The Six Points: Carlton is just a bang average football team, nothing more

Each week, ESPN.com.au's Jake Michaels looks at six talking points from the AFL world.

This week's Six Points feature the disappointing Blues, the team who should be premiership favourite over Collingwood, whether four umpires is working and why the 2019 draft class is tracking to be the best we've ever seen.

1. The Blues are a mediocre football team and we shouldn't expect anything more

Sorry, Blues fans, but I've got something to tell you and you're really not going to want to hear it. Your team -- yes, the one just about every fan and media pundit had playing finals and giving the top four a nudge in 2023 -- isn't that good.

Carlton, now 4-1-3, feels very much like a middling team. Bang average. They can beat up on the cellar dwellers (sorry, Eagles) but very much look a couple of rungs below those teams who really are in contention for the double chance, as evidenced by the comprehensive loss, at home, to the undermanned Lions in Round 8.

So was there too much hype surrounding the Blues? Perhaps. And I'll raise my hand and admit I played a part in that, but with so much top end talent you just expect they'll win more games than they lose. It was also on the cards they'd come out firing after narrowly missing the September action last year due to heartbreaking end-of-season losses to Melbourne and Collingwood.

Michael Voss joined the club at the beginning of last season and it's quite clear what his primary focus has been - ball winning, particularly in the midfield. The Blues rank No. 1 in disposals, contested possession differential, ground ball differential and third in clearances in that time. That's good, right?

Not exactly.

The problem is Carlton lack outside run and when the game isn't stoppage-based it looks lethargic and confused as to how to advance the ball. It also doesn't help their cause that they are carrying too many midfielders who seem afraid to kick the Sherrin, which results in endless handballing in circles.

The best teams never have more than one of their top six ball winners handballing more than kicking. The Demons? Just one. The Cats? Zero. How about the Blues? There's three of them - Patrick Cripps, George Hewett and Sam Walsh are all handballing more often than they kick. And in the case of Cripps and Hewett, they handball twice as much as they kick, ranking them both in the bottom six in the entire league for kick-to-handball ratio this year.

But the issues spread even further and there are many other numbers which indicate the Blues are just a midfield team. Points for? They rank eighth. Points against? Eighth. Scores per inside 50? Eighth. Pressure? Ninth. End-to-end ball movement? Ninth. Average.

Carlton sit eighth on the ladder (surprise, surprise) heading into Round 9, but with games to come against the Bulldogs (Marvel Stadium), Magpies (MCG), Swans (SCG), Demons (MCG) and Bombers (MCG) the season could very easily be hanging by a thread before they reach the bye in Round 14. Based on current form, it's hard to see the Blues starting as a favourite in any of those contests.

So perhaps it's time to reassess the expectation surrounding the Blues. But even still, missing finals would be a major disappointment, regardless of what Adam Cerra believes.

2. Melbourne deserves to be the 2023 premiership favourite

I can't quite put my finger on it, and there's absolutely no statistical analysis in this, but there's something about a Saturday twilight date with the Suns on the Gold Coast which screams 'danger game'. And until the final seconds last weekend, it very much looked like they might just upset the Demons.

Put simply, Melbourne didn't have it last weekend. Simon Goodwin's side was miles from its best, smashed in contested possessions (-27) and comfortably beaten in clearances (-7). Steven May and Jake Lever were uncharacteristically leaky in defence, Bayley Fritsch played his worst game in years, and Brodie Grundy had very minimal impact outside of his two goals.

But yet they still found a way to win. They still managed to bank the four points on the road against a Suns side which was playing its best football of the year. With all due respect to the Magpies, this is why the Demons deserve to be the premiership favourite. What's more is we have data to suggest that even with that shaky performance against Gold Coast, Melbourne's tracking even better than in its 2021 premiership year.

Under Goodwin, the Demons have built their game around contest and defence. They ranked No. 1 in both areas, even before they charged into premiership calculations two seasons back. What always held them back was their inability to score, averaging just 63 points per game in 2020.

In 2021, it all clicked. They became the second-best team for total points and second-ranked for scoring efficiency. The result? A 76-point Grand Final triumph over the Bulldogs.

Last year, the Demons' attack tailed off somewhat but the first third of 2023 suggests it's not only back to where it was in 2021 but even stronger. Melbourne's averaging 107 points per game, up from 90 in 2021, and has increased its scoring efficiency by an unprecedented 20%. It has become far more dangerous without taking anything away from arguably the league's best midfield and one of the stingiest backlines.

Yeah, they're very nicely poised.

3. Do we really need four umpires?

Four field umpires. If it was a hot topic heading into the season, it's reached boiling point now.

I'm really not sure if I slot into the minority or majority here but I'm all in favour of having four umpires. From a fitness standpoint, Aussie Rules has to be the most difficult sport in the world to officiate, with our umpires expected to run between 15-20km per game. I know I'd probably make better decisions if I wasn't constantly gasping for air!

There's also been an unfair narrative circulating that too many free kicks are being paid in 2023, as a result of the extra field umpire. Let me dispel that for you right now.

In 2022 we had an average of 40 free kicks awarded per game. This year, it's dipped to 38.

While we're on the subject of umpiring, can commentators stop criticising goal umpires for taking a score review on a borderline call?

The system -- which, admittedly, has plenty of flaws -- is there to ensure a greater number of correct decisions are made. Continuing to harp on about goal umpires needing to simply 'back themselves' is not only ridiculous but potentially detrimental to the outcomes of games.

And when they do get one wrong, and every goal umpire inevitably will, you'll be the first to crush them and ask why it wasn't reviewed. You can't have it both ways.

4. To boo or not to boo, that is the question

There's three types of boos in football. Well, all sports, really.

  • BOO #1 - The you-once-played-for-us-and-now-you-don't boo.

It's the most common type of booing in the game. It's often harmless and it highlights the passion of fans. I find this one particularly humorous when said player was moved on against his or her wishes.

We can expect to hear this type of booing in Round 9 when Jason Horne-Francis faces off against former side North Melbourne at Blundstone Arena. The Kangaroos faithful are certain to get stuck into him and I'm all for it, given he was their No. 1 draft pick, played just one season and then requested a trade back to his home state of South Australia.

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  • BOO #2 - The how-dare-you-do-that-to-one-of-our-players boo.

I love this one. A player deserves to cop it from opposition fans if they lay a cheap shot, cause injury, or anything in between.

We're likely to hear this on Friday night as Richmond fans remind Geelong defender Tom Stewart that they haven't forgotten about the nasty late bump he laid on Dion Prestia -- which resulted in a four-week suspension -- when the two teams faced each other last year. Tigers fans, give him everything you've got!

  • BOO #3 - The I'm-going-to-boo-because-everyone-else-is-but-I'm-still-not-really-sure-why boo.

This is utter garbage. Last week, Lance Franklin was booed by Collingwood fans for absolutely no logical reason. It very much felt like 'you're a great player and you don't play for my team' type of boo, and it's just nonsense.

The booing of Horne-Francis by supporter bases outside North Melbourne also fit into this category. Seriously, what are we doing?

5. The 2019 draft class is on track to be the greatest ever

Before you start screaming 'hyperbole', let me just explain that I don't neccessarily believe or expect the 2019 draft class to become the best of all time, this is purely a look at how it's tracking in comparison to the other great AFL drafts.

The 2001 draft, often dubbed the 'superdraft', is widely considered to be the best we've ever had. Chris Judd, Gary Ablett, Luke Hodge, Dane Swan, Jimmy Bartel and Sam Mitchell, among other greats, were all picked up that year. The class shares seven Brownlow Medals and boasts 18 premiership players. That's going to take some topping!

But with the 2019 group, I'd argue we've never seen a draft crop this great, this soon. With all due respect to the aforementioned all-time greats, I believe the top 15 or so players of 2019 are further advanced after 60-70 games than they were. And yes, I know Judd won a Brownlow in his third season! But he isn't 15 players.

Caleb Serong, Noah Anderson and Chad Warner are all making the case they're already the best players on their respective teams. Luke Jackson has been described as a 'generational talent', Kysaiah Pickett and Cody Weightman are two of the most damaging small forwards in the game, and some in football circles are adamant Will Day will become the best of the entire bunch.

I've said it before and I'm prepared to double down on it, I believe Anderson and Warner will be the two best midfielders in the game within a few years. At least one of them will be a Brownlow Medal winner.

It won't be long before we view the class of 2019 as 'superdraft No. 2', and it's on the board it goes down as the best of all time.

6. Scrap the Friday night double-headers and bring back Thursday night footy

You know what I don't appreciate? Two games which overlap on a Friday night.

I'm stoked the Suns finally get to experience Friday night football -- albeit off free-to-air television and against the lowly Eagles in Perth -- but can we just stick to the traditional single Friday evening game?

I feel as though I speak for most footy fans when I say weekly Thursday night football would be welcomed with open arms. Not only does it avoid the dreaded and frustrating overlap which we have to kick off Round 9, but it just extends the weekend and makes footy relevant for an extra 24 hours.

It would be a win for broadcasters, fans and players. Nobody loses.