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Listing the top 50 players in the AFL is a tough assignment to take on. The following compilation is just one opinion, and given the difficulty of measuring a player’s value within the league, all criticism and debate on the countdown order is welcome.
The list may include players who are injured, but they could drop as the 2012 season progresses and other gun players emerge. Those players who have missed a particularly large portion of the season through injury have been overlooked.
Here we go, starting from the player ranked 50th:
50. Scott Thompson (North Melbourne): A defender who cuts off opposition attacks more than any other player, Thompson has tranformed the Kangaroos’ back half and is one of their best. Is elusive for a big guy and can play on talls or smalls.
49. Steele Sidebottom (Collingwood): You may not often see him, but he averages 28 possessions a game and is a key part of the black and white’s dominance. Will kick ten goals one day.
48. Dustin Martin (Richmond): Shrugs off opponents and can kick a mile. Martin looks and plays like someone who will one day become the best player in the league. Tiger fans love him and know he will soon take the mantle of being their best player, or at least challenge Trent Cotchin.
47. James Kelly (Geelong): Lives in the shadows of greats, but regularly performs and needs recognition. He was important in the premiership win last season and will continue to dish the ball out to his fellow stars.
46. Eddie Betts (Carlton): A small forward who is the focal point in attack, Betts delights with great marks and crazy goals. Has an enormous trick bag.
45. Grant Birchall (Hawthorn): A sweeper of the highest order, Birchall is a key to Hawthorn winning another premiership. An elite kick who rarely tires.
44. Dayne Beams (Collingwood): Heavily tattooed and full of run, Beams has replaced Luke Ball and looks just as good, if not better. His form of late has only been overlooked because of that other Dane…
43. Scott Selwood (West Coast): Has bolted out of nowhere to be no longer just a tagger, but an A-grade midfielder. Looks more like his older brother every day.
42. Kieren Jack (Sydney): He plays with an unorthodox style, but Jack is fast becoming Sydney’s most eye-catching performer. Shrugs opponents with ease and finds a way to extract the ball from a pack.
41. Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide): Quick, smart and strong for his age, Dangerfield is scarily similar to Chris Judd in the way he can burst away from stoppages. His goalkicking is a feature.
40. Mitch Clark (Melbourne): In a woeful season for the Demons, Mitch has been a beacon and become a powerful forward. Could have challenged for the Coleman if not for his recent season-ending injury.
39. Taylor Walker (Adelaide): While his discipline is poor, Walker has become a dominant forward, full of strength and accuracy. Will enter the top 20 within three years.
38. Steve Johnson (Geelong): The best goalsneak in the AFL with a personality to match, Stevie J taunts oppenents and regularly threads goals from the boundary. Vitally important to Geelong’s chances.
37. Paddy Ryder (Essendon): James Hird has brought out the best in Ryder. Tall, agile and a threat at either end of the ground, he runs all day and can take an amazing mark. Pure talent.
36. Nick Dal Santo (St.Kilda): One of the best ball users on the left foot, Dal Santo is often forgotten among his fellow star Saints but is as important as any of them. Delivers the ball to his captain, Nick Riewoldt, better than anyone.
35. Nic Naitanui (West Coast): Exciting and athletic, Naitanui sometimes taps the ball to himself and just runs towards goal. Moves like a small guy and can change a game single-handedly.
34. Cyril Rioli (Hawthorn): The best player to watch, even more so than his fellow Hawk forwards. If he was to produce the goods more frequently, he could push into the top 15.
33. Ivan Maric (Richmond): This time last year you couldn’t have picked it, but the big ‘Mullet’ is the best ruckman in Victoria. Creates so much use for his midfielders.
32. Matt Priddis (West Coast): Has become the best midfielder for the Eagles as they march towards September. Constantly finds the footy and has really improved his ball use.
31. Brendon Goddard (St.Kilda): He hasn’t had much influence lately, but this swingman can still draw a tag away from his star midfielder teammates and is one of the best kicks in the game. Almost won the first 2010 Grand Final by himself.
30. Drew Petrie (North Melbourne): A mountain in the forward line, this one-man highlight reel takes amazing marks and kicks difficult goals. When he’s playing well, few are more capable of owning the forward half.
29. Jonathan Brown (Brisbane): Injuries have disrupted the past few seasons for the champion, but his courage and forward line presence have forced him into the top 30. Kicks plenty of goals and puts fear into the opposition.
28. Josh Kennedy (Sydney): Started the season as the dominant midfielder, and while he has dropped slightly since, Kennedy continues to work hard in the engine room and deliver the goods. Well built and still young.
27. Lewis Jetta (Sydney): This man is the bolter, literally. Has taken his game to another level, kicking the most goals for a midfielder and flying across the SCG. One of the best to watch.
26. Brent Stanton (Essendon): He used to be a much-maligned player, but now the fans love him. Started the season as a Brownlow fancy, and continues to ensure Essendon remain in contention. Works well with his fellow midfielders.
25. Nick Riewoldt (St.Kilda): A dominant forward with an engine unlike any other, Riewoldt has been at the centre of St.Kilda’s plans for years. Just when you think he’s struggling, he’ll kick a bag of goals to demonstrate his power.
24. Trent Cotchin (Richmond): With a low centre of gravity and a drive to succeed, Cotchin has delivered some amazing highlights in his short career. Deserves a top 25 finish.
23. Matthew Boyd (Western Bulldogs): The Dogs have struggled for a few years now, but their captain is thriving. Has gathered the most touches this season.
22. Darren Glass (West Coast): A key defender who doesn’t give an inch, he holds down the full back position better than anyone.
21. Scott Thompson (Adelaide): The best player in the Adelaide line-up, Thompson has grown to be one of the most reliable players in the comp. His strength and efficiency ensures he receives plenty of opposition attention.
20. Daniel Wells (North Melbourne): When Wells plays well, North are unbeatable. He glides across the field like no other, with elite vision, speed, disposal and explosiveness. Teams tag him but can rarely catch him.
19. Brett Deledio (Richmond): A devastating kick, Deledio is the best sweeper in the game. Has now reached his potential and always places the ball down the throats of Richmond’s forwards.
18. Lenny Hayes (St.Kilda): He may have missed last year with a knee injury, but Hayes has returned as though he hasn’t missed a beat. Leads by example and pushes his body to breaking point. Probably the most respected player in the game.
17. Harry Taylor (Geelong): The most versatile defender, Taylor now often goes forward to kick big bags of goals. Opposition forwards hate his presence, knowing they’ll struggle to get a kick.
16. Dean Cox (West Coast): A ruckman who makes others look stupid, Cox has been huge in West Coast’s recent resurgence. With his partner in crime Nic Naitanui, the Eagles boast the best ruck combination around.
15. Jack Riewoldt (Richmond): Sitting second on the goalkicking list, Jack has surpassed his cousin and become the best full forward in the country. With an enormous leap and the ability to kick successive goals, there are few with such swagger.
14. Aaron Sandilands (Fremantle): When this guy gets on the park, he is a powerhouse. The tallest player ever to play the game, this giant plays like a midfielder who can ruck and kick goals at will. Rarely beaten in the air.
13. Marc Murphy (Carlton): This former no.1 draft pick would be higher on the list if not for a severe shoulder injury. Was the best player of the first few rounds and Carlton haven’t looked the same since he went down.
12. Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn): A brilliant kick on each foot and a general in a team of stars, Mitchell would be the best player at most other clubs. When he plays well, Hawthorn usually look unbeatable.
11. Joel Selwood (Geelong): The captain of the reigning champions, Selwood is a tireless worker who throws himself into every contest. One of the most respected players in the competition.
10. Chris Judd (Carlton): While he has played with injuries this season, Judd is still a champion and does everything he can for Carlton. Having won Brownlows at two different clubs and being so explosive off the mark, Judd deserves a top 10 finish.
9. Matthew Pavlich (Fremantle): The greatest player to ever pull on the purple jumper, Pavlich can play in any position on the ground. Wherever he ends up, he dominates, no matter the score.
8. Travis Cloke (Collingwood): The second-best forward in the game at the moment, Cloke leads the contested marks count and can kick goals from distance. Many clubs are seeking his signature.
7. Jimmy Bartel (Geelong): A general on the field, Bartel is Geelong’s go-to man when the chips are down. His overhead marking is the best in the league and he won a Brownlow while Gary Ablett jnr was on his team…
6. Jobe Watson (Essendon): Starting his AFL career in the spotlight of his famous father Tim, Jobe had a difficult initiation. You wouldn’t know it if you watched him now. He is the reason Essendon have taken the next step. A leader among men.
5. Adam Goodes (Sydney): A daunting prospect for any opponent, Goodes has won two Brownlows and continues to impress. An elite runner and built like a tank, he has been winning games single-handedly for a long time.
4. Scott Pendlebury (Collingwood): The smoothest mover in the game. His disposal and awareness is simply unbelievable. When the Pies are without fellow star midfielder Dane Swan, he always rises to the occasion.
3. Dane Swan (Collingwood): This tattooed dynamo is a machine. Many question his fitness, but that doesn’t stop him destroying his opposition week after week. Has already won a Brownlow Medal.
2. Gary Ablett jnr (Gold Coast): The silky midfielder is the complete package. Despite representing a winless team, he’s the best midfielder in the competition. Can kick goals from anywhere, pinpoint a pass and bring others into the game. On par with his father.
1. Lance Franklin (Hawthorn): Not only is Franklin possibly the most exciting player of all time, but on his day he’s unstoppable. He currently leads the goalkicking table, including a bag of 13 goals against North Melbourne. Fast, strong and a massive kick, the Hawk superstar is the best player in the AFL.
Those who just missed out: Kurt Tippett (Adelaide), Daniel Merrett (Brisbane), Heath Scotland (Carlton), Dale Thomas (Collingwood), Michael Hurley (Essendon), Matthew Scarlett (Geelong), Josh Gibson (Hawthorn), Brad Sewell (Hawthorn), Todd Goldstein (North Melbourne), Sam Fisher (St.Kilda), Shane Mumford (Sydney), Daniel Kerr (West Coast), Ryan Griffen (Western Bulldogs).
Overlooked due to long-term injury: Nathan Fyfe (Fremantle), Luke Hodge (Hawthorn), Josh Kennedy (West Coast), Mark Lecras (West Coast).
Please comment or send an email to Chris_sutton@live.com.au