Rookie Me Central’s 2023 Phantom AFL Draft

AFL DRAFT day is upon us, and so are the final shuffles in Phantom Drafts around the nation. With pick swaps likely to produce chaos on night one, many boards will be thrown out the window quite quickly, but we’ve had a crack at the first round without live trading, including a few potential surprises. Without further adieu: Rookie Me Central’s phantom first round.

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West Coast

Our pick: Harley Reid

Lock this one in. West Coast has warded off rival interest in pick one, with North Melbourne and Melbourne regarded as the closest and most persistent bidders. Reid, labelled a ‘generational talent’ needs no introduction and despite constant speculation, will happily jet off to Perth. It’s said Reid has his eyes on Ben Cousins‘ old number nine guernsey, with retired Nic Naitanui reportedly being flown over to Melbourne – potentially to present said jumper to the young star.

North Melbourne

Our pick: Colby McKercher

With consecutive picks atop the order, North would be well served to make their own live selection with pick two, who will receive a five-thousand dollar grant from the AFL. The Roos will claim to have taken the best available in their eyes, but that would more realistically be Suns Academy gun Jed Walter. Instead, they bring in the gun Tasmanian first, before placing the inevitable bid and get back on the board with pick four.

Gold Coast (matching North Melbourne’s bid)

Our pick: Jed Walter

If it doesn’t come at pick two, which is entirely warranted and would keep Gold Coast as accountable as possible, North Melbourne’s bid on Walter will come here. The powerhouse forward worked his way into the number one slot in some clubs’ eyes on the back of a remarkable National Championships, and is widely regarded as one of the best two players available. He’s a game-winning big man with modern day AFL traits, offering athleticism and aggression both in the air and across the ground.

North Melbourne

Our pick: Daniel Curtin

This is the big point of difference. It seems utterly bizarre that North Melbourne would overlook Curtin in favour of another small midfielder and hybrid forward, but many understand that to be the likely scenario. With an outright need for key defensive quality, we have North Melbourne taking the West Australian utility who Roos coach Alastair Clarkson is apparently infatuated with. Could this be the big draft day surprise? It makes sense from an outsider’s point of view, and will shape the rest of the top 10.

What might happen:

Zane Duursma looks like being North Melbourne’s man here. The Gippsland Power forward and brother of Essendon’s Xavier has some of the best upside and natural footballing traits. That would mean Curtin slides down the order, either all the way to Geelong or as the catalyst for a live trade – Greater Western Sydney’s pick is the proposed destination, with West Coast heavily interested in the local talent.


Our pick: Zane Duursma

Should North Melbourne pull one out of the bag and go with Curtin, Duursma falls to Hawthorn at pick five. The forward is a natural attacker and smooth mover across the ground, boasting one-touch marking ability and huge athletic upside. As a hybrid type, he can play deep or high, while also having the scope to develop his midfield craft down the line. The Hawks had plenty of interest in him and would likely not think twice at selecting the Gippsland Power gun if available.

What might happen:

Nick Watson is the player who has been heavily linked with Hawthorn’s first selection. The livewire forward was a target of the Western Bulldogs when they traded in for Gold Coast’s first-rounder, but the Hawks will cut in and take him should North Melbourne go the conventional route of picking McKercher and Duursma.

Western Bulldogs

Our pick: Nick Watson

This would be the ideal scenario for the Bulldogs, who many believed traded up the order with Watson in their sights. The Eastern Ranges forward only measures up at 170cm, but packs a punch with his work at ground level and innate goal sense. Few prospects can lay claim to similarly freakish natural talent in this year’s crop, so Watson is understandably in demand. He would compliment fellow small Cody Weightman nicely, adding further firepower to the Dogs’ forwardline.

What might happen:

The scenario pegged most is that Watson will be off the board here, likely to land at Hawthorn. That leaves Tasmanian midfielder Ryley Sanders ripe for the picking, as an heir apparent to someone like Tom Liberatore in the Bulldogs’ engine room. The Larke Medallist this year, Sanders is ultra consistent and offers the often unheralded team-first qualities that any side would love.

Gold Coast (matching Melbourne’s bid)

Our pick: Ethan Read

In this scenario, triggering the Suns’ hand for the second time within the first 10 picks is Melbourne. The Dees could do with some long-term ruck depth or a versatile key position player to shift the magnets around, and Read fits the bill. He’s also an athletic freak at 202cm, proving nimble and clean while also remaining prominent aerially. Again, Gold Coast won’t blink at matching the bid for Read, who is one of three Suns Academy guns expected to fall in the first round.

What might happen:

Melbourne could be the club to trade with West Coast for Curtin if he slides past North Melbourne and Hawthorn, or take the West Australian themselves. This bid may not be in the Dees’ sights either, and perhaps drops down to the hands of Geelong to trigger a few picks later.


Our pick: Ryley Sanders

With the bid matched for Read, our hypothetical sees Melbourne snap up Sanders. He would otherwise be in the frame for the Western Bulldogs’ pick, but falls into the lap of Melbourne as further midfield depth. He’d accompany Clayton Oliver nicely on the inside and allow Christian Petracca to spend more time up forward, with his ball winning attributes just about second to none. The Dees may seek more outside qualities here, but Sanders would arguably be the best available talent.

What might happen:

Eastern Ranges wingman Caleb Windsor is in contention here, with Melbourne needing some long-term cover for the all important outside role. The whole Curtin fandango also involves the Dees, who would consider either trading down or taking the 197cm utility. There is also interest in moving up the board to secure a talent like Watson, and no less Reid at pick one.

Greater Western Sydney

Our pick: James Leake

A bolter out of Tasmania, Leake is well poised to be taken within the top 10 and GWS is the team seemingly most interested. The Giants have shown a tendency to take athletic and naturally talented prospects, boxes which Leake ticks emphatically. Having started the season down back, he ended up having extended stints up forward and through midfield for the Devils, with his upside proving undeniable for constant shifts up the order.

What might happen:

The Giants would consider key defender Connor O’Sullivan here, less so on a needs basis but more as a best available pick. He’s versatile enough to develop in other positions, too. Otherwise, Nate Caddy and Windsor – if available – would also be in the frame, and there would be a decision to make regarding Curtin. West Coast could tempt the Giants with a future first rounder for the West Australian.


Our pick: Nate Caddy

Geelong could do with some new blood in the key forward department and Caddy fits the bill, even as a third tall to accompany Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron. He’s an aerial threat at 193cm, boasting an enormous reach and much improved running capacity. That’s not to mention his straightened goal kicking routine. The Northern Knights product is unlikely to make it much further than this point, and seems a nice fit for the Cats. They are well poised to land a slider otherwise.

What might happen:

That slider could well be Curtin. While live trades and the wealth of clubs picking beforehand are more than plausible destinations, the 197cm utility looks like being the one to slip down the order. It would be of massive benefit to Geelong, who could steal a player rated by many among the top half-dozen picks. Otherwise, O’Sullivan would be considered, as would a bid on Suns Academy member Jake Rogers.


Our pick: Caleb Windsor

Essendon is in serious need of some speed, class and running power through midfield, so Windsor is the ideal pick. The flying wingman has unbelievable athletic traits in the form of speed and agility, but also runs hard to apply defensive pressure and uses the ball in incisive ways on the attack. He’d compliment an otherwise same-ish Bombers midfield group with his flair on the outside.

What might happen:

Depending on what goes down beforehand, Essendon could end up with Caddy and Windsor could already be off the board. In this scenario, O’Sullivan is the other big consideration while Darcy Wilson may pop up given his similar traits and role to Windsor.


Our pick: Connor O’Sullivan

Adelaide will essentially take what’s left to them at pick 12, and that looks like being O’Sullivan. It’d be somewhat of a bargain given how highly he has been touted this year, claiming the Allies MVP award and All Australian honours. The Albury product will be in the frame for a number of clubs beforehand, but would be incredibly difficult for Adelaide to overlook on pure quality.

What might happen:

Adelaide may be a club interested in trading up for Curtin, while O’Sullivan’s Murray Bushrangers teammate in Wilson has been heavily linked to the Crows. Again, it’s a matter of who remains available, but Leake could be in the hitting zone should he sneak into the teens.


Our pick: Koltyn Tholstrup

Melbourne is likely to take either Windsor, Curtin or even Sanders with its first pick, so a different type of player is in the offing here. Tholstrup has had plenty of work put into him by the Dees recently and will be in high demand with picks in the teens. He’s a real character both on and off the field, but most importantly, is high on effort and willing to play team roles as a powerful forward/midfielder.

What might happen:

Depending on what happens within the top 10, Melbourne may still look to move up the order. Otherwise, and again depending on what their first pick yields, the Dees could be interested in Wilson or look at the likes of Caddy and O’Sullivan if they somehow slip through.

Gold Coast (matching Sydney’s bid)

Our pick: Jake Rogers

‘Bidney’ makes its return here an ensures Gold Coast is made to pay a pretty penny for its third academy star in Rogers. The diminutive midfielder warrants a bid in this range regardless and shot to prominence with his best afield outing in the second National Academy game. He’s a clean and evasive ball winner who hardly wastes a possession and also gets stuck in defensively. Size matters little here, he’s as well-rounded as anyone.

What might happen:

The other scenario is that Sydney overlooks a bid here in favour of taking its first live selection. The order could change too, with Western Bulldogs father-son Jordan Croft also in a similar hitting zone (see below).

Western Bulldogs (matching Sydney’s bid)

Our pick: Jordan Croft

‘Bidney’ mark two. The Swans are known to get involved in the bidding process and ruffle a few feathers, so this is hardly out of the ordinary. It’s also highly likely that other clubs would consider a bid on Croft in this range given his raw talent and upside. The key forward is a terrific runner at 200cm and attacks the aerial ball with vigour, always providing a contest when hitting up at the ball. Western Bulldogs have done the groundwork to match a top 15 bid.

What might happen:

Sydney may not see it fit to bid on either Rogers or Croft, and could also swap the order of bids. The remaining scenarios are outlined below, with the Swans’ first live pick in our hypothetical draft.


Our pick: Will Green

A towering ruck who the Swans have rated highly all year, Green seems quite a natural fit here. The Northern Knights co-captain is said to have great mechanics for a player his size, demonstrated in his sound fundamentals and ability to cover ground. He is still improving his craft and impact around the ground, but has great scope for development on top of his already elite ruck craft and improvisational work at the contest.

What might happen:

Could Sydney make two bids and trade out in shades of last year’s first round exploits? The Swans have made it clear that trading back for two of North Melbourne’s later first round selections is on the cards, so it may be an option they explore. Trading up the board seems unlikely, though others like Wilson and West Australian Under 18 skipper Riley Hardeman may tempt Sydney here.

St Kilda

Our pick: Darcy Wilson

It seems bizarre that Wilson gets this far, but it’s entirely possible with the goings on up the order. The Murray Bushrangers midfielder-forward is a terrific athlete and smooth mover on the outside, able to rack up possessions and hit the scoreboard. He played in a variety of roles this season and came up clutch in a struggling Talent League side, doing very little wrong all the way through to an outstanding National Draft Combine performance.

What might happen:

St Kilda has said the best available player is in its sights here, so Wilson is quite comfortably that. Local talent – from the Sandringham and Dandenong talent regions – is also a possibility and that puts Stingrays co-captain Harry DeMattia in the frame. The latter factor could also be addressed at the Saints’ next pick.

Hawthorn (matching Adelaide’s bid)

Our pick: Will McCabe

It makes sense that Adelaide is the team to bid on the most highly touted South Australian talent, it’s just a shame the Crows won’t have access to him. McCabe is a rare athlete at 197cm, boasting speed and agility like a rebound defender, but also thriving aerially with his reading of the play and attack on the ball. Hawthorn has done enough work to match a bid around the top 15-20 picks and will duly match for the father-son gun.

What might happen:

See below for Adelaide’s options with pick 18, should the Crows not decide to place a bid on McCabe.


Our pick: Charlie Edwards

One of the great late-season bolters this year, Edwards started out as a half-back but found a home in Sandringham’s stacked, premiership winning midfield. He’s a taller type and has clean extraction quality, but can also dash through the corridor with deceptive pace and incision. Despite missing out on Vic Metro honours this year, Edwards proved his quality when it mattered and did his best work at the draft combine in the 2km time trial, clocking in at 6:24.

What might happen:

Adelaide has been linked with a variety of players in this range, no less Wilson. It would mean the Crows add some much needed midfield class and speed, while also being able to package Talent League teammates. Others in the range include DeMattia and Hardeman.

North Melbourne

Our pick: Harry DeMattia

The word is that North Melbourne will target McKercher and Duursma before going tall with these picks or potentially moving up the order. In this scenario, having taken Curtin in a shock to all, DeMattia is a shrewd choice. The powerful utility played on all three lines this year and plays at high intensity, largely thanks to his explosive speed. If he gets to the Roos here, he’d be hard to pass up.

What might happen:

Picks 19 and 20 are somewhat of a toss-up between Edwards and DeMattia. It was tempting to swap them around and see how the rest of the draft unfolded, but this looks plausible.

Greater Western Sydney

Our pick: Phoenix Gothard

GWS has leant towards energetic and agile smalls, so while perhaps a jump at pick 21, Gothard makes sense. The Allies representative plays with pizzazz and is creative with each possession, capable of taking the game on to allow others to score or hit the scoreboard himself. Along with Leake, another Allies squad member, he makes for a highly talented duo with high upside. Gothard will also be in high demand shortly down the line.

What might happen:

Along the lines of the Giants’ recruiting tendencies, and lack of fear to pick a bolter, Tew Jiath may come into consideration. The likes of Edwards, DeMattia and Hardeman could also be in the frame given their unique athletic blends and respective versatility.

North Melbourne

Our pick: Riley Hardeman

This could be the pick where Hardeman finally falls, with interest strong in this range. The rebound defender is capable of setting up play with his run and raking left foot, but has added strings to his bow in the form of intercept marking. State captain this year, he may well be packaged up with a fellow West Australian at the Roos.

What might happen:

Talls are said to be on the agenda with these picks for North Melbourne, though they could be traded in favour of a move up the order via Sydney. That being the case, perhaps Green is a player the Roos are after, otherwise another playmaking defender like Arie Schoenmaker could appeal.

North Melbourne

Our pick: Mitch Edwards

It’s double WA delight for the Roos here, should they maintain their current hand. Key position players simply must be in consideration and Edwards is a developing ruck who was once considered a top 10 talent. The Peel Thunder tall is still growing at 206cm and has terrific reach in the ruck, while also expanding his running capacity and impact around the ground of late. He could be a slider through the 20s, but North needs to act and bring in a player like him.

What might happen:

Other key position players in this range include raw South Australian ruck Taylor Goad, and Gippsland Power pair Wil Dawson and Archer Reid. Perhaps Edwards is a little more developed than each of them, so gets the nod with claims to similar upside.

Gold Coast (matching Collingwood’s bid)

Our pick: Will Graham

It may well be Collingwood’s turn to play villain with bids in the first round, and Suns Academy prospect Graham is right in the firing line. Gold Coast would inevitably match and snare its home grown talent, who performed exceptionally well at the National Draft Combine and went under the radar as the ‘fourth’ Sun in line. A powerful, big-bodied type, Graham excelled in midfield early this season before finding a home in the Allies’ defence. That may be his new spot.

What might happen:

The Pies may be bluffing their interest in Northern Academy prospects, though attempting to shark Graham here wouldn’t be totally out of the blue. Of course, there is the possibility they go one further and bid on Swans Academy midfielder Caiden Cleary as a direct replacement for Taylor Adams, but that is laden with much more risk as Sydney is no guarantee to match.


Our pick: Archer Reid

Collingwood has been crying out for a quality and genuine key forward at the draft, so Reid fits that need perfectly. A mobile type, he is quite nimble and fares well at ground level to compliment his work on the lead and as a second ruck. Reid was made to overcome challenges early in the season, mostly in the way of form, but hit back to prove his quality and should have suitors in this area of the draft. Though, his range looks like being quite wide.

What might happen:

The proposed Cleary bid may well see Collingwood end up with the Swans Academy product, but another tall forward in the frame is Logan Morris. The Western Jets marking target is a fantastic aerial asset and consistent goal kicker, but is he too similar to current Pie Brody Mihocek? For that reason, a 202cm player like Reid or Ollie Murphy may be favoured, while Schoenmaker could be one out of the box along with Jiath.


Our pick: Taylor Goad

The Crows love picking a local and perhaps South Australia’s next best hope of a top 30 pick is Goad. Measuring up at 206cm, he lit up the boards at this year’s National Draft Combine with a blistering 20m sprint time and has all the athletic hallmarks of a highly developable tall. He has a ways to go in terms of football development but has come a long way already, competes well, and is suits the modern game in his role.

What might happen:

Perhaps this is where Archer Reid or Schoenmaker fall, while Mitch Edwards is another who could slide and Dawson is well within the range.

St Kilda

Our pick: Archie Roberts

With the focus on local talent in mind, Sandringham Dragons star Archie Roberts seems a natural fit here. The rebounding half-back has a terrific speed-endurance mix, able to set up the play with frequent and repeated forays out of the last line. His left-foot kicking is a weapon and he’s a noted leader among several successful teams this year.

What might happen:

Dawson is the man being heavily linked to the Saints here, though it seems like a little bit of a reach given how much of that selection is down to upside. Roberts is a proven quantity. There is not much scope for St Kilda to improve its midfield depth here, but exciting forwards like Gothard and Lance Collard could get through and add some potency. Otherwise, don’t discount Mitch Edwards here either.


Our pick: Ashton Moir

One of the more intriguing picks in the first round is the last. Carlton lays claim to it and is said to be focussed on bringing in the best available talent, as well as quality characters. Perhaps, then, South Australian slider Moir is a surprise third top 30 pick from the usually prolific state. Boasting good speed off the mark, a spring-heeled leap and dual-footed skills like no other, Moir was once considered a top five candidate but is more likely to land either here or somewhere in the second round. The Blues need some more avenues to goal too.

What might happen:

Collard would be hard to pass up, though it seems he is in line to be taken with the first pick on night two by West Coast. The Blues love taking Carlton supporters, so Roberts could be an option if he gets through, while Gothard will be a tempting prospect if available – he’s arguably exactly what the Blues need. If a ruck like Edwards or Reid slips through, they would also be considered.

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