no matter where he’s selected – but are likely to do so.
Defender/Midfielder | 186cm/81kg
Tied to Gold Coast
The Suns have their work cut out for them at the draft, with athletic defender-midfielder Will Graham perhaps the second-round cherry on top of the club’s trio of first-round Academy products. Graham played through the midfield and in defence in 2023, with his disposal efficiency and clean hands among the standout traits of his game. Graham also tested incredibly well at the Draft Combine, placing second in the 20-metre sprint (2.915 seconds) and standing vertical jump (78cm), and third in the running vertical jump (95cm).
Graham will likely receive a bid in the mid-late second round of the draft, with the Suns likely to match, given the 186cm prospect featured for the club’s premiership-winning VFL side in 2023.
Ruck | 202cm/92kg
Tied to Gold Coast
Read is perhaps one of the most exciting and versatile prospects of the 2023 draft class. While he’ll be selected to develop into a ruck, and is so highly rated due to his prowess in the position, the SUNS Academy prospect was played all around the ground during 2023, and did so with aplomb. Read has wowed recruiters with his incredible tank, which saw him run a sub-6 minute 2km time trial at the Draft Combine, while his excellent work rate and ability to gather the ball below his knees saw him average 20.6 disposals alongside 16.3 hitouts in the year’s major under-18 competitions.
It’s likely that Read will attract a bid within the Top 10 on the first night of the draft, and the Suns are certain to match a bid, wherever it comes, for the All-Australian ruck.
Midfielder | 171cm/69kg
Tied to Gold Coast
Though small in height, Rogers looms as an exciting, explosive midfield prospect that will add nicely to the Suns’ list next season. Rogers is highly regarded for his clearance-winning ability, with recruiters also impressed by his speed around the ground. He averaged 22.3 disposals and 5.5 clearances for the Allies, as he was an integral member of their inaugural National Championships-winning side.
While he’s regarded as the third in the Suns’ trio of high-end Academy prospects, Rogers will likely still have his name read out on the first night of the Draft. He’s expected to attract a bid just outside the top 10, with the Suns also a certainty to match.
Key Forward | 194cm/97kg
Tied to Gold Coast
Put simply, Walter is the standout key forward of this draft class, and has only grown his reputation as the year has drawn on. Walter booted a remarkable 29 goals from just eight games between the Coates Talent League and National Championships this year, highlighted by an eight-goal haul against the Northern Territory. Goalkicking aside, Walter’s game is marked by his aptitude both in the air and on the ground, with his strong aerial prowess matched by his relentless and aggressive hunger for tackling.
Rated unanimously as the second-best prospect in the 2023 draft pool, it’s likely that Walter will attract a bid at that exact pick. The Suns have prepared for this exact scenario and have an arsenal of draft picks up their sleeve, so it’s a mere formality that they’ll match a bid for the exciting key forward.
Key Forward | 201cm/80kg
Tied to the Western Bulldogs
The son of 186-game Bulldog Matthew, Croft is set to become the latest in a host of young key forward talent at the Dogs, joining the likes of fellow father-son Sam Darcy and 2020 Pick 1 Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. Croft is a tall, exciting prospect with excellent athletic and aerial ability, while he also recorded a highly impressive fourth-placed finish in the Draft Combine’s 2km time trial, finishing with a time of 6:05. Croft booted 23.17 from 11 games in the Coates Talent League this year, displaying an exciting goalkicking capacity which he’ll be keen to demonstrate at AFL level.
Croft is rated within the top 15 in many draft boards, so will likely hear his name called out on the first night of the draft. The Bulldogs will certainly match a pick for him, regardless of where it comes.
Key Forward | 195cm/87kg
Tied to Hawthorn
Dear is the son of the late Premiership Hawk Paul, who played 123 games across a nine-year career in the brown and gold. A raw key forward prospect, Dear will likely need time to develop before he gets a chance at AFL level, but has displayed some impressive traits throughout the year, such as a strong leap and ability to hit the scoreboard. He booted 21 goals from 15 games for the Sandringham Dragons in 2023, occasionally pinch-hitting in the ruck also.
Dear is rated outside the top 50 by draft experts, so will come as a late selection in the National Draft. However, the Hawks will be keen to bring him on board with an eye on developing him into an AFL-level key forward.
Key Defender/Forward | 197cm/86kg
Tied to Hawthorn
McCabe is also set to join the Hawks as a Father/Son prospect, where his dad Luke played 138 games between 1995 and 2004. McCabe is predominantly a key defender, but has the capacity to swing forward, so will be a handy key-postition addition to the Hawks’ list. Plying his trade for Central Districts’ under-18s in 2023 – where his father also played following his AFL retirement – McCabe averaged 22 disposals and six marks throughout the season.
Due to his South Australian origin, the Crows are believed to be likely to place a bid on McCabe with one of their first-round selections (picks 10, 14 and 20), but the Hawks have loaded up on draft points so are well-prepared to match a bid.
Next Generation Academy (NGA) Prospects
Forward | 180cm/65kg
West Coast NGA Member
Collard is regarded as one of the 2023 draft pool’s biggest bolters, which has catapulted him into late first-round contention. The speedy, zippy small forward is a member of West Coast’s NGA, but his rise has meant that he’s all but set to head elsewhere at the Draft. Collard is an incredibly exciting X-factor player who has displayed his match-winning ability throughout 2023, while he won the Agility Test at the Draft Combine with a time of 8.157 seconds and placed fourth in the 20-metre sprint.
Collard will almost certainly be selected within the first round of the draft, with his name in calculations as early as pick 15. The Next Generation Academy rules mean the Eagles are only able to match a bid on the Subiaco product outside the top 40 picks, though they’d certainly be keen to snap him up in the unlikely event that he’s still available at the beginning of the second round.
Ruck | 206cm/88kg
Fremantle NGA Member
It will be a nervous wait on draft night for the Dockers – who have access to Edwards as a NGA member – as they hope to get their hands on the exciting ruck prospect. It will be an intriguing story on the night to see whether Edwards slips to the Dockers’ pick 34 – let alone beyond pick 40. Regardless of where he ends up, the club that drafts Edwards is getting a ruck prospect with huge upside, which the 206cm prospect displayed as he averaged 35 hitouts in the WAFL Colts in 2023.
Edwards could be selected anywhere between picks 30 and 45 on draft night, although he’s rated within some draft experts’ top 30 prospects. If he falls beyond pick 40, the Dockers are likely to snap him up, though there are plenty of clubs with selections beforehand that are in need of ruck depth.
Defender | 188cm/72kg
Hawthorn NGA Member
The brother of Hawthorn’s Changkuoth, Jiath is another who faces an intriguing wait at the draft. He’s in the frame to join his brother at the Hawks as a NGA member, though is another whose stocks have risen sharply towards the end of the year. It’s easy to see why – he’s an athletic medium-sized defender who plays strongly in the air, and distributes the ball well by foot. Jiath averaged 17.7 disposals and five rebound 50s per game for the Gippsland Power in 2023, while he also impressed with a time of 2.97 seconds in the 20m sprint at the Draft Combine.
Similarly to Edwards, Jiath’s draft range is between picks 30 and 40, though plenty of draft experts have him as a top-30 prospect. The Hawks would love to match a bid for Jiath if he falls beyond Pick 40, however he has some strongly interested suitors early in the second round, so it seems likely he’ll end up elsewhere.
Defender | 182cm/72kg
Western Bulldogs NGA Member
A member of the Western Bulldogs’ NGA, Lual is an athletic and aggressive rebounding defender who has shown promise pinch-hitting through the midfield and on a wing. He was a consistent contributor for the GWV Rebels throughout 2023 and in his underage year in 2022, averaging 17.8 disposals and 3.6 tackles in this year’s Coates Talent League season. Lual possesses great dash out of the backline, averaging a tick under three inside 50s per game for the Rebels in 2023 also.
Lual is among discussions as a late first-round selection, and has plenty of suitors in the early second round, so is unlikely to reach Pick 40 where the Dogs are able to match a bid. In the event he does, however, the Dogs would be pleased to welcome him to the club.
Midfielder | 186cm/85kg
North Melbourne NGA Member
Sanders’ status as a North Melbourne NGA member has flown out the window in 2023 as he compiled a dominant season at the Coates Talent League and National Championships levels. Sanders’ prolific year was capped off as he was awarded the Larke Medal in a National Championship-winning Allies side, where he averaged an astonishing 35 disposals, 5 clearances and 6.3 marks. Evidenced by his statistical output, Sanders possesses sheer ball-winning ability which will see him play plenty of AFL football next year.
Sanders is practically a top-10 lock for draft night, and could even theoretically be in the mix for North Melbourne’s two top-5 selections. However, he’s more likely to be selected around the mark of picks 5-8.