Hindsight’s 2020

The story of Adelaide’s season is a tragedy at worst and a cautionary tale at best. To start the year with two Crouchs and to end it with just one and a wooden spoon in the other’s place is a tough read. Injuries to key personnel such as Sloane, Milera, Seedsman and Doedee contributed, of course, but ultimately the club failed to address their one glaring fault – a midfield as accountable as the similarly demoralised Trump administration. 

As a result, Adelaide not only won the fewest games in a bizarre pandemic-strained season, but they also finished dead last in both Fantasy Points For and Fantasy Points Against… and by a decent margin too. 

As you might expect, this translated to Adelaide featuring in the top 3 for DvP in every single positional line (including miles ahead for MID’s). Oh, except in the ruck – where they “improved” to 4th. All in all it was a disaster of a 2020 for the Crows, but absolute gold for DFS punters who knew exactly who, when and where to stack. 

If I was to hunt for a silver lining, Adelaide’s last month of footy was very much AFL standard and saw them go 3-1 in that stretch, with only a loss to eventual Premiers Richmond marring their run towards an inevitable Mad Monday. They seemed to finally find the right inside midfield mix (Crouch x2, Sloane and Laird), rather than trying to spread the load across a larger group that included Ben Keays (who was a shining light in his first year across from Brisbane), Chayce Jones (who is dead to me in DFS), Brodie Smith and rookie Harry Schoenberg. They even improved to middle-of-the-pack in their MID DvP numbers over that stretch which, considering where they were prior, was a complete gameplan backflip of sorts.

The debut of Lachlan Sholl, the emergence of Laird as a midfielder, the recruitment of the versatile Keays, the growth of Doedee (when fit) and the continued excellence of O’Brien in both the ruck and around the ground were other highlights in a dark season of constant lowlights. 

If nothing else, Adelaide figures to be an extremely relevant team in DFS this year. They fell so far in 2020 that they’ll either rise again and we’ll cash in on the fantasy boosts across the board, or they’ll continue to stumble and we’ll stack anyone with 3 limbs and a heartbeat against them all over again. 

 

Musical Chairs

OUTS

B Crouch, Atkins, Hartigan [trades, free agency]
Gibbs [retired]
Crocker, Gallucci, Knight, Poholke, Taylor, Wilson [delisted]

INS

Hately (GWS), Hinge (BRIS).

Overall this looks like a net loss on paper, but Adelaide cashed in a lot of their chips at the draft rather than with established players. They finally pulled the pin on the never-realised promise of the “next crop” of midfielders in Gallucci/Poholke/Wilson and have instead opted to skip that generation entirely with their haul of 3 MID’s taken in the first 30 selections at this year’s draft. Put simply – the Crows are in full rebuild mode.

Part of that rebuild is in diversifying their midfield, with the exiting Brad Crouch overlapping heavily in skillsets with his brother and Sloane. The incoming Hately adds speed, youth and efficient disposal without sacrificing accumulation, backed up by his junior numbers as a native South Australian – which is a huge tick for a club that has been picked apart by rival clubs sniffing out the go-home factor. 

With just 3 games over 4 years at Brisbane, Hinge is basically a free hit, but Adelaide will be laughing if he gets anywhere close to the turnaround former (and now current, again) teammate Keays experienced in his first season as a Crow. Adelaide’s List Management team see him as utility primarily off either half-back or the wing, and time will tell whether he’s just depth or a recruiting masterstroke. 

 

Fresh Meat

#2 Riley Thilthorpe – R/F 63 avg from 9 games in SANFL seniors.

A big lump of a lad at 201cm and 102kg, Thilthorpe won’t have any of the lengthy bulking up issues that draftees of his height often experience – physically, he can play right away (troublesome groins pending). Getting a spot in the senior side is his first hurdle though. He’s roughly the same dimensions as teammate Riley O’Brien but is more of a footballer to ROB’s athletic acumen (read: he’s actually coordinated for his size) so he’ll play as a key forward who pinch-hits in the ruck early in his career – casting Frampton, Himmelberg and even Fogarty as his short-term competition. Great selection for Adelaide as a club long term, but it’s going to be hard to justify selecting a young key position player in DFS outside of “Filthy” being basement-priced on bare single-game slates.

#11 Luke Pedlar – M/F 69 avg from 6 games in 2019 SANFL U/18’s.

Something of a draft bolter in a similar fashion to teammate Schoenberg the year prior, Pedlar plays a similar brand of footy too. Head over the pill, high work rate and repeated efforts, topped off with questionable disposal. He’s expected to start off his career as more energetic FWD than inside MID, especially with Adelaide’s packed midfield and concerns over his endurance and disposal. He proved in a COVID-affected 2020 season that he can do both modes however, averaging 22 touches and 1.5 goals across 4 games as the Captain of his PAC school side. For DFS purposes, I’m very interested in Pedlar if he debuts later in the season where he’d be surrounded by dead wood in the $5k-$9k range, as he has the tools to put together a decent score on debut, even as a forward.

#25 Brayden Cook – M/F – 91 avg from 13 games in SANFL U/18’s

Adelaide have gone for X-factor with their 3rd selection here, selecting the game-winning Cook after a sudden growth spurt elevated his game and thrust him up the draft boards in 2020. Long-term he might become a wingman for the Crows, but early in his career he’ll be called upon as a 3rd-tall type forward who can create goals from little to nothing, rather than as a focal point. Cook’s a pre-season watch to see if his 188cm body continues to develop and his draft bolt transitions into a fast progression up the pecking order internally at Adelaide, but it likely won’t be early on as he recovers from a shoulder reconstruction. When he finally does crack the side though, don’t expect the 91 points he averaged against kids in the U/18’s if he gets there, especially as some of those numbers were boosted by wing time he won’t get for the Crows in 2021. But the 2 goals a game is definitely replicable for him on any given day, so consider small exposures to him anywhere close to basement price as a volatile forward in DFS.

#28 Sam Berry – M – 82 avg from 10 games in 2019 NAB League.

Like his fellow AFL-listed namesakes, Berry loves a tackle. He averaged 6.3 per game in the NAB League, including a huge game of 149 AF that featured 18 tackles. Combining that hunger for the contest with his elite endurance makes Berry a powerful midfield weapon, but likely one for the future with the logjam of established names ahead of him. If he does earn a debut though, you’ll need to have a slice of his action in DFS based on tackling potential alone.

#38 James Rowe – F 70 avg from 17 games in SANFL seniors.

We love the phrase “mature-ager”, so the 21 year-old was always going to come under the microscope in AFL Fantasy circles; but unfortunately that might not extend to DFS relevance. “Jimmy” is the son of inaugural Crow Stephen Rowe and plays as a genuine small forward – the illegal “high tackle” magnetism, vibrant goal celebrations and dirty mullet all included. He’s averaged 2.1 goals a game over his SANFL career but that’s his sole meal ticket in fantasy – he won’t get near 15 touches a game as a permanent deep small forward in the AFL – and that’s if he even gets there – a lack of defensive pressure and effort has been his knock. Rowe seems like the kind of guy who can snag 3 goals yet finish on just 40 AF, so he’s a pass for me in DFS until we see something concrete at senior level that suggests otherwise. 

 

Style Points

Instead of a red carpet being rolled out for his first year implementing a new system, Matthew Nicks was lumped with a global pandemic and a playing list still dealing with the fractured psyche in the aftermath of “that” pre-season camp. Not ideal. Plus, it’s hard to execute a gameplan when you’re getting smoked each week and the ball is out of your hands most of the time – Adelaide ranked 3rd-last for Disposals and dead last for Marks in 2020.

But we saw the broad strokes. Nicks was in search of a pressure-heavy game style, and to his credit, Adelaide actually hit some decent KPI’s in that area. They ranked 3rd for Tackles and 1st for Clangers Against in 2020, which is a solid foundation. Scoring from the turnovers they force is the next step. And it’s a gameplan that suits his troops because it doesn’t rely on elite efficiency by foot – as good as Sloane and Crouch etc. are at finding the pill, delivering it with precision is not a strength that Adelaide’s midfield boasts across the board.

I expect 2021 will be an extension of Adelaide’s last month of coronaball form, where they vastly improved in basically all areas of the ground. They accumulated consistently with disposal totals of 320, 318, 324 and 330 in those games (for context, Collingwood led the league in average disposals at 315 per game) and that resulted in more scoreboard impact, rising from 11 scoring shots a game to 18. 

For DFS purposes, stacking the Crows midfield in positive match-ups will again be the best policy – especially if they become more competitive. Over the last month, none of O’Brien, both Crouchs and Laird scored under 71 AF – which, adjusted back to 20-minute quarters, is roughly 89 points. Safe as houses. 

 

Depth Chart 

 

5 in Focus

1. Matt Crouch

We all know what Matt Crouch is at this point – a ball magnet (he’s finished top 5 in disposals per game the last 4 seasons) with a limited tank (he hovers around 78% game-time like clockwork – Lachie Neale, a similar type, was up around 88% and 92% the last two seasons). But there are a few reasons to get excited about the accumulator this year.

Firstly, he’ll no longer be getting cucked by his own brother Brad in 2021. Matt scored an (adjusted) 17 points more without a family member alongside him in 2020, a huge 122 points per game. Removing a player with an overlapping skillset and solidifying your position in the midfield hierarchy is never a bad thing. 

I mention midfield hierarchy because it wasn’t a given in 2020. Crouch was sensationally dropped in Round 4, but he also had to deal with capped inside midfield minutes anyway as Adelaide tried to spread the load. For the first half of the season, Matt averaged an adjusted 95 AF with his 59% CBA attendance, but this blossomed into a 77% share in the second half and his output followed suit at a whopping 126 AF per game. 

The downside is off-season surgery to a troublesome hip, and starting the pre-season in the rehab group. He claims he’s on track to play in the AAMI pre-season game though, so I’ll operate under the assumption he’s good to go unless we hear otherwise.

With the 2nd-best PPM in the league last season at 1.13, I’ll be all over Matt Crouch as a pay-up midfield choice on Adelaide slates in 2021. And, as a bonus, I’ll be relishing the fact that I now don’t have to choose between him and his brother for who’ll blow up each week.

2. Rory Laird

The AFL Fantasy community are all over this one – Laird’s adjusted average increased from 86 as a defender to 112 as a midfielder from Round 9 onwards. He averaged a massive 25.7 touches once he made the transition – that’s top 10 in the league kind of territory. 

For DFS, the question is simple – does he retain his midfield role in 2021, or does he return to a half-back posting? I’m leaning strongly towards the former based on both Laird’s and the club’s form after they made the change, especially with Milera returning as another option off half-back alongside Brodie Smith and/or Seedsman. This gives us a sneaky midfield option pickable in the DEF slot, assuming Draftstars stick close to the AFL Fantasy positional designations to kick off the season. 

3. Reilly O’Brien

The reigning B&F winner really looked after us in 2020, pumping out the 3rd-highest average (108 adjusted) of the ruck group league-wide. Suddenly, Sam Jacobs’ dumping doesn’t look so harsh, especially given how mightily he struggled at the Giants – O’Brien is just a genuinely good footballer and ripped the spot from his hands.

A big reason for ROB’s rise was his ground-level shenanigans rather than your classic hitout dominance from a ruckman. O’Brien was the only ruckman to rank in the top 5 for each of Disposals, Marks and Tackles, so any hitouts he was able to accumulate was just bonus fantasy goodness at that point. Case in point – his highest scoring game of the year was a raw 115 points (in the famous Naitanui iPhone notes game, no less) where he managed just the 12 taps. 

Look out for a slate-breaking game whenever he gets a soft match-up – his (adjusted) scores of 141 and 140 came against easily the two softest teams for RUC’s in the Bulldogs and Tigers respectively.

4. Lachlan Sholl

The whispers swirling around Sholl keep building this pre-season, with teammates constantly pumping him up on social media and in official interviews. He was the “man to beat” leading in the 2km time trial at Adelaide but no one was able to follow through, with the 2nd-year Father-Son pick claiming the honours.

He’s put on some size during the break after looking noticeably slender alongside grizzly veterans in his debut season, but unfortunately it’s come at a cost. A hand injury sustained in the gym over the last fortnight has resulted in a full removal from football activities, pending scans. Not good.

The silver lining with a hand injury is that if he does miss significant time handling a footy, at least you know the elite fitness base will be unaffected – so the break-out might be just as potent, only a bit behind schedule. Sholl really figured it out over his 8 games last year thanks to a move up to a wing, which saw his average jump from an adjusted 48 AF to 101 AF in the final two rounds. A mid-priced target in DFS for sure.

5. Jackson Hately

The former Giant averaged 98 AF in the 2018 U/18 Champs, followed by 111 in the NEAFL in 2019, so there’s no questions about his pedigree as a ball-winner. The question is whether he actually receives those inside MID minutes he was wooed with, after failing to record a single CBA in his first two seasons at GWS. 

Keays, Schoenberg, Brodie Smith and even Pedlar would have designs on some centre bounce action this year, so track his pre-season for clues around his role ahead of Round 1. The best case scenario is obviously significant CBA action, which would see his scoring profile morph from uncontested possessions and marks from playing on a wing at the Giants, to something closer to his 2018 State Champs numbers of 23 mainly-contested possessions and 7 tackles per game.

Rapidfire Bullets:

  • Adelaide is highly relevant this year so Sloane is stiff not to get a gig in the 5 named above, but he’ll be on everyone’s radar after an injury-affected 2020. He’ll start off the year closer to mid-priced based on his adjusted 76-point average, but that should return to somewhere around the 90+ mark he’d cleared in each of the past 8 seasons.
  • Wayne Milera is in a similar spot after managing just 2 games last year, so he’s one to prioritise in strong DEF match-ups after averaging 84 in the first half of 2019 (especially if Laird continues as a full-time midfielder).
  • Jake Kelly and Luke Brown are always a chance to provide value in positive match-ups as well, while Doedee teased his fantasy potential with raw scores of 86, 86 and 88 in limited outings.
  • Keays’ role will be important early – he spent time in a laundry list of roles last year and found a lot of success as a tagger, so beware his influence on opposition guns.
  • Keep one eye out for a fitter Fogarty to take the next step in 2021, with the other on potential club debuts for Pedlar, Rowe and Hinge.

 

Thanks to Morts at DFS Australia for his all awesome tools, plus websites such as FanFooty, DT Talk/The Traders, Footywire, AFL Tables, Draft Central, AFL Ratings, Daily Fantasy Rankings, @Baked_Beams on Twitter and DT Live for their various stats and references.

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