It was a year of almost (but not quite) for Carlton – beating the Minor Premiers in the Cats but losing to the Wooden Spooners in the Crows was a microcosm of their inconsistent season. This was a source of frustration for players and supporters alike, as 6 of their games were nail-biters decided by less than a goal. It was bordering on traumatic at one point, but with the ledger 4-2 in those games, Carlton can’t lean on it as an excuse for another middling ladder finish.
Wayward recruiting has long been the critique of Carlton (don’t throw yourself down the depressing rabbithole of Carlton’s draft hauls from 2010-2014 that I just barely crawled out of), but the selections in the Steven Silvagni: List Manager era have been night-and-day in quality. Carlton’s ability to take the next step hinges on this crop of young players, invested in with high draft picks, finally fulfilling their potential. Weitering needs to go even better than his 40-man All-Australian nod, Fisher and Dow need to repay the faith with consistent footy and McKay needs to turn his dominant contested marking into a becoming a dominant key forward overall. Return on investment from Cuningham and especially McGovern wouldn’t hurt either.
Getting help for poor Patty Cripps, who has long carried this famous club on his shoulders, would be a much-welcomed and organic symptom of the maturation of Carlton’s list. We saw great signs from former Giant Setterfield as the year wore on and Walsh adjusted to his wing role, but the limited returns from Fisher, Dow and even prized-recruit Jack Martin left Carlton’s midfield stale as ever.
Unfortunately, the Blues have been diagnosed with the same disease to their key forwards; so much potential but so little output. Charlie Curnow’s a game-winner but his constant off-field injuries don’t allow us to see it, while Mitch McGovern never learned from his brother’s painful lesson at West Coast by showing up with a complete lack of fitness and work ethic at his new club. McKay leading the club goalkicking with just 21 goals sums up Carlton’s scoreboard woes – who’ll lift and carry this storied club into their first Finals series since Chris Judd was still bursting out of packs?
Kreuzer, Simpson [retired]
Goddard, Lang, Macreadie, Moore, O’Dwyer, Phillips, Polson, B Silvagni [delisted]
Williams (GWS), Saad (ESS), Fogarty (GEEL)
The big-name retirements don’t hurt Carlton as much as they could. Kreuzer was so often injured that we’ll hardly notice he’s gone, while the loss of Simpson will sting in the leadership department more than on-field with the acquisition of Adam Saad.
Zac Williams is the prized recruit who was wrenched out of GWS with the allure of more midfield time, and the early talk out of Carlton suggests that’s exactly where we’ll find him in 2021. Fogarty adds to the midfield depth as insurance in the frustratingly (and increasingly more likely) event that it never clicks for Dow and/or Fisher. He was always talked up as an onballer but was forever the bridesmaid and never the bride stuck behind a generational midfield in Geelong, so Fogarty finally gets his chance to prove that it wasn’t all talk now that’s he’s part of a weaker engine room that’s far from set in stone.
#37 Corey Durdin – M/F– 62 avg in 7 games in SANFL seniors
The South Australian native is a 172cm midfielder-forward, compared to Dayne Zorko in terms of stature, potential future role and skillset. The whispers around pre-season sessions in Docklands suggests that he might kick off his career in the same way as the Lion, impressing with clean hands and composure in match sim as a protypical small forward. A dark horse for a Round 1 berth – especially if Betts can’t get his calves right – Durdin would provide the Blues with a genuine crumbing threat, rather than trying to force triangular midfielders in Fisher, Gibbons and Kennedy through the square peg of a small forward role.
#41 Jack Carroll – M – 86 avg in 7 games in WAFL Colts
Some experts called this selection the “steal of the draft” as the East Fremantle product was widely expected to be off the shelf by the 2nd round. A versatile midfielder who started as a wingman and transitioned into the guts last year, Carroll has also starred in an attacking half-back role. Most recruiters were more enamoured with his potential than his current capabilities though, so listen out for Carroll’s name later in the year if he develops as the talent scouts expect in the revamped VFL.
Rookie #8 Luke Parks – D
A project player who spent time in the Swans Academy, Parks will add depth to Carlton’s defensive stocks with no expectations that he’ll play senior footy in 2021.
Carlton lacked a gameplan identity in 2020, due to a combination of inconsistency and never having the pill in their hands – they ranked 2nd-last in disposals, including generating the least uncontested possessions of any side this year. In saying that, their statistical volume should vastly improve in 2021, with the rapid growth of Walsh plus Zac Williams in the mix.
In terms of DvP, they didn’t give up a lot due to their scrappy game-style devolving the game into a slugfest. Disposals and Marks down, Tackles up against the Blues. While admittedly the following numbers were helped by Curnow tagging the more potent threats, they conceded the 2nd-least points to MID’s (and easily the least over the last 5 rounds), making Carlton a DFS black spot on a lot of slates.
I found the ruck trends interesting last year. While Carlton conceded the 3rd-most hitouts last year, they found themselves in the better half of the DvP numbers conceded to RUC’s. With the Blues restrictive at ground level, it was the competition’s elite tap ruckman in Gawn (154), Grundy (113), O’Brien (99), Naitanui (96) and Goldstein (90) that reaped the rewards. Something to keep in mind with Carlton rolling with the same Pittonet/De Koning ruck unit in 2021.
5 IN FOCUS
1. Sam Docherty
In theory, I’m all over Docherty in DFS this year. Coming off consecutive knee reconstructions last year, the Carlton co-captain exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations by playing all-but-one game in 2020 and averaging an adjusted (and uninjured) 94 AF along the way. That was supposed to be his warm-up year, by the way – there’s a long history of players taking at least a couple of years to return to their best after an ACL, let alone back-to-back recos. So, medical science is on Doch’s side in 2021.
His splits are interesting too; Docherty averaged a massive 10 marks and 118 AF (both adjusted) in the first 5 rounds before teams realised – oh yeah, this guy’s an All-Australian for a reason – and held him to 6 marks and 82 AF for the remainder of the year through a combination of heightened team awareness and dedicated forward tags. That’s where the addition of pricey recruit Adam Saad makes a huge difference, in my opinion. West Coast already rate him enough to tag him whenever they cross his path, and with Saad expected to play a more attacking role this year (hence his desire to leave the Bombers), clamping down on the speedster will only become sexier. No longer will Docherty be the only victim of defensive-minded coaches, and that can only help his numbers.
In practice, we need to keep getting these positive vibes out of the Carlton camp regarding his off-season ankle surgery. I’m liking that he has “returned to training duties earlier than initially predicted” and the fact that Carlton “believes Docherty will benefit from a slower off-season” after huge training loads coming back from those ACL’s is very positive propaganda. Keep ‘em coming.
2. Sam Walsh
Even Stevie Wonder could see that Carlton were playing Walsh out of position on a wing to start 2020, but I guess instead of rewarding him for his runaway Rising Star accolades, the Blues opted to go for the “tough-love, earn your spot, developmental” approach. And to his credit, Walsh adjusted as the season wore on, increasing his (adjusted) average of 83 AF to a hefty 112 AF post-bye.
He took that to the next level in the final month of Carlton’s season. Not only was he their leading disposal winner in each of the last 5 games, but after 9 straight weeks without a single CBA, Walsh was finally re-introduced to the inside midfield group in Round 15… and posted adjusted scores of 120, 143, 119 and 96 to cap off his sophomore season. Huge.
And speaking of huge, Walsh has apparently set his sights on earning more of these scrumptious CBA’s by putting in the work in the gym off-season. Walsh, along with Fisher, were singled out by assistant coach Dale Amos for their bigger frames this off-season. If he gets consistent inside midfield minutes… watch out.
3. Zac Williams
If you believe the unwavering rhetoric coming out of Carlton this off-season, the midfield time for Zac Williams is real. And that’s all we need to hear in DFS (and all forms of fantasy, for that matter) given the very clear sample size from his 2019 season at GWS. Moved into the midfield to cover for injuries to Whitfield, Coniglio and Kelly, the career half-back increased his output from 83 AF to 105 AF and looked right at home up the ground.
If you needed any more convincing, Williams’ only game in 2020 with significant midfield time (41% CBA share) was in Round 17, which ended up producing his highest score for the year with an adjusted 113 AF. Will be a huge DFS mover and shaker early before his price catches up.
4. Patrick Cripps
If you could accurately pick the games where Cripps blows up, you’d be a very rich man or woman. Carlton’s Atlas was frustratingly feast or famine in 2020, pumping out 5 adjusted scores of 114+ but also littering 4 sub-80 scores throughout his season.
One reason to get excited about Patty – he struggled with hub life last season. In Carlton’s 5 games in Victoria, Cripps averaged an adjusted 105 AF, compared to just 89 AF and 7 fewer touches a game interstate. With tentative optimism that the AFL can have a more regular fixture in 2021 and the need for hubs is behind us, Cripps’ stocks rise organically.
Off-season shoulder surgery would be the main concern for his fantasy prospects this year, but all the mail on his recovery is super positive at the moment. He was “doing 95% of the training” back in mid-January, and “he’s had a fantastic off-season” according to Carlton’s Director of High Performance in Andrew Russell. Keep an eye on Cripps’ progress ahead of Round 1’s clash with the Tigers, against whom he’s scored 109, 130, 101, 126 and 115 in his last five.
5. Tom De Koning / Marc Pittonet
We have an old-fashioned position battle on our hands here. All the mail coming out of Docklands was that De Koning had nudged ahead in the race for the #1 mantle, but a stress reaction in his back has ruled him out for the first few rounds of the season. Just like that, Pittonet surges back into contention with the opportunity to cement his place with a hot start to the season.
Which is something he’s no stranger to. He earned the fantasy nickname Mr Worldwide after adjusted scores of 93, 98, 79 and 70 kicked off his career as a Blue, before his output dropped off amid niggly injuries like an eye poke and a finger issue. That opened the door for TDK, and Carlton spent the rest of the year juggling the pair with mixed results. Unsurprisingly, both fared better without the other, with Pittonet 11 points and De Koning 31 points more productive as solo artists.
- Marchbank missed all of 2020 with neck and knee injuries, but is finally getting a decent run at it (albeit a closely managed one) this pre-season. He’s had a fantasy game in the past, especially when playing an intercept role for the Blues in 2017 (69 avg), so track his progress.
- Marchbank’s clean bill of health creates a log-jam in defence, with fantasy-friendly defenders in Newman and Williamson facing an uphill battle to make the Round 1 side.
- On the flip side, it could help free up classy ball-user Petrevski-Seton, who spent most of 2020 actually defending while outgoing veteran Kade Simpson played a more attacking role. Saad’s recruitment tempers my optimism on that slightly, however.
- Setterfield broke out last season in a big way and impressed in multiple roles, ranging all the way through the 0-75% CBA spectrum. He averaged a juicy 99 (adjusted) in the 8 games with over 50% CBA presence, so track his likely role for 2021 this pre-season.
- Ed Curnow again played a defensive midfield role and always found a way to score, even when given a dedicated tag target, but this might be the year where he starts to regress in fantasy with (hopefully, for Carlton’s sake) the younger players taking up some of the accumulation slack.
- Paddy Dow is forever a tease and his only path to a Round 1 spot is a huge pair of pre-season outings. Even when he does crack the side, he’ll have to cut his teeth with a fair bit of time across half forward, which dulls his DFS appeal significantly. I’m open to being pleasantly surprised, though.
- Mitch McGovern has a lot of fantasy growth in him if he can trim down, and early signs out of pre-season are positive. He’s the kinda cat where you need to see it before you buy it however.
- Jack Martin averaged just 20% CBA presence in his first year at the Blues but has been training with the midfield group this pre-season, which, if it sticks, would make him a red hot chance to break the 84-point glass ceiling he’s had on his fantasy output over his career.
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.