2024 AFL Draft | Race to #1: Josh Smillie

TALL midfielders have had their moment in the sun among AFL Draft circles, and Josh Smillie is one who could bring the trend back in vogue. The Eastern Ranges product has long been a standout in the talent pathway and is among a handful of midfielders vying for top prospect status in 2024.

Smillie burst onto the scene in 2022. He earned MVP honours in Vic Metro’s Under 16 side and was duly named All Australian (half-back), before making his debut with the Ranges and helping Whitefriars College take out its first Herald Sun Shield title in 18 years.

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Since, Smillie compiled an excellent bottom-aged campaign with the Ranges and broke into the Vic Metro Under 18 team. Despite missing out on Eastern’s appearance in the Talent League decider through injury, he recovered in time to turn out on AFL Grand Final day for the Under 17 Futures game.

Almost inevitably, Smillie was selected in this year’s National Academy and has spent time training with Hawthorn during preseason. His rare blend of size and athleticism, as well as the capacity to play in every third of the ground makes him the next subject of our Race to #1 series.

>> Race to #1: Sid Draper | Jagga Smith

Josh Smillie

Height: 194cm

Weight: -

DOB: 17-05-2006


2023 Coates Talent League (8 games)
26.3 disposals | 4.4 marks | 3.6 tackles | 4.3 inside 50s | 0.5 goals

2023 AFL U18 National Championships (2 games)
21.0 disposals | 3.5 marks | 3.5 tackles | 1.5 clearances | 7.0 inside 50s

>> Ones to watch: 24 AFL Draft prospects in 2024


+ Footy IQ
+ Clean hands
+ Stoppage craft
+ Versatility
+ Size

Smillie stands above his peers quite literally at 194cm, but is far from dependant on his size to make an impact. While it helps him to buy more time on the ball and compete aerially, Smillie is also athletic enough to step to the outside, and composed enough to seldom rush a disposal.

He’s both a clean extractor and distributor – by hand and foot – capable of doing so on the inside or as a free-roaming playmaker across half-back. Smillie’s foot skills are particularly potent, both penetrative and accurate, and backed by typically sound decision making.

There have been few more versatile tall midfielders in the pathway than Smillie, who also rotates forward. He does things similarly to Marcus Bontempelli in that sense, while blending those traits with the contested nous and footy IQ of a Patrick Cripps.

Smillie may still look to enhance attributes in the latter mould. He can fall into the trap of either looking to do too much with the ball or not enough, but plays with such ease that he can lean both ways. Improving his defensive accountability at stoppages will also be key when the game isn’t played on his terms.


“While arguably better versed as a midfielder, Smillie has experience at either end of the ground and leant on it as one of Team Naitanui’s defensive playmakers. He took on the kick-in duties and distributed with great efficiency… eventually thrown into the centre bounces where his poise and pure field kicking continued to shine.” – Michael Alvaro, 2023 U17 Futures

“Rested from Metro duties despite his dominance… the bottom-ager was nearly unstoppable at the contest, putting his strong frame to good use. Despite the size and strength advantage, Smillie didn’t rely on it solely as he won plenty of outside possessions, able to gain separation on his opponents and use the ball well.” – Declan Reeve, 2023 Talent League Round 12

“The third member of Vic Metro’s bottom-age midfield brigade… at 194cm, Smillie has the capacity to bully opponents at stoppages and dish the ball out to others when not clearing it himself. He did so with typically clean skills and got into good positions to launch inside 50. – Michael Alvaro, 2023 U18 National Championships

“A standout player on the day, Smillie collected the ball with ease. He was everywhere and suited in the wet with clean hands and using his strong body to win the hardballs… When able to control play, Smillie was a player who teammates looked to get the ball in the hands of for what he can do with it.” – Peter Williams, 2023 Talent League Round 8

Smillie in action during last year’s AFL Futures game | Image Credit: AFL Photos

“A blinder of a third quarter was the highlight of Smillie’s outing, as he came to life to help Eastern stay ahead at the final break. Still just 16 years-old, Smillie’s size was a factor and he looked confident when bustling through stoppages, taking on tacklers and dishing the ball to the outside.” – Michael Alvaro, 2022 Talent League Round 16

“Smillie continued his nice start to his Talent League career, looking more than comfortable in the thick of the contest. Whilst he didn’t have the biggest day on the stats sheet, his work on the inside was to be admired… Smillie’s hands in close were particularly eye-catching, able to spot out targets between opponents and generally following up with a block.” – Declan Reeve, 2022 Talent League Round 15.

“Having impressed in defence, Smillie was thrown into Metro’s midfield… the move looked a masterstroke when he got his hands to the very first centre clearance. Smillie’s presence at the contest made for strong work on the inside, but he also utilised his size advantage to impact packs around the ground.” – Michael Alvaro, 2022 U16 National Championships


There are a number of factors which point towards Smillie being a pick one contender, and would likely pit him as the frontrunner in year’s past. His size and versatility, along with ample athleticism, make him a prospect with enormous upside. Recruiters will undoubtedly be looking into the crystal ball.

He is arguably most adept in midfield and has showcased terrific consistency in output when stationed on-ball. There, he can rotate forward, but there is still plenty of value in the way Smillie plays down back. In defence, he can intercept and set up the play with his sharp kicking skills.

Ultimately, there is no real ceiling on what Smillie could be and should he piece together another strong season the pick one mantle may be his to take. Against others competing for the same status, size is his main point of difference, and potentially the most glaring among their respective strengths.


– 2024 AFL Academy member
– 2023 AFL U17 Futures
– 2023 Vic Metro U18 representative
– 2022 Vic Metro U16 MVP
– 2022 U16 All Australian
– 2022 Herald Sun Shield winner
– 2022 Eastern Ranges debut

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