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We’ve handpicked the 10 best key defenders in the League for season 2024

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afl 2024 best key defenders

It’s no easy feat shutting down the best tall forwards in footy, but someone has to do it.

Key defenders have a unique role in the AFL, hanging mostly back behind the ball and trying to stay joined at the hip to opposition talls. They’re the generals of the backline — watching the game and dictating where the defence needs to be at all times.

It’s also rare tall defenders get the credit they deserve — only five made our top 24 players for 2024 piece.

Debate surrounding who the best key defenders in the league are as we enter the ’24 season is always an interesting one. Some fans prioritise certain aspects of their game higher than others, meaning players that execute that to a high level are seen as the greatest in their eyes.

Whatever top 10 we settle on, of course there’s going to be debate. But please acknowledge we’re determined to build a more balanced and logical list than what you’ll find on other click-hungry publications, utilising the minds of multiple informed fans.

afl 2024, best key defenders

The AFL’s 10 best key defenders for the 2024 season

So here’s our top 10 key defenders, entering the 2024 season. How did we settle on positional definition? We simply went off AFL.com.au‘s player profiles and mostly honed in on players tasked with stopping an opposition’s best key forward.

Again note that we’ve considered 2023 form generously, along with what we know they’re capable of, based on previous output and that occasional expected decline.

This list doesn’t include general defenders, in case you’re confused by the omission of some superstar defenders — we’ve done our best general defenders already. Without further ado, here’s the list.

ALSO READ OUR OTHER POSITIONAL TOP 10s: SMALL FORWARDS, KEY FORWARDS, MIDS, RUCKMEN, GENERAL DEFENDERS

1. Sam Taylor

Coming in at number one is none other than Sam Taylor, who has become perhaps the premier one-on-one defender in the AFL and the stats back it up; losing just under 13% of his defensive contests this year.

And get used to the name, because Taylor was in All-Australian consideration at the age of 24, but missed out due to playing one less game than the criteria requires.

Taylor’s rise has been unassuming, a true credit to his football attitude. But just ask the likes of Lance Franklin about the key back, who had to deal with the fellow West Australian twice in each of the last several seasons.

2. James Sicily

James Sicily is an out-and-out star, whose footballing abilities are nothing short of prolific. And on top of the game-breaking impact he consistently produces behind the ball, his elite leadership capabilities as captain of a young and emerging Hawks side continues to grow.

He led the league in average marks in 2023, recording 10 per game, while amassing an average of 26.4 disposals. His intercepting puts him in the conversation as the best half-back in the league, off the back of a maiden All-Australian berth in 2023.

3. Harris Andrews

Harris Andrews is straight up one of the most important players at the Lions.

The two-time All-Australian is constantly tasked with marking up on the oppositions best tall forward — and more often than not it’s Andrews that walks away as the winner in those matchups.

On top of going at an 88% disposal efficiency, his strong intercepting ability and immense presence down back makes him one of the league’s hardest workers.

4. Darcy Moore

Now a premiership-winning captain, Darcy Moore is considering one of the best key defenders in the AFL not only because of his output in games, but also his incredible leadership.

For the second time in his career, Moore was selected in the All-Australian team alongside fellow teammate Nick Daicos.

Entering season 10, Moore and the Magpies look like frontrunners to go back-to-back, having added one of the best small forwards in the competition to their roster — Lachie Schultz.

5. Jacob Wietering

We may think that Charlie Curnow, Sam Walsh and Patrick Cripps are better players than Weitering, but according to Carlton, that wasn’t the case in 2023 with the defender awarded the club’s Best & Fairest.

Claiming a fourth consecutive All-Australian squad selection, Weitering’s tireless and often unheralded defensive ability has become Carlton’s backbone.

Leading the league for marks, intercept marks, and intercept possessions in 2023, Weitering’s all-round defensive game has him held in the top tier of defenders in the AFL and will be key again for the Blues in 2024.

6. Callum Wilkie

The Saints looked back near their best in 2023 and it was key defender Callum Wilkie who played a huge role in their rise back to a finals team.

Wilkie statistically was one of the best key defenders in the AFL last year, averaging just under 20 disposals a game, with a whopping total of 207 marks – 66 of them intercept -, 50 tackles, and 188 pressure acts — not a bad year.

And it clearly was a breakout season for the 27-year-old, with Wilkie given his maiden All-Australian selection that he will hope will turn into a second in 2024.

7. Tom Barrass

Overall Barrass’s 2023 stats don’t stack up against the other gun key defenders for a few reasons – 1. because he dealt with injuries, and 2. he plays for a side that had one of the worst season ever – but still he managed to be shining light.

There’s plenty of potential in Tom Barrass to become one of the games best defenders with clean hands that dispose at an incredibly efficient 91%, and has a great intercept and marking ability.

8. Jack Buckley

The second GWS Giants player to feature on this list is 26-year-old Jack Buckley who had a breakout season last year and looks set to only grow in the coming years.

Averaging 13 disposals a game, Buckley is around the average for a great key defender possession-wise, but what he does best is impose himself on the contest defensively through many pressure acts (253), spoils (203), and tackles (79).

Buckley along with a host of other young guns at the Giants are going to be scary to face in the coming years and may just be building a premiership winning side.

9. Steven May

This is a prediction on Steven May continuing to steadily decline towards retirement, as the premiership-winning fullback turns 33 during this season.

For someone his age to still be in the top 10 for his position is an acknowledgement of the greatness of May who has proven to be nightmare for many star forwards to be matched up with.

May’s main areas excellence is his possession getting, averaging 17 disposals a game and his ability to break up the play, taking 67 intercept marks, 37 tackles, and 132 spoils.

10. Aliir Aliir

Rounding out our list for the best key defenders as we enter the 2024 season is Port Adelaide’s Aliir Aliir who sis coming off his most disappointing season with the Power but we’re expecting him to bounce back.

His aerial ability is his biggest strength taking 74 intercept marks (the second most of his career), and had 150 spoils — definitely two indicators of a strong defender.

With Port targeting a premiership in the coming years, with a solid young core who are some of the best AFL players, they will need Aliir Aliir to be back at his All-Australian best.

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