They say the best offence is a great defence, and these 10 defensive stars have been making a huge impact on their team’s success.
This list includes players in the backline that don’t necessarily man the star best tall forwards, but still play a vital role in their team’s defensive setup — just to clear up any confusion.
General defenders have a unique role, they mark up on the best small forwards, some have a pass to roam freely a bit further up the field, as high halfbacks, while others are the whole package — dominant on ball and a great defensive presence.
Debate surrounding who the best general defenders in the AFL are 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, we’re aware there will 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.
The AFL’s 10 best general defenders for season 2024
So here’s our top 10 general defenders, entering the 2024 season.
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 key defenders incase you’re confused by the omission of some superstar defenders.
1. Nick Daicos
It’s hard to believe that Nick Daicos has only been an AFL player for two seasons, given his immense quality.
Now a premiership winner, Daicos has a long career ahead that is sure to involve breaking plenty of opposition fan’s hearts, with his unfaltering ability to find the footy and elevate in the biggest moments — seeing him average 31 disposals across his sophomore campaign.
Although Daicos plays plenty of his game time in the midfield, he is listed as a defender and has been arguably the best half-back in the competition.
Daicos is the leading Brownlow favourite heading into the 2024 season and has every chance to clinch it if he continues his brilliant ways.
2. Tom Stewart (Cats)
Going from a premiership winner to a player in a side that didn’t even make it through to September to defend their title was a tough transition for any of those Geelong players, but Tom Stewart was still at his absolute best in 2023.
Selected into the All-Australian team for the fifth time in six years, Stewart was relentless for Geelong, so munch so that rumours have been circulating that he could be moved into the midfield.
He averaged 23 disposals a game on 82% efficiency, led general defenders in intercept marks with 75, and had an impressive 71 spoils (fifth in his position).
3. Jack Sinclair (Saints)
It’s been an incredible couple of season for Saints’ Jack Sinclair who for the second consecutive year was selected in the All-Australian team, whilst also receiving St Kilda’s Best & Fairest Award.
Outside of Nick Daicos – a fringe general defender – Sinclair averaged the most disposals in that position with 28.9 a game, nearly two possessions more than any other player.
There’s still room to improve, like there is for all players, with Sinclair disposal efficiency quite average for someone who receives the ball so much at 77.5% — for reference Luke Ryan has the best efficiency on this list with 88.2%.
4. Dan Houston (Power)
Port Adelaide are building something very special at the moment, with a young core that centres around Connor Rozee and Zak Butters. But we can’t leave out the excellence of Dan Houston.
Houston’s defensive prowess is arguably his strongest attribute taking 37 intercept marks, making 85 tackles, 49 spoils and a total of 442 pressure acts in 2023 alone.
Clearly a player to watch in the 2024 season.
5. Harry Sheezel (Kangaroos)
Last year’s Rising Star winner has to be included in the top five of the best general defenders in the league, as he’s only going to improve in his second season.
Similarly to Daicos, Sheezel has the ability to float up field to play on-ball with great success averaging 27 touches per game, and ranked first in pressure acts amongst general defenders.
It’s always strange seeing a defensive player from a bottom of the ladder club appear on a list like this, but there’s no denying Sheezel is a star of the future if he’s not already.
6. Luke Ryan (Dockers)
Fremantle’s Luke Ryan is nothing but class down back and ranks very well amongst general defenders in a range of statistics — 24 disposals average (6th), 88.2% disposal efficiency (1st for over 300 disposals) and 189 marks (1st).
His defensive plays are also worth noting taking 43 intercept marks, making 50 tackles, and having 56 total spoils.
7. Jake Lloyd (Swans)
He’s been one of Sydney’s best players for a decade now; coming into the 2024 season having played exactly 200 games, winning two Best & Fairest awards at the Swans and being selected in the 40-man All-Australian squad back in 2018.
In 2023 Lloyd proved to be pivotal for the Swans, playing an integral role in any of their success averaging 23 touches a game on a whopping 84% efficiency, and breaking up opposition play beautifully with 28 intercept marks and 28 spoils.
8. Nic Newman (Blues)
Former Swan Nic Newman, a now proud Carlton Blue, had a break through season in his career, establishing himself as a lead defender going forward for the club.
Averaging 23.4 disposals a game, Newman impacted matches on both ends of the game disposing at an efficient percentage while be critically vital down back with 310 pressure acts including 85 tackles.
9. Nick Blakey (Swans)
‘Lizard’ as they call him in Sydney showed exactly what he capable of on the footy field in 2023, and Sydney will be expecting him to replicate his performances, and some, during the 2024 season.
Nick Blakey speed is by far his strong attribute, which allows him to have immense impact defensively by getting to contests quicker than others shown in his 48 intercept marks, 200 pressure acts and a general defenders high of 125 spoils.
10. Adam Saad (Bombers)
Another speedster rounds out the best general defenders in the AFL heading into season 2024, with Essendon’s Adam Saad finishing us off.
Similar to Blakey, Saad really impacts the game around contests with 37 intercept marks and 49 spoils.
He’s also one of many to average in the 20s for disposals but Essendon and Brad Scott will be expecting his performances to turn around a horrid decade for the Bombers, trying to end one of the AFL’s more lengthy current finals droughts.