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The Deep Dive: The first-year star already proving to be one of the AFL's most clutch performers

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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.


When a high-stakes game is in the balance, who are the players on your team you want to have the ball? Those that make you breathe easier in a heart-stopper.

It's the 'clutch' players, the players who stand tall under immense pressure and show a cool head when others dissolve.

Put simply, these kind of players are the difference between your team winning and losing, and it's exactly what separates the game's most elite from the also-rans.

They're able to execute the right pass when it's needed most, and carefully think their way through even the most pressured situations.

These players aren't necessarily the most talented on the team. Being clutch is a different, rare skill that's more critical than any other facet of the game.

Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Tiger Woods are just some of the names who have proudly worn the term in global sport, but which AFL players are following in their footsteps?

With the help of Champion Data, we've discovered who the most clutch AFL players are since 2016, classifying the fourth quarter of games (when the margin was 12 points or less at three-quarter time and the final margin was also within two goals) as 'clutch time'.

But what exactly is a clutch moment in a game of footy? Kicking the winner after the siren? Winning the clearance that lead's to a match-winning goal? Taking a game-saving intercept mark down back?

These are all crucial components of our game that deserve equal praise, and for that we've broken this exercise down into multiple categories.

When basing it off last-quarter AFL Player Rating points -- a metric used to accurately measure the influence of a player's stat and the overall effectiveness of their entire game -- there is no more clutch player than Hawthorn's Mitch Lewis, who is the only player in the league in the past six years to average more than five rating points in our designated 'clutch time'.

Collingwood prodigy Nick Daicos is second (4.859), which highlights the remarkable influence and calmness he possesses as a first-year player.

Both Lewis and Daicos have only played in eight and six of these scenarios respectively, however, and looking at a bigger sample size, it's Melbourne duo Max Gawn (4.857) and Clayton Oliver (4.846) who lead the way, each playing 18 clutch quarters.

Essendon match-winner Jake Stringer, who ranks 73rd overall for rating points, sky rockets to sixth in clutch games, while Brisbane's Jarryd Lyons rises from 24th to 10th.

Eagles star Luke Shuey is one player who we can say holds the mantle as the modern game's most clutch performer. The 32-year-old premiership hero is No. 1 for clearances, No. 3 for contested possessions (despite being 34th overall in this time) and No. 7 for rating points.

Hard nuts Brad Crouch and Callan Ward feature highly in the disposal-winning component, while North Melbourne endurance beast Jared Polec also appears to be another player who stands up in the pressure game.

It's the Swans and the Pies who have their fans pulling their hair out the most, though, with the top 12 clutch quarters played (that is, the most close finishes) all Sydney or Collingwood players.

Here's the full breakdown of the players who put the team on their back, the ones who come up clutch.


Clutch kings

Rating points in 'clutch time'*

1. Mitch Lewis (Hawthorn) - 5.03
2. Nick Daicos (Collingwood) - 4.86
3. Max Gawn (Melbourne) - 4.85
4. Clayton Oliver (Melbourne) - 4.84
5. Nat Fyfe (Fremantle) - 4.79
6. Jake Stringer (Essendon) - 4.70
7. Luke Shuey (West Coast) - 4.67
8. Brodie Grundy (Collingwood) - 4.61
9. Maverick Weller (St Kilda & Richmond) - 4.59
10. Jarryd Lyons (Gold Coast & Brisbane) - 4.57

Disposals

1. Jack Macrae (Western Bulldogs) - 8.8
2. Brad Crouch (Adelaide & St Kilda) - 8.6
3. Clayton Oliver (Melbourne) - 8.2
4. Zach Merrett (Essendon) - 7.7
5. Callan Ward (GWS) - 7.4
6. Nick Daicos (Collingwood) - 7.3
7. Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn) - 7.13
8. Sam Docherty (Carlton) - 7.1
9. Jared Polec (Port Adelaide & North Melbourne) - 7.06
10. Adam Treloar (Collingwood & Western Bulldogs) - 7.04

Clearances

1. Luke Shuey (West Coast) - 2.6
2. Ben Cunnington (North Melbourne) - 2.2
3. Clayton Oliver (Melbourne) - 2.05
4. Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn & West Coast) - 2
5. Hugh Greenwood (Adelaide, Gold Coast & North Melbourne) - 1.81
6. David Swallow (Gold Coast) - 1.75
7. Jack Macrae (Western Bulldogs) - 1.74
8. Noah Anderson (Gold Coast) - 1.71
9. Callan Ward (GWS) - 1.69
10. Tom Liberatore (Western bulldogs) - 1.66

Contested possessions

1. Clayton Oliver (Melbourne) - 5.1
2. Ben Cunnington (North Melbourne) - 4.5
3. Luke Shuey (West Coast) - 3.9
4. Nat Fyfe (Fremantle) - 3.8
5. Hugh Greenwood (Adelaide, Gold Coast & North Melbourne) - 3.7
6. Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong) - 3.63
7. Jack Macrae (Western Bulldogs) - 3.6
8. Josh P. Kennedy (Sydney) - 3.52
9. David Swallow (Gold Coast) - 3.5
10. Patrick Cripps (Carlton) - 3.45

Goals

1. Josh J. Kennedy (West Coast) - 1.06
2. Mitch Lewis (Hawthorn) - 0.87
3. Allen Christensen (Brisbane) - 0.83
4. Jake Stringer (Essendon) - 0.76
5. Taylor Walker (Adelaide) - 0.7
6. Aaron Young (Port Adelaide & Gold Coast) - 0.67
7. Cameron Zurhaar (North Melbourne) - 0.67
8. Ben King (Gold Coast) - 0.67
9. Jonathon Patton (GWS & Hawthorn) - 0.67
10. Tom J. Lynch (Gold Coast & Richmond) - 0.6
10. Harry McKay (Carlton) - 0.6

Intercept marks

1. Nick Haynes (GWS) - 1.31
2. Tom Barrass (West Coast) - 1.14
3. Jake Carlisle (Essendon & St Kilda) - 1.1
4. Marcus Adams (Western Bulldogs & Brisbane) - 1.08
5. Scott D. Thompson (North Melbourne) - 1.07
6. Jeremy McGovern (West Coast) - 1
7. Jeremy Howe (Collingwood) - 0.95
8. Harris Andrews (Brisbane) - 0.93
9. Ryan Lester (Brisbane) - 0.88
10. Jake Lever (Adelaide & Melbourne) - 0.87

Marks

1. Nick Haynes (GWS) - 2.3
2. Lachlan Sholl (Adelaide) - 2.1
3. Marcus Adams (Western Bulldogs & Brisbane) - 2
4. Cale Hooker (Essendon) - 2
5. Jeremy Howe (Collingwood) - 1.86
6. Nick Vlastuin (Richmond) - 1.84
7. Brandon Zerk-Thatcher (Essendon) - 1.83
8. Sam Docherty (Carlton) - 1.83
9. Connor Blakely (Fremantle) - 1.83
10. Jared Polec ((Port Adelaide & North Melbourne) - 1.8

Hitouts to advantage

1. Nic Naitanui (West Coast) - 4
2. Jarrod Witts (Collingwood & Gold Coast) - 3.76
3. Brodie Grundy (Collingwood) - 3.48
4. Max Gawn (Melbourne) - 3.4
5. Shane Mumford (GWS) - 3
6. Todd Goldstein (North Melbourne) - 2.95
7. Sean Darcy (Fremantle) - 2.71
8. Sam Jacobs (Adelaide) - 2.7
9. Reilly O'Brien (Adelaide) - 2.69
10. Tom Hickey (St Kilda, West Coast & Sydney) - 2.38

*All stats calculated during our 'clutch time' period - the final quarter when the margin was 12 points or less at three-quarter time and the final margin was also within two goals.