Leagues: AFL U18 Championships, Coates Talent League Boys
SNAPSHOT: “A sound intercept marking defender capable of playing to or below his 197cm standing, with composed ball use to boot.”
One of this year’s premier tall defensive options, Lewis Hayes has put together a top-age campaign of great composure and dynamism. The Eastern Ranges talent came into the season on the back of three bottom-aged outings and Vic Metro Under 17 experience, which served him well upon becoming a key piece for both sides in 2022.
The brother of Port Adelaide ruck Sam, Hayes is a tall prospect who moves well for a player his size but remains raw and rangy in build. He is a late-year birth (December 17) with plenty of development left, but has already proven himself as a steadfast option behind the ball.
Looking to the likes of Darcy Moore and Aliir Aliir for inspiration, the 17-year-old showed his wares across 11 NAB League games this year and was named at full back in the official Team of the Year. His strong performances at representative level also helped press claims for All Australian selection.
+ Aerial ability
+ Decision making
+ Defensive versatility
+ Intercept marking
+ Kick efficiency
- Contested work
Holding his own in key position posts while contributing with ball in hand, Hayes is a versatile tall defender who can both lock down on opponents or peel off to intercept. His dexterity both in the air and across the ground made him a trusted choice for kick-in duties, with the 17-year-old's composed distribution by foot helping set up rebounds.
At 197cm, it comes as no surprise that Hayes is so apt aerially. He reads the play beautifully and is not afraid to fly for marks, defying his relatively light frame to intercept cleanly. Whether impacting third-up or against direct opponents, Hayes' versatility and reach across the defensive 50 make him one of the more adaptable tall defenders available.
In possession, Hayes is an efficient outlet. While capable of pumping the ball long, he tends to favour short options and is quite safe in that regard, as his 89 per cent kick efficiency rating would attest to. With plenty of kick-mark play in Eastern's defence, his composure suited that style and helped him get involved outside of his primary defensive duties.
Hayes is more an accumulator of possessions in that sense, with three NAB League hauls of over 26 touches to his name this year. He averaged over 20 across the competition and helped his side get on the front foot with around five rebound 50s per game. Taking the kick-ins boosts those numbers, though you still have to make use of them.
In terms of improvements, Hayes could certainly look to become more damaging with those high-possession gains. He obviously has some filling out to do as a young key position prospect, and that will help his contested game. Though he holds his own defensively, he often possesses the ball uncontested (71 per cent) and can thus easily maintain his high-efficiency kicking. There's fewer easy touches at AFL level.
DRAFT RANGE: 15-30
With a relative dearth of key defensive options at the top-end of this year’s draft pool, Hayes may be one in high demand. He is arguably one of the top two prospects of his position, which will likely see a club reach for him either towards the back-end of the first round or early in the second. His strong form across all levels, particularly with Vic Metro, only boosted his stocks and pits him as a relatively safe selection in the 15-30 range as far as talls go. His upside as quite a versatile defender also counts for plenty.
AFL U18 Championships