Often they’re the craftiest players on the field who wreak havoc on opposing defences.
Typically able to create scoring opportunities out of nowhere, small forwards have silky skillsets that make for an unbeatable one-two punch with a great tall forward.
The best small forwards in the competition right now are ticking all the boxes above, and more, with now an incredible appetite to be versatile enough to float up the ground as someone who can also play in the midfield.
Debate surrounding who the best small forward in the AFL is is always interesting. 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.
With the likes of Eddie Betts and Cyril Rioli dominating the position in the past, a new era means a chance to become the greatest small forward in the AFL is still up for grabs.
Whatever top 10 we settle on, we’re aware debate will rage on in group chats. But please acknowledge we’re determined to build a more balanced and logical list than what you’ll find on other click-hungry publications.
Since we’ve already done a top 10 best tall forwards list, this small forwards list includes the remaining forward positions, created taking 2023 form generously and who we’re expecting to rise throughout the 2024 season.
The 10 best small forwards in the AFL for season 2024
So here’s our top 10 for small forwards currently in the AFL, as we enter 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 the occasional expected decline.
1. Toby Greene
Becoming a leader has elevated Toby Greene’s game to a whole new level, making him the most reliable, and in our eyes, the best small forward in the competition.
In 2023, Greene became the lonesome captain of the GWS Giants, after sharing the duty the previous year. Not only did his leadership help take the Giants to a preliminary final, but also saw him selected as the All-Australian captain.
Greene’s 66 goals place him as the leading goal scorer amongst non-tall forwards and the leader in score involvements. He also has become one of the best versatile players through his ability to play in the midfield, now a key component in many star small forwards.
2. Charlie Cameron
The country road has taken Charlie Cameron to where he now calls home, a place where he well and truly belongs – the Brisbane Lions.
Now into his 7th season with the Queensland based side, Cameron has had four years scoring over 50 goals – all of which the Lions have made it to the second week of finals or better.
Having attended the ‘Eddie Betts school of small forwardary’, Cameron is one of the craftiest players in the AFL who you can not allow to have any space, otherwise he will make you pay.
3. Jamie Elliott
Jamie Elliot enters 2024 coming off the back of arguably his greatest season in the AFL where he played a record amount of games and bagged a career high 39 goals.
Injuries have robbed the AFL community of watching Elliott in his prime, having missed all of both the 2016 and 2018 seasons due to back and ankle surgery. In fact, 2023 was the first time he had surpassed 20 games since 2015.
What makes him such a vital part of the now premiership winning Collingwood side is his presence up forward. He led small forwards in marks last season with 110, and his pressure making 70 tackles, putting him in the top 25.
4. Shai Bolton
Although it was a difficult season for Richmond, losing star players and their long time head coach Damien Hardwick, Shai Bolton was still a shinning light through it all.
Bolton is exactly what clubs are starting to want out of their small forwards, some one who can be lethal inside 50 but also impact that game through the middle of the field.
He kicked 31 goals in 2023 — his second best — while being third in score involvements and total disposals.
5. Gryan Miers
“Gryan Miers is to AFL what Leo Messi is soccer. Messi may kick more goals, but Miers scans the field just as well. Maybe even better than Messi does.”
It’s the fake quote that captivated the AFL community in 2023 and has done nothing but wonders for Miers’s profile in the game.
But all jokes aside, Miers has become an elite small forward/high half-forward, breaking AFL legend Jason Akermanis’s record for most goal assists in a home and away season in history with 41.
Impacting the scoreboard himself wasn’t his forte in 2023, kicking only 7 goals, but his all-round impact on games makes him one of the most enjoyable players to watch.
6. Lachie Schultz
The Fremantle Docker turned Collingwood Magpie has been one of the steals of the off-season trade period, with the incredible small forward joining the reigning premiers.
Year on year Schultz has improved his scoring ability, and when you add that alongside of fellow small forward Jamie Elliott, it’s a combination the league over will hate to face.
Additionally, he has immense impact outside of scoring goals, being second on total tackle in his position with 95 in 2023 and averaged 15.9 disposals a game.
7. Isaac Heeney
Although Heeney is a little taller than your average small forward, as we said in our intro, we are including all non-tall forwards in this list.
With Lance Franklin now in retirement, Heeney has become arguably the main target inside 50 as the experienced former All-Australian player in a young Sydney Swans side.
Despite kicking a respectable 30 goals last season, his marking ability is exceptional (110 total marks in 2023) and his tackling is next to none making him one of the best forwards in attacking pressure.
8. Tom Papley
He’s the live wire of the Sydney Swans forward line, and anytime he kicks a goal you better be ready for one of the more energetic celebrations.
At 27, Papley is entering the prime age for an athlete. Boy, don’t his stats reflect this — 37 goals, 74 marks, 146 score involvements while averaging 15 disposals in 2023.
With the Swans forward line now missing Buddy Franklin, Heeney and Papley are the future as two of the top 10 best small forwards in the AFL.
9. Zac Bailey
Similar to Collingwood and Sydney, Brisbane have two of the best small forwards in the AFL on their side, with Zac Bailey emerging as another lethal scoring option for the Lions.
Coming off the back of a maiden Grand Final appearance where he kicked two goals, Bailey will have plenty of confidence streaming into the 2024 season.
His versatility is his biggest asset, being a strong midfielder at times who can generate opportunities up forward and has some serious strength.
10. Izak Rankine
A serious player of the future, Izak Rankine looks set to be another incredible Crows small forward, following in the foot steps of Eddie Betts and Charlie Cameron.
Rankine’s selection in our top 10 small forwards list is based on our expected growth for him in the 2024 season, as his statistics last year show a great trend in the right direction.
Bagging 36 goals along with an average of 16 disposals, showing his ability to find the footy regularly — a great sign for such a young player.