PUT it down, perhaps, to new-team fatigue. It was about this time last year that a starved bunch of recruiters began to get very excited about what would be there for them once Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney had stopped hogging the best part of the draft.
They knew they would have some decent picks again. Many of the players who caught eyes at last year's under-18 championships were ineligible until this year and those things prompted much optimism. But 12 months on, it's time to pour a bit of cold water on the supposed ''super draft.''
The feeling among recruiters now is that the coming draft hovers somewhere between ''normal'' and ''pretty good,' but that it is not one with the potential to solve everyone's problem in one hit. One club has a list of 20 players it would happily choose. Another has closer to 30, and that's about standard for this time of year.
Under 18 : AFL Championships
Nicholas Graham (VIC) wrestles for ball. Photo: Joe Armao
But the other thing that has become clear is that things won't be entirely back to normal. Four clubs have activated five first-round compensation picks, and three of those picks (Melbourne two, and the Western Bulldogs one) are attached to sides near the bottom of the ladder. The Giants' first-round compensation pick, received via a trade, is attached to where Adelaide finishes.
Already, that means the best clubs still won't be picking until about the mid-20s. It could be later, if extra picks are handed out for players who leave their clubs via free agency. It means there isn't relief there for everyone, just yet.
Who do they pick? This is shaping up as a midfielders' draft. Lachie Whitfield looms as the best, most complete prospect, and after him there's a bit of a gap, with the likes of classy, creative Jimmy Toumpas, the hard-at-it Ollie Wines, and Daniel Menzel's younger brother, Troy, all well placed to push up into the next group.
In training: Lachie Whitfield. Photo: Paul Rovere
Wines and Jack Viney loom as the best inside-midfielders in the group, which makes the speculation that Melbourne may not take Viney - if forced to use pick three on him in father-son bidding - hard to fathom. He's exactly what it needs, and an exceptional kid to boot.
Nick Vlastuin, Jono O'Rourke, Dayle Garlett and Jake Stringer are among the other onballers who'll be considered with high picks. Josh Simpson has huge talent and the likes of Jackson Macrae and Nathan Hrovat have had solid carnivals. South Australian pair Sam Mayes and Ben Kennedy should go reasonably high, and another few - Jason Pongracic, Nathan Wright, Jesse Lonergan - have only recently returned from injury and will be watched closely from here.
Many of these midfielders come with question marks, though. Toumpas is about to have surgery on his hip. Menzel's missed the past few weeks with groin problems, but the thing everyone really wonders about is the LARS surgery he had two years ago. Is Mayes a forward or onballer? The same goes for Kennedy but, wherever they end up, both will bring brilliant skill.
Stringer's in the middle of a bumpy year, coming back from a badly broken leg.
Then there's Garlett. He has top-10 talent - speed, and skill - but has had problems with discipline. He's been working hard, he said this week, to change people's perceptions of him. Most recruiters are still wary, so he has some convincing still to do.
The talls aren't quite so easy to see, past Joe Daniher, of course, who grabbed 11 marks to help Metro defend its title yesterday. At this stage, Brodie Grundy is the best of them: the aggressive, enigmatic, deep thinking ruckman has backed up an excellent 2011 championships, and was a major reason the South Australians beat Vic Country yesterday.
Kristian Jaksch has played some good footy throughout the championships, Laine Wilkins found some form against Vic Metro, Mason Shaw is in the mix, and then it gets harder.
That's the last point worth making, though. There's almost half a season to go and plenty of players have done enough to demand a bit of post-championships attention. Some more depth will surely emerge, but one thing is for sure: the top group is as good as any in recent memory, and those with compensation picks have a genuine shot at getting some.