AFL Fantasy HQ has kindly given coaches something to start thinking about in the lead up to the January grand opening of the site in the form of some player price tags!
Each AFL team's player prices will be revealed over the coming weeks and The Tragic is here to break down each team to give an insight into which players we should be shortlising on our watchlists for season 2017. I'll include the must have rookies, debutants, mid pricers as well as the premiums and 'smokeys' you need to keep an eye out for during the JLT Community Series matches.
Keep a watch on the Tragic Talk blog as it will get updated when the teams get leaked - and don't forget to share your thoughts in the comments section below or over at our Facebook page.
The Blue Chip | Marcus Bontempelli
The kid they call 'The Bont' put the Bulldog's faithful on his shoulders in 2016 and delivered them a premiership flag in the process. While stamping himself as one of the top under 22 midfielders in the game, Bontempelli also elevated his fantasy game to a 98.3 average in just his third season as a senior player.
From a fantasy coach's perspective, you could have been excused if you traded him out by the end of round 6 last season. Bontempelli started the year in less than impressive fashion with scores of 80,66,55,59, 80 and 80 for a six round average of just 70. That's what makes his 2016 season fantasy average of 98.3 so impressive. After round six, he went on a scoring rampage as he racked up 12 100+ scores in the final 16 games of the season - and the other 4 scores were not far off either: 91, 98, 85 and 92. That form was a major driver for the Dog's creating premiership history and taking home the flag in 2016. Of those 12 tons in 2016, 7 of them were 110+ scores with a season high of 137 against the Pies in round 21 when he went for 26 disposals, 8 marks, 8 tackles and 2 goals. He's missed only two games in his past two seasons, so durability is solid as he moves into his fourth season in the system. There is no doubting that The Bont attracts the attention of the opposition's best tagger as he's clearly the team's most damaging midfielder. It was evident the tag was bothering him at the start of 2016, though like a true champion, he managed to develop his game to a point where he became untaggable in a similar fashion to Nat Fyfe. His long limbs, elite running capacity and ability to read the contested ball in the air before anyone else around him has made him into an extremely hard match up for opposition coaches. At only 21 years of age, he'll be called upon again to step his game up into the uber elite of the competition if the Dogs want to go back to back and if his latter half of 2016 is anything to go by, he'll have that challenge covered. With fantasy season averages of 69, 93 and 98 in his first three seasons, the natural progression of The Bont says that he will crack the 100 fantasy season average in 2017. He will need to improve on his disposal average of 24.3 in 2016 and add some outside run to his contested game style in order to produce some more cheap marks if he wants to give a 105 fantasy average a nudge. The possession average i'm quietly confident he can achieve, though his outside game may suffer due to the needs of the team. The Dog's will be without Mitch Wallis for the start of the season, another contested ball winner, so the in and under game styles of both Bontempelli and Liberatore will be required at the stoppages. A 102.5 average over his final 16 games says to me he can do a 105 fantasy average in 2017.
The Mid Pricer | Clay Smith
He was one of the many feel good stories of the Doggie's premiership in 2016 after a terrible run of luck with knee injuries - including three ACL reconstructions. Clay Smith battled his way back into the Dog's best 22 by round 15 last season and played a pivotal role in their history making flag.
Fantasy coaches had Smith on their radar from round one, knowing full well how good the 23 year old is and the potential he had if he could just get a good run of luck going his way. Picked up with number 17 in the 2011 AFL National draft, Smith has always been a hard at it, in and under type midfielder that can find the ball better than most. When he came back into the strong Dog's outfit, he was made to play a more defensive forward type role and with great effect. It only took him two games before he notched up his first respectable fantasy score of 96 in round 16 against the Tiger, then backed that score up again the very next week against the Suns. Fantasy coaches who didn't have him already were scrambling to get him into their teams as a cash cow option, with the possibility of him becoming great insurance over the final rounds of the season. He had a few hiccups following his breakout scores, with an injury affected 5 and a couple of scores in the 50's the follow couple of rounds - but boy did he come good in the finals! Scores of 84, 93, 140 and 85 topped off what was a remarkable season for Smith as he reminded coaches why he was backed in by coach Luke Beverage. He ended the season with a fantasy average of 77 if you include those final four games, which undersells him with his current price tag of $392k. In the VFL when he was fit and firing, Smith consistently knocked up disposal averages of 30+ and with Mitch Wallis slowly recovering from his broken leg, there could potentially be a spot for him to roam around freely in the midfield in 2017. I suspect he will still be used more often as a forward after displaying great nous around the sticks in 2016, but with the return of Crameri, he could very well get pushed up the ground. On the flip side on this, he could get stuck deep forward as well if players such as Lin Jong, Dunkley and Caleb Daniel get the call up for more midfield minutes. Wouldn't be your worst pick and should comfortably crack an 80-85 average with a full pre season under his belt - though may not be enough still to be a keeper in your forward lines come the business end of the season.
The Bargain | Mitch Honeychurch
The diminutive Honeychurch had a senior year to forget in 2016 after what was a promising second year in 2015. Honeychurch fell victim to a strong Bulldog's starting 22 and found himself on the outer playing 17 games in the VFL and could only manage two games in the seniors.
It wasn't due to poor VFL form either that Honeychurch couldn't break in. The Dog's were breeding clones of Honeychurch over the past 3-4 seasons with Caleb Daniel and Nathan Hrovat playing very similar game styles to each other. Beverage could only afford so many tiny people in his team at any one time and as chance had it, Caleb Daniel just kept on performing so he was too hard to drop - consequently Honeychurch and Hrovat stayed put in the two's. At any other team outside the top 8, Honeychurch would be a walk up starter. He averaged 27 touches, four marks and 6 tackles for Footscray during the 2016 season and shone brightly in their grand final performance. He did nothing wrong when he finally made his first of two appearances for the Dog's senior team in round 12 against Port as he notched up 100 fantasy points with 22 touches, 5 marks and 6 tackles to his stat sheet. Round 13 was different however, only chalking up 49 fantasy points with limited time on ground opportunity. He was then dropped for the round 14 clash against the Swans and never made it back into their best 22. With his natural ball winning ability, 2017 looms as a make or break season for Honeychurch. I can forecast him either forcing his way into the team and staying put for the season, or he gets banished to the VFL again, dominates, then puts his hand up for a trade by the end of the year. It will be another tight tussle for spots in the mid/fwd role that Caleb Daniel, Smith, Dunkley and to a lesser extent Toby McLean have tied up at the moment. It's a shame, but I just can't see Honeychurch cracking a spot in that best 22 if the Dogs have a good run with injury. He is more than capable of a 80+ fantasy average and at $342k as a mid/fwd option I would take him over Jamie Elliott at a similar price - though you have to wait and see if he can cement a spot, something Elliott has already done.
Fresh Blood Stud | Stewart Crameri
Another of the banned bombers who has comeback after a 12 month stint on the sidelines. Crameri has never been a huge fantasy scorer, though has played a position that could be lucrative. In a similar mold to Tom Lynch over at Adelaide, Crameri plays the high leading up the ground half forward role. The question is, can he ever become that player?
Rewind back to 2015 when Crameri played last, he averaged 70 fantasy points across 18 games. This happened to be his second best fantasy output since his second year in the system back in 2011 when he averaged a respectable 73.8 points. He managed just the one ton in 2015 (123) which came in round 18 against the Dons as he booted 7 goals. The problem with Crameri is he often gets stuck in 'limbo' roles. He's not quite tall enough to be a power forward and he doesn't quite have the tank (or mental stamina) to be that repeat lead up type forward like Lynch does at the Crows. He's been touted as a lazy player on more than a few occasions and had the 'potential' stamp slapped on him by commentators in the past as well. Since his second season when he had his best fantasy average, his marking ability has gone downhill - not a trend you want to see in your fantasy players. In 2011 he managed 5.2 marks, compared to just 3.9 in 2015 - it's hard to understand how a player in his position can average less than 5 marks per game really. With Tom Boyd now a more prominent forward option along with the recruitment of Cloke, Crameri now has an opportunity to play that lead up half forward role again. No more pretending to be a big, beefy forward, he can leave that to Cloke, Boyd and Redpath. Really not sold on him after seven seasons in the system, a player of his type will rarely breakout and become fantasy relevant - though i'm happy to be proven wrong. It's a pass for me, not even worth the watch list, sorry Stew.
The Breakout | Lin Jong
After requesting a trade at the end of the 2016 season, Lin Jong somehow managed to stay on the Bulldog's playing list for 2017. What sort of ramifications could this bring to the quick, hard running midfielder and his role in the team this upcoming season will be intriguing to see. There is no doubting though, the 23 year old, number 9 rookie draft pick has game and fantasy scoring potential - it's a question of when is the breakout going to happen. Hopefully 2017 can be his year.
After what could be considered a slow start to his career, Lin Jong has made huge strides over his first four years at the Bulldogs. He was considered a project player for so long, with natural speed, agility and work ethic to match, Jong toiled away in the VFL learning from the likes of Boyd and Giansiracusa to force his way into the team. 2015 was his breakout year, playing a total of 13 games for the season when he put in some note worthy pre season performances before backing it up in the first five rounds. At the start of that 2015 year he had scores of 97, 57, 93, 88 and 82 which made fantasy coaches take notice. But as the Bulldog's midfield brigade began to ramp up, Jong fell off the bandwagon and was out of the team for a large portion mid year before being recalled for their elimination final where he was one of their best for 95 fantasy points. Natural progression should have seen Jong play a more predominant role in 2016, particularly with Liberatore coming back off a knee injury and making a slow start to the year. Jong did manage to improve however last season, playing 16 games and averaging 72 fantasy points. After having an indifferent start, playing just 5 games in the first 12 rounds, Jong had a solid patch of form between rounds 13 to 23 where he averaged 82.9 across 10 matches which included scores of 102, 101 and 96. When he's got midfield time, you can bet that Jong will rack you up a solid 90 average, though it's his role in the team that is the biggest concern. With Bontempelli, Hunter, Wallis, Libba, Daniel, Dunkley and Macrae all spending big minutes through the guts, it's tough going for Jong to get some midfield time. This leads to inconsistent form from him and consequently he finds himself on the outer after a handful of games. Unless he's able to leap frog over those lesser types in the Dog's midfield over the pre season, I can't see him playing any other role in the team. He can't play defense because he doesn't know how, in fact, that's one reason why he finds himself out of the team so much and the forward line is stacked full of talent laden mids that should be playing in the midfield in any other team. He's a potential breakout, though only if he can spend the majority of his time in the midfield. Watch him over the JLT matches to see if he can nab Mitch Wallis's spot early on in the year.
The Smokey | Toby McLean
The 21 year old, number 26 pick in the 2014 AFL National draft wouldn't look out of place playing in an U/14's comp if it wasn't for his sublime skill. Toby McLean is the baby faced bulldog who took some great strides in 2016, so much so that the Bulldog selection committee found it hard to overlook him on more than a few occasions throughout the year.
He ended the season with 15 games under his belt and a fantasy average of 73.3 which was a real positive for a player that had only played four games prior. Has a great juniors track record which fantasy coaches should take note of, including coming runner up in the Morrish Medal which is awarded to the best and fairest player in the U/18 TAC Cup competition. Was in the Dog's team from round one last season, which tells me that Beverage likes the kid as he made an impression that first round with a fantasy score of 100. He went on to play the next 10 games before missing a large part of the action between rounds 12-21. He got his chance again through injuries to key players in the best 22 and played the final three finals games, including the grand final where he had 18 disposals, 2 marks, 5 tackles and a goal. Likes to play that high half forward role while pushing up onto the wing, then running back with the flight of the ball and crumbing off the big forwards. You'll often see McLean marking the ball up between the 50m arc and wing for +6 scores. He's still in that best 18-24 player slot for the Dog's, vying for a position against the aforementioned Jong, Dunkley, Suckling and Webb. I can predict another in and out season for McLean such is the strength of the Bulldog's best 22, though if injuries should occur, he looks to be one of the first in. Pending injuries, i'll wait and watch on this one - too much of a risk priced at $438k.
Which Western Bulldog players have attracted your attention for 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments below.