The Deep Dive: The AFL's most consistent players

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.

There's an important trait in the AFL: consistency. It's not about being the best player, but a player who's able to maintain a reliable level of performance can be invaluable to a side.

In a year that has so far culminated with a couple of sporadic upset wins mixed in with underachieving and failing to live up to the hype, Essendon can at least lay claim to one thing this season: housing the game's most consistent player.

Darcy Parish is that man.

The prolific Bomber is averaging 32 possessions in 2022, which rises to 33.8 if you disregard his 10-touch game against the Blues in Round 13, when he was subbed out with a corked calf. He hasn't otherwise dropped below 21 disposals, and that average would sit him behind only Melbourne star and Brownlow Medal fancy Clayton Oliver.

Parish ranks ahead of Richmond's Jack Ross, Melbourne's Tom Sparrow, Adelaide's Rory Laird and Gold Coast's Caleb Graham when it comes to consistent output, according to Champion Data.

Using average rating points to assess a player's influence in games, and allowing for standard deviation to determine a player's 'consistency rating' as a percentage, we've come up with the top 12 consistent players in the game based on 2022 alone, and the top five for each position.

The Bombers in fact have three of the top five most consistent midfielders in the AFL, and Oliver doesn't feature at all.

Breakout Saint Jack Sinclair has been incredibly consistent this season and has been instrumental off a half-back line, ranking third as a 'general defender' for effective disposals, contested possessions and tackles, second for groundball gets and first for stoppage clearances to put him firmly in All-Australian calculations.

But it's not enough to make him the top-ranked consistent defender in the league, with Bulldogs rebounder Bailey Dale edging him out by a consistency rating of 1.1%.

One of the season's most improved players, Dylan Moore is the highest-rated 'general forward' in the top five listed, but his consistency isn't at the same level as Rhylee West whose averages of 14.3 disposals, 1.29 goals and 3.7 tackles nets him a consistency rating of 79.8%.

It's harder to remain consistent as a key forward, with the top five in that position averaging a consistency rating of 72.2%, compared to the top five midfielders who average 81.3%.

Also perhaps surprising a few will be Marcus Bontempelli, who has sacrificed ample midfield minutes -- allowing players such as Tom Liberatore, Adam Treloar, Jack Macrae and Josh Dunkley to flourish -- to feature more prominently in and around the forward 50. But despite what the eye test may tell you, this hasn't hampered his ability to influence games. In the last two full seasons (2021 and 2019), the four-time All-Australian averaged 26.5 possessions, 5.8 clearances and 7.4 score involvements. Bontempelli now only finds the ball 22.7 times (clearances also drop to 4.6), but his score involvements have increased to 8.1 which is the third most in the competition.

A minimum of seven games played was used as a threshold to judge consistency, and 'matches' only count when a player has played at least 70% game time, to factor for players that get injured.