DRAFT ANALYSIS: “Very light so will need time, but he is very agile, athletic and could be a steal as a rookie or late pick”
Leagues: NAB League Boys
Joel Crocker has endured a challenging past year. A serious ankle injury in week one of the Dragons’ finals campaign last year saw the North Melbourne father-son prospect miss the entire pre-season. Then, after showing strong form in his school football return for Brighton Grammar, the 191cm utility injured his other ankle at training, which ruled him out of the season. Despite limited opportunity to impress, Crocker hasn’t wasted a moment, managing five games as a bottom-ager in a star-studded Dragons line-up in 2017, before dominating school footy in early 2018. Joel’s father Darren played 165 games for North Melbourne over a 14-year period, also struggling with injury throughout much of his AFL career. But like his father, Joel has the rare ability to play almost anywhere on the ground, making him a valuable utility. He’s played on the wing and as an outside midfielder at TAC Cup level, while he was often deployed at full-back for Brighton Grammar in 2017. Interestingly, in 2018 before injury struck, Crocker played an inside midfield role at school football level, as well as playing out of full-forward. This is perhaps where Crocker’s talent has been most outstanding, having combined five goals with 26 disposals in a dominant Friday night display against Caulfield Grammar early in the season. Crocker has opportunity to further display his agility and athleticism at the national combine in early October.
Crocker’s versatility stands out at his greatest strength. While predominantly described as a hybrid defender, Crocker can provide run and class from a wing, play out of full forward, act as a key defender, and even convert into an inside midfielder. Described by teammate Kai Owens as a “good silky player with good composure,” Crocker’s class, agility and athleticism blend to make him a difficult matchup.
Crocker’s attitude is also a notable feature. His ability to perform roles in any position on the ground is a rare trait, but his resilience and determination in overcoming a pair of ankle injuries can’t be ignored. Made his return to school footy without a pre-season in fine form, while his commitment remains strong despite being ruled out of the season with an injury to the other ankle, which required surgery.
At just 73kg, Crocker simply needs to put on more size. Though chiefly an outside player, Crocker’s ball-winning ability will be further challenged next year playing against men at VFL or even AFL level. The 191cm prospect has also been seen as a third tall in defence but will need to add to his currently light frame in order to perform such a role. The most obvious question mark at this stage, however, surrounds Crocker’s durability. Having managed just a handful of games in the past year, he’ll need to find a way to help prevent further serious injury.
DRAFT PROJECTION: Late-rookie
If not for injury, Crocker’s talent might have seen him discussed as one of 2018’s top prospects. However, this could see the utility prove a late bargain in the draft, provided he can solve the issue of his troublesome ankles early in his career. North Melbourne — where father Darren works as a Director of Coaching — will likely select him as a father-son pick, while glimpses of his talent, in a handful of positions, should also attract interest from other clubs.