Leagues: SANFL League
Image Credit: Scott Starkey/SANFL
SNAPSHOT: "A midfielder with next to no weaknesses whose power bodes well for tough ball winning and impressive aerial marking, as well as damaging scoreboard impact."
Regarded by many as premier talent of the 2021 draft class, Jason Horne-Francis is one of the most complete prospects in recent memory. The South Australian midfielder entered the season with lofty expectations having already made his League debut as a 17-year-old. The pick of the bunch at every level he’s played at, Horne-Francis took his game to new heights this season with South Adelaide. A model of consistency throughout the campaign in a variety of roles, Horne-Francis shone on Preliminary Final night, booting three goals (and three behinds) from 24 disposals (18 contested) and 11 clearances to claim best on ground honours.
His side was beaten, but attention in the aftermath focused on the sensational teenager's blistering showing at Adelaide Oval. It was the performance which saw him firm as the likely favoured target of North Melbourne with pick number one. Named captain of the South Australian Under 19 team, Horne-Francis’ League commitments restricted him to just one match in the tricolours - against Western Australia in Perth. However, he was awarded All-Australian honours and was crowned South Australia’s MVP when he captained his state at the Under 16 National Championships in 2019.
+ Contested ball
+ Defensive effort
+ Scoreboard impact
+ Overhead marking
- Kicking consistency
- Outside game
Horne-Francis is very capable of winning a game off his own boot and at 184cm, he is a medium-sized midfielder who packs a punch. The 18-year-old plays with physicality, imposing himself on the contest and the opposition through his repeat efforts at ground level. The midfielder enjoys the rough, in-and-under side of the game where his natural aggression shines through. He hunts the footy, tackles with intent and hits the ball at speed. His tackling technique is particularly terrific, pinning the arms and bringing the opponent to ground with ferocity. This, along with his smothering closing speed makes for an intimidating combination. Not one to back down or shy away from the tough stuff, he is a natural contested ball winner who proved himself on the inside at SANFL League level by winning 18 contested possessions in the preliminary final. He has showed an ability to burst away from congestion, shrug off would-be tacklers and stream forward with intent.
The South Adelaide prospect, who has spent the year working after finishing his schooling last year, compliments his hard edge with an ability to push forward, where his overhead marking has been a staple. He is damaging one-on-one and can fly from just about anywhere in a pack. Horne-Francis is the type of player who will send opposition defences into a frenzy when sent forward, not dissimilar to the aura which surrounds Richmond Dustin Martin when the Tigers throw him into attack. The teenager has booted 20 goals in 29 league matches, including a couple of hauls of three. He is clever in the forward-50, has a very natural goal sense and, importantly, is prepared to back himself in and pull the trigger when within range. Not one to just rest inside 50, Horne-Francis is also capable of working high up the ground and using his speed on the way back.
Although he didn’t fully test at the South Australian draft combine, Horne-Francis possesses a sound athletic profile without an obvious weakness. He has the acceleration and sustained speed to be able to break away from a contest, the leap to worry opposition defenders, and the endurance required to become an elite midfielder at the highest level. Horne-Francis is efficient by foot, measuring out his targets and hitting them with the appropriate level of depth. He has terrific special awareness at stoppages and his midfield craft is already well developed. The guidance of Bryce Gibbs, Matthew Broadbent and Joel Cross at South Adelaide will undoubtedly have had a sizeable impact on the fundamentals of his game over the past couple of seasons.
Horne-Francis plays with a certain swagger and presence of mind. It’s far from arrogance, but rather a sense of supreme confidence in his skillset and ability to take it up to seasoned players at League level. Horne-Francis has displayed remarkable consistency for a player of his age, consistently featuring among South’s best performers in 2021. Throughout the year, he averaged 16 disposals, four marks, four tackles, three clearances and a tick under a goal per game in 20 matches. He is a remarkably well-rounded prospect with no standout area of improvement. At times, his kicking can be inconsistent in the sense he invites pressure on occassion with short passes, or can blaze away long from a contest. However, Horne-Francis’ skills are above average for an inside-leaning midfielder and are expected to translate well at the next level.
DRAFT PROJECTION: 1-2
Jason Horne-Francis appears likely to join North Melbourne with pick one in the national draft and, in doing so, become the first South Australian taken with the first pick since his mentor Bryce Gibbs headed to the Blues in 2006. With Horne-Francis in mind, the Kangaroos reportedly rejected mammoth offers from Adelaide and Richmond during the trade period in order to retain their selection, in a testament to their faith in the midfielder’s prodigious talent. Horne-Francis could walk into any AFL side in Round 1 next year and immediately fill a role. His repeat efforts at ground level and physicality are tremendous, however it’s Horne-Francis’ natural swagger, power and ability to impact the scoreboard which have seen him draw comparisons to the likes of Patrick Dangerfield and Nat Fyfe. A special talent who was always destined to be a high draft pick, Horne-Francis’ body of work is as good as anyone’s and he appears set to become one of the stars of the game over the next few years.
>> SANFL League Player Focus: Round 2 | Round 16
>> First Round Watch: Horne-Francis dominates League prelim
>> The race to be number one – what separates Daicos and Horne?