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The top five AFL Draft bolters of season 2022

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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)

ESPN.com.au's AFL Draft expert Chris Doerre is back to highlight the five youngsters who have shot up draft boards during 2022.


Will Ashcroft

Prior to the start of the Under-18 Championships, the sense among club recruiters was that the majority favoured George Wardlaw for the No. 1 overall pick. Sentiment has since shifted on the back of the midfield dominance of Will Ashcroft. Ashcroft has been the dominant midfielder throughout the year with averages of 25 disposals across his two VFL games for Brisbane, a team high 24 disposals in the AFL Academy clash against Collingwood's VFL side and big NAB League numbers, including a ridiculous 51 disposals in one NAB League game. While Ashcroft can be relied on to find the football every week, what makes him this draft's premier midfielder is his ball winning at stoppages and the frequency with which he runs the ball 5-10 metres at speed before disposing of the football. While Wardlaw has missed Victoria Metro's first three Under-18 Championships matches due to a hamstring injury, and nothing Ashcroft is doing is new, the frequency of impact and consistency of production from Ashcroft is without equal in this draft and has seen him re-establish himself as the favourite to be this year's first overall selection.

Mattaes Phillipou

Seen before the Under-18 Championships by most observers as a probable first round selection, South Australian Mattaes Phillipou has rocketed up draft boards and is now viewed as a likely top 10 selection. Phillipou's first Under-18 Championships match against the Allies was one of the most influential performances of the Championships. Phillipou amassed 24 disposals, 17 contested possessions, two goals and two score assists, hurting the Allies with every involvement through the midfield and up forward. The same dominant football was played by Phillipou in his performance for South Australia against Victoria Metro. Early on, Phillipou was the most influential player and had amassed nine disposals in the first 15 minutes of play, before leaving the field under serious duress and requiring treatment on his lower back. Phillipou would return to the field in the second quarter and despite struggling to cover the ground and get low over the ball to win it as we are accustomed to seeing, he enjoyed the most striking moment of the game. Following a mark in the centre, Phillipou used his peripheral vision to notice his opponent had lost balance and Phillipou took immediate advantage. Phillipou left his opponent in his wake, burst for 20m at speed and finished on the move from 45m. With Phillipou measuring in at 192cm, having a December birthday and being a genuine dual position gamechanger with his contested ball winning capabilities, strong marking, skills, acceleration and scoreboard impact, there are shades of Marcus Bontempelli to Phillipou. As with Bontempelli in his draft year, Phillipou in this draft presents as the prospect with the highest ceiling given the way he changes games with every touch both through the midfield and as a forward.

Jhye Clark

The premier Victoria Country midfielder, Jhye Clark has found another level to his play during the Under-18 Championships as his side's premier ball winner at stoppages. Clark has demonstrated a capable inside/outside midfield balance and has also played taller than his 180cm, providing a marking and goalkicking option forward of centre, and kicking two goals across his three games. Averaging 25 disposals, 10 contested possessions and nine marks per game for Victoria Country, Clark has matched his Geelong Falcons NAB League output. Viewed as a consensus top-10 selection, Clark is in contention for a top-five draft position if he continues his potent Under-18 Championships play in the latter part of the year.

Cameron Mackenzie

The beneficiary of the absence of projected top five draft choices George Wardlaw and Elijah Tsatas from Victoria Metro has been Cameron Mackenzie. Having established chemistry sharing the midfield for Sandringham in the NAB League with Will Ashcroft, the duo establish themselves as the premier one-two midfield punch during the Under-18 Championships. The dynamic at every stoppage has been whenever Ashcroft wins the football, Mackenzie is on the spread ready to receive. When Mackenzie wins the ball, Ashcroft is on the burst looking to receive. Averaging 26 disposals and 10 contested possessions, Mackenzie has demonstrated continual improvement this year and with his combination of ball winning, classy ball use, acceleration and spread from the contest, Mackenzie has pushed his name into the top 10 draft mix. A St Kilda Next-Generation Academy prospect, the Saints would under this year's updated Next-Generation Academy rules need Mackenzie to drop outside the top 40 to be able to match bids.

Aaron Cadman

With South Australian key forward Harry Lemmey struggling to find the football or have any impact across each of his three Under-18 Championships matches, Aaron Cadman, Matthew Jefferson and Isaac Keeler have each passed him on draft boards and are likely to find themselves in the first round draft discussion. Jefferson and Keeler have elevated their draft stocks during the Under-18 Championships with several outstanding performances, respectively, but the completeness of Cadman's play should see him now regarded by most as this year's premier key forward. Kicking seven goals and seven behinds across his three games, Cadman has proven a more than potent option close to goal and felt consistently threatening whenever the ball was coming his way. Garnering comparisons to Jeremy Cameron, what has separated Cadman has been the variety of ways he impacts games. Cadman took five contested marks across his three games, created separation at will on the lead, was dangerous at ground level, pushed higher up the field and set up targets inside 50m with four total score assists.