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The Deep Dive: Big Roo's bonkers rise as most improved AFL players revealed

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Where have all the taggers gone? (1:23)

Matt Walsh & Jake Michaels discuss the disappearance of tagging in the AFL, and if the role could limit recent dominant performances from midfielders. (1:23)

Every Wednesday of the 2022 season, ESPN will combine with Champion Data to provide an in-depth analysis on a particular hot topic in the AFL.


North Melbourne may be enduring an insipid season after eight rounds, but the club still houses the most improved player in the AFL right now.

Small wins, right?

According to Champion Data and its rating points system, no current player in the league has improved as much as big Roo Tristan Xerri.

Mainly through boosted opportunity, Xerri had become David Noble's go-to ruckman ahead of veteran Todd Goldstein before succumbing to a foot injury a couple of weeks ago, averaging 55.7 competed ruck contests in 2022 to contribute to his giant leap.

The 23-year-old has improved by 9.1 rating points per match this season, which is a drastic change from his 2021 output.

In fact, Xerri's in-game influence has increased by a whopping 455%.

In his eight matches last season, Xerri could only average a meager two rating points - a far cry from his 11.1 this season. This is mainly due to his increase in score involvements (+0.9 per game), hitouts to advantage (+5), and disposals (+5.7). He's also rating above average in areas such as contested possessions, groundball gets, centre clearances and tackles.

They're not eyebrow-raising numbers, but his jump in the offseason is simply bigger than other players who are improving off a higher base performance last year.

Who else features? We've compiled a list of the top 20 players in the competition using Champion Data's rating points metric, with a minimum of four matches played in 2021 required to qualify for the list.

Rating points are accrued or debited based on an algorithm which looks at equity ratings of an AFL game. It looks at the stat being performed by a player, the location on the ground and what happens next to determine the value of a player's contribution to the likelihood of a team scoring.

For example, kicking a goal after a handball receive in the goal square for a player will receive fewer points than a player taking a contested mark 50 metres out and kicking to an uncontested teammate in the goal square.

It's a statistic clubs can use to accurately gauge a player's overall impact in a game.

Players that lowered their colours in 2021 for varying reasons -- including injury, lack of opportunity or positional changes -- tend to be favoured when judging 'improvement', but there are other, already-established stars who have also taken their game to new heights.

It's not surprising to see revitalised Fremantle recruit Will Brodie holding the second-most improved mantle with a rating points increase of +8.4, benefiting from increased midfield time that sees him averaging 27.1 disposals (12.1 contested), 5.8 clearances and 5.6 score involvements per game. This starkly contrasts his 2021 output of 12.8 disposals (6.2 contested), 2.4 clearances and 3.2 score involvements.

Carlton's George Hewett features third with an improvement of +8.1, but it's his teammate and midfield counterpart Patrick Cripps who is unsurprisingly having the best season (18 rating points) of anyone on the list.

In addition to Brodie and Hewett, Magpies midfielder Pat Lipinski rounds out the only three players who switched clubs in the offseason and are flourishing as a result.

Fremantle, Carlton and Collingwood each have three players in the top 20, thus making up nearly 50% of the list.

The slumbering Eagles also have a shining light, with four-time All-Australian Jeremy McGovern flying under the radar due to his side's results despite putting together an excellent individual season in defensive 50. McGovern ranks second in the league for intercept possessions (10.5), tops the league for intercept marks (4.7), and has increased his rating points by +5.

That's the same level of improvement as rejuvenated Saint Jack Sinclair who has received plenty of plaudits this season after being entrusted as Brett Ratten's architect from the half-back line.

Sydney game-changer Isaac Heeney has his new-found love of contest work to thank for his rise, improving from his already lofty standards to sit inside the top 10 with an increase of +5.7. The crowd favourite has gone from an average of 31% of one-on-one contests won to 43%, and is averaging 3.8 more tackles than he did last season to become a more complete player.

Interestingly, no one from the likely number one and two seeds Melbourne and Brisbane feature at all.


20 MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS IN THE AFL

1. Tristan Xerri (North Melbourne)

2021 rating points: 2

2022 rating points: 11.1

Improvement: +9.1

Core stats:

2021: 7.5 disposals, 7.4 hitouts, 1.5 hitouts-to-advantage, 0.8 score launches

2022: 13.2 disposals, 22.5 hitouts, 6.5 hitouts-to-advantage, 1.7 score launches

2. Will Brodie (Fremantle)

2021: 4.9

2022: 13.3

Improvement: +8.4

Core stats:

2021: 12.8 disposals, 6.2 contested possessions, 2.4 clearances, 3.2 score involvements

2022: 27.1 disposals, 12.1 contested possessions, 5.8 clearances, 5.6 score involvements

3. George Hewett (Carlton)

2021: 9.3

2022: 17.4

Improvement: +8.1

Core stats:

2021: 17.9 disposals, 7.0 contested possessions, 2.5 clearances, 3.3 score involvements

2022: 30.0 disposals, 14.2 contested possessions, 7.8 clearances, 7.2 score involvements

4. Ben Long (St Kilda)

2021: 3

2022: 10.3

Improvement: +7.3

Core stats:

2021: 9.5 disposals, 3.5 contested possessions, 60% kicking efficiency, 2.5 intercept possessions

2022: 14.2 disposals, 5.7 contested possessions, 70% kicking efficiency, 5.3 intercept possessions

5. Jai Newcombe (Hawthorn)

2021: 4.8

2022: 11.6

Improvement: +6.8

Core stats:

2021: 8.9 disposals, 6.0 uncontested possessions, 127 metres gained, 1.7 score involvements

2022: 22.0 disposals, 15.5 uncontested possessions, 474 metres gained, 5.4 score involvements

6. Jordan De Goey (Collingwood)

2021: 9.1

2022: 15.6

Improvement: +6.5

Core stats:

2021: 21.0 disposals, 3.0 clearances, 6.3 score involvements, 4.0 groundball-gets

2022: 21.7 disposals, 4.9 clearances, 7.0 score involvements, 5.3 groundball-gets

7. Tom Lynch (Richmond)

2021: 7.2

2022: 13.7

Improvement: +6.5

Core stats:

2021: 11.1 disposals, 37% 1-on-1 win, 1.9 goals, 47% accuracy

2022: 12.4 disposals, 43% 1-on-1 win, 3.4 goals, 64% accuracy

8. Tom Green (GWS)

2021: 9.7

2022: 16

Improvement: +6.3

Core stats:

2021: 19.9 disposals, 9.9 contested possessions, 4.2 clearances, 2.9 tackles

2022: 27.5 disposals, 14.9 contested possessions, 6.9 clearances, 5.0 tackles

9. Patrick Cripps (Carlton)

2021: 11.8

2022: 18

Improvement: +6.2

Core stats:

2021: 23.4 disposals, 251 metres gained, 0.7 goals, 6.3 score involvements

2022: 29.3 disposals, 367 metres gained, 1.9 goals, 8.6 score involvements

10. Isaac Heeney (Sydney)

2021: 10.9

2022: 16.6

Improvement: +5.7

Core stats:

2021: 15.9 disposals, 31% 1-on-1 win, 1.7 goals, 2.0 tackles

2022: 17.9 disposals, 43% 1-on-1 win, 2.3 goals, 5.8 tackles

11. Tim English (Western Bulldogs)

2021: 10

2022: 15.7

Improvement: +5.7

Core stats:

2021: 13.2 disposals, 15.5 hitouts, 1.9 clearances, 4.3 score involvements

2022: 22.0 disposals, 22.0 hitouts, 6.0 clearances, 7.6 score involvements

12. Blake Acres (Fremantle)

2021: 6.6

2022: 11.9

Improvement: +5.3

Core stats:

2021: 17.9 disposals, 11.9 uncontested possessions, 3.3 intercepts, 3.4 score involvements

2022: 22.0 disposals, 15.4 uncontested possessions, 4.9 intercepts, 5.3 score involvements

13. Heath Chapman (Fremantle)

2021: 4.4

2022: 9.5

Improvement: +5.1

Core stats:

2021: 14.2 disposals, 68% kicking efficiency, 4.2 intercepts, 2.5 score involvements

2022: 19.0 disposals, 83% kicking efficiency, 6.8 intercepts, 3.5 score involvements

14. Jack Sinclair (St Kilda)

2021: 11.6

2022: 16.6

Improvement: +5.0

Core stats:

2021: 21.1 disposals, 336 metres gained, 6.6 contested possessions, 1.4 clearances

2022: 26.3 disposals, 512 metres gained, 9.1 contested possessions, 2.6 clearances

15. Jeremy McGovern (West Coast)

2021: 11.2

2022: 16.2

Improvement: +5.0

Core stats:

2021: 16.4 disposals, 5.3 contested possessions, 3.3 intercept marks, 10.5 intercept poss

2022: 18.7 disposals, 7.2 contested possessions, 4.7 intercept marks, 10.5 intercept poss

16. Patrick Lipinski (Collingwood)

2021: 6.4

2022: 11.4

Improvement: +5.0

Core stats:

2021: 13.9 disposals, 1.8 inside 50s, 1.2 clearances, 3.4 score involvements

2022: 24.8 disposals, 3.8 inside 50s, 3.0 clearances, 6.4 score involvements

17. Charlie Curnow (Carlton)

2021: 7.0

2022: 11.9

Improvement: +4.9

Core stats:

2021: 12.3 disposals, 4.3 contested possessions, 0.5 goals, 22% accuracy

2022: 12.5 disposals, 7.1 contested possessions, 3.1 goals, 60% accuracy

18. Jack Ginnivan (Collingwood)

2021: 5.1

2022: 9.9

Improvement: +4.8

Core stats:

2021: 9.0 disposals, 2.8 contested possessions, 1.2 goals, 3.6 score involvements

2022: 11.0 disposals, 5.0 contested possessions, 2.4 goals, 5.6 score involvements

19. Shai Bolton (Richmond)

2021: 11.7

2022: 16.2

Improvement: +4.5

Core stats:

2021: 19.6 disposals, 3.5 clearances, 1.1 goals, 6.0 score involvements

2022: 18.9 disposals, 4.5 clearances, 2.0 goals, 7.5 score involvements

20. Archie Perkins (Essendon)

2021: 4.9

2022: 9.4

Improvement: +4.5

Core stats:

2021: 11.3 disposals, 7.4 uncontested possessions, 0.4 goals, 38% accuracy

2022: 12.6 disposals, 8.9 uncontested possessions, 1.1 goals, 69% accuracy