Year of the midfielder: talent boss

TALENT isn't the only reason midfielders are tipped to flood the early stages of Thursday night's AFL national draft.

In three of the past five years, a ruckman or key forward has filled the No. 1 spot, most recently Greater Western Sydney's Jonathon Patton last year.

It's been a rare year when the top three hasn't included at least one ruckman or tall forward.

But AFL talent manager Kevin Sheehan says this year is set to be different, with many midfielders and a few defenders likely to be among the top picks.

''Midfielders and ruckmen have been the most popular No. 1 choice in the 26-year history [of the draft],'' he said. ''But there seems to be a swing away from ruckmen. Maybe it will be the midfielders - Jimmy Toumpas, Lachie Whitfield, Jonathan O'Rourke, Oliver Wines - that might be the ones taken early.

''It might be a push towards the midfield.''


Whitfield, a Victorian described by Sheehan as a running machine with a kick like a ''tracer bullet'' on both feet, is considered a certainty to go No. 1 to Greater Western Sydney, which has the first three picks.

South Australia's Brodie Grundy is rated the one outstanding ruckman in this year's group and likely to go in the first round.

But Sheehan said while the many midfielders expected to be taken early this year would warrant their selection on talent, the changing nature of the game also helped their cause.

''The midfielder probably plays in eight or 10 spots on the ground,'' he said. ''They rotate, they come from half-forward to half-back and run through the midfield roles, they're versatile, so that might be the focus.''

Sheehan said with about 70 newcomers expected to be drafted - not counting the 26 picks clubs plan on using to upgrade rookies to their main lists - there were about 45 youngsters considered certain draftees.

For the remaining 25 or so spots, it's wide open, with a field of about 150 contenders.