Gilt-edged: Carlton's Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs are both No.1 draft picks. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
Recruiting of young players is not an exact science. And what price do you put on environment and development? For example, would Jack Watts be a better player had he spent the past five years at Sydney, instead of Melbourne?
The national draft system began in 1986 and the honour of being the first No 1 pick went to Martin Leslie. It wouldn't have meant much to Marty, who was a knockabout bloke who had grown up playing for Port Adelaide in the SANFL.
He had earned a solid reputation because he stood up well when opposed to Glenelg's young gun, Stephen Kernahan. Fitzroy had tried for years to lure Leslie to have a crack at the big time but Melbourne didn't appeal to him.
At age 26, he decided to join the Brisbane Bears on the Gold Coast.
For the next seven years he gave his all, setting the standard for youngsters such as Justin Leppitsch, Chris Scott and Nigel Lappin. As such, the Leslie name is held in high regard at the Lions.
After Leslie, the next five No 1 picks were, collectively, a disappointing bunch. Richard Lounder played four games, Alex McDonald (107), Anthony Banik (49), Stephen Hooper (21) and John Hutton (36). The recruiters got it badly wrong with this quintet.
From 1992, the recruiters started to get it right. The next three prize picks all played more than 200 games: Drew Banfield (265), Darren Gaspar (228) and Jeff White (268).
In 1997, Travis Johnstone took the spotlight. He was a good player who totalled 209 games but 1997 was a draft in which the riches came late. Simon Black was taken at 31, Adam Goodes at 43 and Richmond took Andrew Kellaway at 71. He would go on to play 172 games and earn All-Australian selection.
At 78, the Hawks took Nathan Thompson, who amassed 179 games. There were plenty of hidden gems in 1997.
From 2000, the No 1 draft pick has proven to be a seriously good player. Nick Riewoldt was followed by Luke Hodge, Brendon Goddard, Adam Cooney, Brett Deledio, Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs. The standard was set. Will Matthew Kreuzer, Watts, Tom Scully, David Swallow and Jonathon Patton measure up?
Last year's No 1 pick was Lachie Whitfield. He has yet to play in a winning team with GWS, which begs the question: would you rather the honour and exposure of being the No 1 pick and get to the worst team in the competition, or is it better to be like Mathew Stokes who was pick 61 for Geelong in the 2005 draft? Stokes went to an extremely well-run club and has become a two-time premiership player. So, of the 27 No 1 picks since 1986, who have been the best value? These are my top 10 in order of preference.
1 – LUKE HODGE
The footballer's footballer. Everyone would like to be like Hodge. He is tough, courageous, skilful and versatile. His ability to know what to do when the game is in the balance sets him apart from the rest. A superb leader and committed team player. Winning the Norm Smith Medal in a premiership team says it all.
2 – NICK RIEWOLDT
His courage to run hard and to put his body on the line could never be questioned. A string of best and fairest and goalkicking awards at St Kilda over the past decade puts him in the same bracket as club legends Darrel Baldock, Ian Stewart and Robert Harvey.
3 – BRENDON GODDARD
Gave more than a decade and 200 games to the Saints and showed he could play anywhere and perform at his best when it counted. Sublime skills and a fine reader of the play, by the end of his time with Essendon he will be a 300-game player.
4 – DREW BANFIELD
Gave 14 seasons and 265 games to the Eagles. Part of the 1994 premiership team. Only two other No 1 draft picks have played in premierships – Des Headland in 2002 and Hodge in 2008. Rarely out of the Eagles' best in the 16 finals that he played.
5 – JEFF WHITE
Started as a teenage ruckman with Fremantle but came home to Melbourne to carry the Demons' ruck responsibilities for more than a decade. Would regularly average more than 16 disposals and 25 hitouts a game. All-Australian in 1994.
6 – MARC MURPHY
The Carlton captain has just passed the 150-game mark and could be near 300 by the end of his career. Is quality as an inside and outside midfielder and dangerous as a forward. A real value player as he consistently plays near his best.
7 – BRETT DELEDIO
The Richmond midfielder has best and fairest and All-Australian credits to his name but the biggest test is looming. After nearly 200 games he will play his first finals match in September. He has all the physical attributes to be a star. A challenge will be to beat the tag he will surely get.
8 – DARREN GASPAR
Recruited by Sydney but after two seasons arrived at Punt Road and held down the tough full-back position for more than a decade. Most weeks the lightly-built defender gave away size but earned respect with his courage and will.
9 – ADAM COONEY
At his best, the Bulldog is brilliant but his career gas been curtailed by injury. Won a Brownlow and All-Australian selection in 2008 but has never won a club best and fairest and averages below a goal a game.
10 – BRYCE GIBBS
Nearing 150 games, the Carlton utility is consistently among his team's top five players. His development has suffered because he has been used to plug holes in a weak defence. Sense his next 100 games will be his best.
Of all the drafts, the top three choices in 2001 are the best. Hodge, followed by Luke Ball and then Chris Judd. So far between the trio there are three premierships, multiple best and fairests and All-Australian selections and two Norm Smith medals, and each has captained their club.
The No.1 draft picks, with club and games played
1986 Martin Leslie Brisbane 107
1987 Richard Lounder Richmond 4
1988 Alex McDonald Hawthorn 107
1989 Anthony Banik Richmond 49
1990 Stephen Hooper Geelong 21
1991 John Hutton Brisbane 36
1992 Drew Banfield West Coast 265
1993 Darren Gaspar Sydney 228
1994 Jeff White Fremantle 268
1995 Clive Waterhouse Fremantle 106
1996 Michael Gardiner West Coast/St Kilda 181
1997 Travis Johnstone Melbourne 209
1998 Des Headland Brisbane 166
1999 Josh Fraser Collingwood 218
2000 Nick Riewoldt St Kilda 250
2001 Luke Hodge Hawthorn 216
2002 Brendon Goddard St Kilda 217
2003 Adam Cooney W. Bulldogs 192
2004 Brett Deledio Richmond 184
2005 Marc Murphy Carlton 154
2006 Bryce Gibbs Carlton 143
2007 Matthew Kreuzer Carlton 97
2008 Jack Watts Melbourne 63
2009 Tom Scully Melbourne 62
2010 David Swallow Gold Coast 45
2011 Jonathon Patton GWS 10
2012 Lachie Whitfield GWS 11