The tattered remains of Collingwood’s 2018 AFL Grand Final banner have barely blown into history and here we are again, at that time of year when logic flies out the window, player agents get their annual 15 minutes of fame, Carlton fans salivate at the thought of trading in the next saviour and Sam, Damo and Hutchy fire up their rumour machines in the vain hope of getting one or two right for a change.

Welcome to the 2018 AFL Trade period!

We like a bit of fact with our hyperbole here at CrowCast, so before we start churning possible monster deals to get Luko, Rankine, Rozee, Hateley and every other South Aussie lad on our list ready to smash the Vics (and Port) in 2019, let’s take a calm, rational look at where the Adelaide Crows’ squad currently sits.

The Crows entered the 2018 season with the equal oldest list of all the AFL clubs, with an average age of 24 years 6 months. We went in with the minimum number of senior players (38) and carried 6 Category A rookies into the season. In terms of games experience, the Crows were 4th, with an average games played a tick under 68 per player. Removing Rookies and first year players, the average games per player was 82.5 and the average age was around 25. A very mature and experienced group.

We all know how it unravelled, but let’s take a broad look at each area of the ground and check our depth.

Defence

As shown above, there are only two untried players in the defensive group – Andrew McPherson, who struggled with injury in 2018, and Ben Davis, who is more likely to be played as a Forward/Utility. Outside of those two, this is a very experienced group, averaging 97 games per player, with 2018 NAB Rising Star runner up Tom Doedee the only “best 22” player with less than 25 games experience.

The group is well served in every facet, with Brown the stalwart small defender, Doedee as the intercept mid sized player, Talia and Hartigan as the twin talls and a more than serviceable running brigade in Laird, Smith, Seedsman and Milera. In addition, the Coach has two lock down defenders at his disposal in Cheney and Kelly, Mackay as a running option, veteran Andy Otten able to pinch hit as a key tall or mid sized intercept defender and Alex Keath not far off best 22 as another tall defensive option.

The Crows’ gameplan relies heavily on rebound from defence, and it was no coincidence that the team struggled in the absence of Smith and the on/off injuries to Seedsman – arguably two of the better rebounding defenders in the competition. Milera was impressive in this area in 2018, and Rory Laird regularly racked up impressive stats on his way to a top 5 Brownlow finish, but in general the defense looked unbalanced without the two key runners and as a result, tended to look a little slow both in leg speed and ball movement.

It would surprise to see the Crows move any of the defensive squad on during the 2018 trade period, as coverage is somewhat limited in key talls and running mid sized players. The unit could possibly do with a young defensive tall from a late draft pick or even a rookie spot, as the evergreen Otten’s career comes to a close in the next year or two. Other than Otten, however, the age profile is good, with first choice players generally in the 24 – 27 age group. The retirement of Hampton hurts the group a little, as he provided back up in that mid sized defensive role, and the imminent departure of Mitch McGovern robs the group of some aerial versatility, but I’d expect the Crows to rotate players through the defensive flanks rather than trade or draft in another mid sized defender this year.

Pros: Versatile, experienced

Cons: Vulnerable against small, quick forward lines.

Risk: Injuries to rebounding defenders makes the defensive unit look very slow

Midfield

The midfield group for the Adelaide Crows is a very interesting bunch. Inside, we have the ball magnet Matt Crouch and the promising Hugh Greenwood, ably supported by Cam Ellis-Yolman and with the occasional tag provided by Riley Knight. The cream resides in the “inside/outside” group, with Sloane and Gibbs providing over 425 games of experience here, Brad Crouch the equal of any when fit, and promising youngsters Gallucci and Poholke showing glimpses of what is to come with some solid cameo performances in 2018.

It’s “outside” where the Crows’ midfield brigade doesn’t quite look right. The “best 22” of the group – Seedsman and Milera – were more often used behind the ball in 2018, leaving Atkins, Douglas and sometimes Mackay as our primary outside ball carriers. Douglas lacks consistency and a yard of pace, Atkins struggles to get involved, particularly in closely contested matches, and D Mack was more used in defense and tends not to get enough of the ball offensively. Indeed, that outside trio averaged less than 20 disposals a game in 2018, far less than most other outside midfield combinations in the AFL.

Speed is the main problem with the Crows midfield brigade. I can see this issue partially resolved with some realignment of roles for Milera and Seedsman and the rise of Jordan Gallucci, but the group remains vulnerable to injury and could do with a classy outside runner. Rory Atkins has shown flashes of brilliance but falls away when the game isn’t being played on his terms. He’s shown he needs time and space to provide that trademark delivery, and when the game tightens up he appears to struggle to have an impact. Richard Douglas is a player who has also struggled with consistency for much of his career and lacks that yard of pace needed on the outside to really make an impact.

It will be interesting to see how the Crows manage this group during the off season. I would be tempted to move Atkins on and reduce the roles of veterans Douglas and Mackay in favour of more game time for Gallucci and more midfield minutes for Seedsman and Milera (and perhaps even Brodie Smith). Ellis-Yolmen seems inclined to stay in Adelaide but 2018 showed that playing all three of our inside brigade makes us too slow and one dimensional, so Cam may have to be content with fighting Greenwood for that number 2 inside role. I feel he would gain more minutes at another club and may be better served seeking a trade.

Pros: Great inside and good experience

Cons: Somewhat one dimensional and lacking outside speed and class

Risk: A lack of versatility leaves this group vulnerable to injury

Ruck

The ruck position is going through change in the AFL of late. Rule changes and strategic necessity have seen the rise of versatile “Ruck/Mids” such as Gawn and Grundy. The key to the modern ruckman seems to be versatility – being able to add something more than just a big bloke at ball ups. This could be around the ground marking, possession winning, clearances, or the ability to play forward or back. Just more than one string to the bow.

Earlier in his career, Sam Jacobs was seen as a tall mid by many. He provided good link up through the midfield and was able to provide an extra body on transition. This was a bonus to go along with his top 3 level ruckwork, and saw him push to within a whisker of All-Australian selection just a couple of years ago.

All that seems to have changed with Sam lately. He appears hampered physically and is certainly not getting involved outside of his ruckwork. Whether it be a shift in game style, or Sam’s own physical limitations, we rarely see him get involved in transition, nor do we see him taking many marks around the ground.

Ruck is a big issue for the Crows. Jacobs has hit 30 and his back up – Josh Jenkins – will be 30 next year. The heir apparent is Riley O’Brien, but a shoulder injury in 2018 robbed him of valuable development time and many actually question whether he can be the number one ruck in the future. The Crows have shown a distinct lack of desire to rotate their ruck stocks, with Jacobs often appearing to play with injuries rather than resting and giving O’Brien a run. It’s either a lack of faith in O’Brien, or an inflexible approach to player management.

In any event, the clock is ticking on the Ruck department. Let’s hope it’s not a time bomb. I’d be surprised if the Crows didn’t seek to bolster their ruck stocks through a mature age player. Having retained Paul Hunter, I don’t think they will rookie another ruck option this off season.

Pros: JJ has improved his ruckwork and is now a viable ruck option.

Cons: O’Brien appears to provide “more of the same” and may not be the right option in the current game. Jacobs seems to be at the twilight of his career.

Risks: Lack of game time to incumbents leaves the Crows vulnerable if Jacobs goes down or experiences a drop in form.

Forwards

Up forward, the Crows have a ton of depth. Betts heads a promising small brigade, with Knight providing the grunt and Murphy a touch of pace and goal sense. Gallucci showed his pace and flair at times last year and Poholke is surprisingly good overhead and plays tall for someone classed as a small forward.

The mediums are headed up by the evergreen Tom Lynch who is almost unique in the AFL with his genuine endurance. McGovern is the x-factor and it will be difficult to see him playing for another club in 2019, because he will be hard to replace. Ben Davis appears the most likely and was probably unlucky not to make his debut in 2018. He’s a real footballer and has a bit of x factor himself. An important year for Ben. Ellis-Yolmen and Greenwood have both shown the ability to pinch hit up forward. Both can take a mark and kick a goal and they are handy rotations through the forward line. And the mere fact that Patrick Wilson has been retained shows that the Crows feel he has a role to play, either up forward or through the midfield.

Josh Jenkins had a stand out year in 2018 and proved his knockers wrong with an increased work rate and better accountability in contested situations. Walker, on the other hand, has struggled and whilst nobody questions his desire for the club, Tex is going to have to answer a few critics who say his body may not be up to it anymore. Looked heavy in 2018 and has niggling foot and hip issues. He will need to get through pre season to have a big impact in 2019. Darcy Fogarty looms as another player with a bit of x factor. Is he a forward? Is he a midfielder? The jury is out, but there’s no doubting Darcy’s talent. I have a feeling we may see him come on quickly in 2019. And then there’s Elliot Himmelberg who showed in his debut game that he’s got a little something about him as well.

Pros: Good depth in every area, some unique players hard to match up on

Cons: Losing Gov is a blow

Risk: Playing blokes out of form (like Tex) at the expense of blooding new players like Himmelberg and Davis.

To sum up, the Crows’ list is in pretty good shape. There’s a good spread of ages represented and Hamish and Reid havent missed with too many of late, meaning our depth is solid. The senior players are creeping towards thirty, however, so it will be important to manage the young players appropriately.

The key issues to address, in my opinion, are speed and class through the midfield, uncertainty in the ruck division and perhaps one more small/mid sized defender. You can’t help but think that the club is eyeing speedster Izak Rankine in the upcoming draft and he looks the type to have an immediate impact. Tyson Stengle will be added from the Tigers but will have to work to break into the 22 after falling out of favour at Punt Road. There’s been whispers of Zac Smith or Jordon Roughhead boosting the ruck stocks, which I think would be a smart move. And there’s also talk of McAdam from Sturt being included in a deal with Carlton for McGovern.

I expect the Crows to trade lightly this season and focus on bolstering their draft position. Gaining two of Lukocious, Rankine, Rozee and Hately would be a priority, and the Crows have the picks and the currency to make it happen. There doesn’t seem to be a play for an established first 22 outside mid, so it seems the hope lies in the next crop, plus more responsibility for Gallucci, perhaps at the expense of Richard Douglas.

It’s going to be an interesting trade period.

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