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The Deep Dive: Crow Sam Berry on brink of breaking AFL's 'pressure points' record

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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.


Adelaide hasn't had much to celebrate this season as the club battles away to avoid a third consecutive bottom four finish.

But among the few triumphs of a difficult year -- notably an after-the-siren Showdown win, pipping the Dogs in Ballarat and upsetting the finals-bound Blues in Round 20 -- is an unfamiliar record that is being seriously challenged by hard nut Sam Berry.

The 20-year-old often plays third fiddle to the Ben Keays-Rory Laird dynamic duo that has flown under the radar for multiple seasons, but Berry's role -- the fierce hunter -- is pivotal to how Matthew Nicks' on-ball brigade operates.

Berry is top of the AFL's tackle count through 21 rounds of the season (151), laying a season-high 17 against Collingwood in Round 18, and commits more pressure acts per game (30) than any other player in the league.

He's a contested ball-winning beast who loves the contest, and a player who, if he doesn't win the ball himself, you don't want to be chased by.

But pressure -- one of this sport's most critical elements to master -- is not all about tackles. It's about the act of creating pressure on your opponent by corralling, chasing, closing or applying it physically.

These are the four different levels of pressure Champion Data uses to determine a player's overall 'pressure points' from a game of footy.

Each pressure act is worth a different amount of points -- with physical (such as tackles) worth more than closing, which is worth more than chasing, which is worth more than corralling -- which means a player could record a very high number of pressure acts in one match but won't accrue as many pressure points as a player whose acts were mainly physical or closing.

Berry is averaging 76.8 pressure points per game this season, which is far and away the highest number in 2022, and he trails only Port Adelaide's Dominic Cassisi (2010) who averaged 78.5 as the best pressure season we've seen from a player in the last 12 years.

Berry's teammate Laird, who is quietly putting together an astonishing year worth All-Australian consideration, also features in the top 10 leading pressure players in 2022, averaging 60.8 points per game. This was culminated by a remarkable 20-tackle effort against the Magpies, in which the 28-year-old broke a record for the most tackles recorded in a VFL/AFL match.

Berry leads Gold Coast's Matt Rowell (66.3) and Collingwood's Jack Crisp (64.9) in the race to be this year's pressure king, with perennial hard nuts Jack Viney, Andrew Brayshaw and Tom Liberatore also featuring prominently on the list.

Along with pressure points, Champion Data has broken down the best pressure players in additional categories: pressure acts (how many times a player has applied pressure or affected a tackle), points created from turnovers (how many points a team has scored directly from turnovers created by a player's pressure acts), and tackle efficiency (percentage of a player's physical pressure acts that have either dispossessed an opponent or affected the disposal).

Berry might top the total numbers charts, but it's Sydney's Callum Mills who lays claim to the AFL's most effective tackler. The Swans mid has a tackle efficiency of 78% from his 164 attempts this season, which slightly leads GWS star Stephen Coniglio on 77.3%.

Taking it one step further, the best way to judge the value of a player's pressure is looking at if it causes turnovers from the opposition, and measuring pressure act effectiveness based on the score by a team generated by a player's pressure. It's here, that Richmond young gun Maurice Rioli dominates.

The excitement machine has only played 12 matches this season, but from those 12, he has forced 46 turnovers, which resulted in a whopping 106 points created for his side.

To put that into perspective, Brisbane's Lincoln McCarthy has generated 99 points for the Lions from his pressure acts, but he has played eight more matches than the aforementioned Tiger.

For good reason our attention gravitates to the eye-catching midfielders and goal-kickers, or even defensive interceptors, when looking for the most effective players on the park. But don't forget to notice and praise those at the source, the unsung heroes applying a stack of pressure to ensure your favourite players can thrive in the spotlight.