ESPN's top 20 must-watch players for the 2022 AFL season: 10-1

Who are the players you just love watching? You know, not necessarily favourites from the team you support, but the players from across the league who stop you in your tracks and make you tune in anytime, anywhere?

Welcome to ESPN's fourth annual Top 20 Must-Watch Players list.

This isn't just a countdown of the competition's biggest names, but a ranking of the players we simply can't wait to watch in action in 2022. It's a mix of the game's superstars, big names who have switched clubs, young guns who look ready to explode, top draftees or basically anyone we will be watching with interest in 2022.

We revealed the players ranked 20-11 last week. This is the top 10.

Click here to look at the 2021 edition.

Click here to look at the 2020 edition.

Click here to look at the 2019 edition.

10. Lance Franklin

Oh, Buddy. There are many layers to why the Sydney spearhead is a must-watch player in 2022. Yes, he's just five goals shy of hitting the magical 1,000 mark, but he's 35 years of age and still coming off a 50-goal season. The longevity this guy has displayed, despite injuries, has been remarkable, and he still has the ability to influence the outcome of a contest in minutes. Keep your eyes very open, folks, because there may never be another 1,000-goal forward in the AFL.

9. Sam Walsh

It's such a shame we won't be able to see Walsh in action for the first few weeks of the year - not only because he's becoming one of the most damaging midfielders in the game, but because his ankle injury means he probably won't be in Brownlow Medal contention. Up until now, Walsh hadn't missed a game of footy, and that durability, combined with averaging 29 disposals in 2021, had Carlton fans -- and let's face it, footy fans -- salivasting about what's next for this extremely talented 21-year-old. FIngers crossed he gets on the park sooner rather than later!

8. Jake Stringer

Much like Walsh above, we may not see what Essendon have described as a very fit Stringer in action until a few rounds into the season. We're hesitent to buy into the 'best preseason he's had' and 'PB in the 2k time trial' narratives at the best of times, but last season was a beauty - 41 goals (and just 18 behinds!) and an average of 16 touches a game. The gauntlet has been laid down to Jake to play more midfield time; he's the latest in a pretty long line of players hoping to emulate the 'Dusty model' - a bit of time up forward and a bit of time in the middle. With Stringer in particular, we're intrigued.

7. Toby Greene

When it comes to pure box office entertainment, Greene certainly has a case to be on the top of this list. The GWS star is one of the craftiest, most brilliant players in the league, playing more as a dominant key forward than a half forward. Greene possesses the extraordinary ability to flip a game on its head within minutes, often using his footy smarts to outfox his opponents. He is lethal around goals but can also make an impact in the middle, if needed. If Greene can replicate last year's numbers of 17 disposals and 2.5 goals per game, we're all in for a treat. It's a shame his suspension will see him out of acton until at least Round 6.

6. Charlie Cameron

You can't help be drawn to Cameron whenever a Lions game comes on. His raw speed, agility and craft inside 50 makes him an extremely dangerous opponent but a sensational watch. There's very few players in the league right now (if any) who can send panic through an entire defence, but it seems to happen on a weekly basis when Cameron is in full flight. He's not a high-possession player but boy does he make an impact every time he goes near it!

5. Marcus Bontempelli

You can certainly make the case Bontempelli is now the best player in the AFL and you'll probably get little push back. His 2021 season was breathtaking, averaging nearly 27 disposals and well over a goal per game. The Bulldogs skipper finished runner-up to Ollie Wines in last year's Brownlow Medal; his 33 votes enough to win the medal in every year bar three. The Bont's ability to win his own ball, dispose of it brilliantly, push the pace, hit the scoreboard and lead his side makes him not just one of the best players in the league, but also one of the most watchable.

4. Jason Horne-Francis

Last year's No. 1 selection looks as if he will make the transition from NAB League to the AFL seamlessly. A big-bodied midfielder who can push forward, Horne-Francis starred last year as a junior and could well be the next genuine A-grader in the competition. Whether you're a North Melboune fan or not, surely you're keen to watch him in his debut season. Let's hope he stays healthy and shows us what he can do.

3. Dustin Martin

A mainstay on these must-watch lists, Martin really needs no introduction. The Richmond great has won just about every award in football but is now entering an interesting part of his career. Aged 30, and coming off a brutal kidney injury, we're all eager to see what Dusty still has to offer. At his best, there's really nobody in the competition who matches up with him, but how often are we going to see that this year? It will also be interesting to see if Tigers coach Damien Hardwick deploys his star player forward more often, a trend which has emerged since 2019. Either way, we just can't wait to watch him play.

2. Nick Daicos

He's yet to lace them up for Collingwood but the hype and expectation surrounding Daicos is enormous. The son of club great Peter and brother of Josh was selected by the Magpies under the father-son rule with pick No. 4 but many believe he was the best player in the draft class. Through his time in the NAB League, Daicos has demonstrated his silky skills and an ability to rack up an enormous amount of possession. How he is able to transition into the AFL will be utterly fascinating. Will he struggle? Can he breathe new life into Collingwood. We'll have to wait and see!

1. Christian Petracca

The last time we saw Petracca on a footy field he was utterly dominating a Grand Final en route to both premiership and Norm Smith medallions. It may have taken Trac a little while longer than expected to become a genuine star of the competition but there's no mistaking it now. He's one of the league's best contested players and, in a similar manner to Martin, can be thrown forward to impact games in an instant. If his form line continues the rapid upward trajectory, there's no reason Petracca can't add a Brownlow Medal to his honour roll by the end of the season, and who knows, perhaps another flag?