North Melbourne strengthened an already strong draft hand, while there were three left-field picks during the first round.
But some of the most highly-rated talent in this year’s crop will have to wait another night to find out what their AFL future looks like.
These are the way-too-early observations after the first round of the 2021 AFL national draft.
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AFL DRAFT TRACKER: Every pick, every trade
‘BEST I’VE EVER HEARD!’: AFL world reacts to two iconic draft moments
ROOS QUIETLY BOLSTER DRAFT HAND
North Melbourne already had a solid draft hand prior to Wednesday night.
By the end of the first round, an already strong swag of picks got even juicier.
When the Kangaroos were on the clock at Pick 1, a three-way trade was struck between the Roos, Geelong and Western Bulldogs.
After the Cats sent Picks 32 and 34 for Dogs’ 23 – a move that ultimately helped the Bulldogs match a bid on Sam Darcy at Pick 2 – the Roos acquired Picks 32, 52 and a future third-round selection while giving the Bulldogs Picks 42, 47 and a future third-round pick.
Seconds later, North acquired Jason Horne-Francis – a star midfield prospect that’s drawn comparisons to Patrick Dangerfield and appeared primed to play Round 1 next season.
But the Roos’ night wasn’t finished there.
Just before the Suns snared Mac Andrew at Pick 5, North orchestrated a pick swap with Collingwood, acquiring Pick 36 while giving the Pies Pick 48 and a future third-round pick.
North Melbourne started the night with Picks 1, 20, 42 and 47. Four selections in, the Roos had turned that into Horne-Francis, 22, 34 and 37 (after matched bids by the Dogs and Pies) after just four selections.
To finish up with four top-40 selections during the early stages of the rebuild is a massive early win for the Kangaroos. And they could improve that hand on Thursday night if a rival club comes with a juicy offer for Pick 22, which is the second selection of the second round.
TIGERS SCORE A ‘STEAL’
After the departures of David Astbury (retired) and Ryan Garthwaite (delisted), the Tigers were looking for a young key defender to partner Dylan Grimes (30 years old) and Robbie Tarrant (32) in the twilight of their careers.
They ticked the box on Wednesday night by using Pick 9 to snare Josh Gibcus – a freak key defensive talent that had interest from as early as the Giants at Pick 2.
Despite midfielder Ben Hobbs still being on the board, Richmond opted to select Gibcus to bolster its key defensive stocks.
Foxfooty.com.au reported minutes prior to the draft the Giants were trying to find a club to trade with and help them move up the draft order – ideally ahead of the Tigers – to snare Gibcus. They identified Fremantle as a potential suitor, but a deal never came to fruition.
That left the Tigers to pick up Gibcus, who has a highlights reel like Hawthorn champion Peter Knights, according to dual premiership Kangaroo David King.
“He’s diligent enough to start with his opponent. But then he just assesses really quickly where it’s likely to fall,” King told Fox Footy.
“Dropping off his man, assessing the ball in flight really early – that’s AFL level already. That’s the classic intercept mark player that we see in the competition right now.
“I think this guy is a steal at this pick. Richmond have got an absolute ripper. We know they’re looking to rebuild in that back half, there’s no doubt they’ve lost some key position talent – Pick 9 is a steal.”
NOT MUCH CHAOS … BUT ONE KEY LIVE TRADE
There weren’t as many bombshell live trades struck on Wednesday night as initially anticipated, but the Power and Eagles struck one midway through the first round that helped them both nail their preferred prospects.
As flagged by foxfooty.com.au this week, the Eagles had interest in trading down from their Pick 10 (which became Pick 12) knowing they could likely still get their preferred prospect, which was ultimately classy Sandringham Dragon Campbell Chesser.
So West Coast struck a trade with Port Adelaide, seeing the Eagles move down two spots while also picking up a future second-round selection.
The Power selected Josh Sinn at Pick 12 – the Bombers (Pick 13) had been heavily linked to Sinn in the hours before the draft – before the Eagles landed Chesser, who realised his AFL dream despite a frustrating, injury-interrupted season.
AFL talent ambassador Kevin Sheehan told Fox Footy Chesser would help the Eagles “will break the lines on that fast track in the west”.
David King added on Fox Footy: “Everything he does has metreage – and that’s what they (the Eagles) need.”
A TRIO OF BOLTERS
There weren’t too many surprises during the first 14 selections, but there were amid the final five.
That started at Pick 15, with the Giants selecting mature-age Central District defender Leek Alleer.
The Giants were widely expected to target a role player like a small forward with their second first-round selection, or were even willing to trade down the order if it meant they could still secure their preferred prospect.
But Adrian Caruso and his team pulled a first-round shock by selecting Alleer, who was primarily expected to be taken in the middle stages of the second round at the earliest.
Caruso said his club had been keeping a close eye on the 20-year-old intercept defender, who’s just as strong one-on-one as he is reading the ball in flight playing off his opponent.
“Everyone’s seen his highlights package, but with Leek it was more about his character and dedication to get better, which was evidenced by the improvement he made this year where he’s come from nowhere,” Caruso told Fox Footy.
“People might see it as a surprise, but we really rated him. We were keen to get a tall in and he was the next best tall on our list.”
Three picks later, Kinnear Beatson and the Swans shocked a few clubs and selected strong, tough WA inside midfielder Angus Sheldrick – again a player that wasn’t expected to be taken until the second round.
AFL talent ambassador Kevin Sheehan said Sheldrick would fit in well at the Swans.
“He’s hard as a cat’s head. You’ve got Tom Liberatore and Jack Viney rolled into one in the way he plays,” he told Fox Footy.
“He’s a super, super competitive young fellow that had a real breakout year and is very suited to that smaller ground up there too, contested ball winner in the midfield and can be dangerous as a forward.”
Then as on-lookers waited with an expectation the Lions would select Sam Butler with the final pick of the first round, the Queensland-based club used it on Kai Lohmann – a talented and competitive high half-forward that was low on many draft boards. But not Brisbane’s.
“He can do special things this boy, you don’t have to be a genius to notice that. He’s got a bit of Isaac Heeney about him – when he’s forward he’s courageous in the air, he can push up through midfield,” Sheehan said.
“He was in that group that we thought might go early tomorrow night and we all it differently.”
BOMBERS SNARE SLIDER
A gun inside midfielder, Ben Hobbs was in the Suns’ sights at Pick 3. So for him to slide to Pick 13 looms as a major win for Essendon.
Fremantle, Richmond and even West Coast had been heavily linked to the GWV Rebels on-baller over recent weeks.
But nine clubs ultimately overlooked Hobbs, allowing the Bombers to pounce on him with their opening selection.
Hobbs is a ready-made ball magnet and natural leader that has the potential to play as early as Round 1.
Dual premiership Kangaroo David King said Hobbs was a player that could thrive at the Bombers.
“He’s one of those players that doesn’t always take the ball from inside to outside himself … but his creative forward handball puts teammates into space,” King told Fox Footy.
“I think that’s a real asset that’ll only explode under Ben Rutten and the Essendon plan.”
SLIDERS STILL SLIDING
While Hobbs got picked up, several highly-rated prospects were snubbed in the first round.
Subiaco midfielder Matt Johnson – the player Hawthorn was strongly considering taking at Pick 7 – was overlooked, meaning he’ll head into the second round still on the board.
Johnson also had interest from Fremantle, St Kilda, West Coast and Essendon, but was ultimately left without an AFL club by the end of Wednesday night. Although he’s expected to be snapped up early on Thursday night, with the Hawks a chance to pick him up after all.
“I think back to Deven Robertson, who was in a very similar position 24 months ago where he missed out on the first round, sat there in Melbourne, would’ve had a long more-than-likely sleepless night. But what it can do is build resilience,” former WA talent manager Mick Ablett told Fox Footy.
“We saw Robertson get called out with the first pick on the second day and it didn’t stop him from playing for the Brisbane Lions early in the year.
“Matt Johnson will get his chance. At the end of the day, him along with lots of other boys, it’s a number. Once you’re on an AFL list, you’re just as much a chance of playing as the person that went Pick 1.”
GWS Rebels forward-midfielder Sam Butler, Calder Cannons utility Josh Goater, South Fremantle forward Jesse Motlop and Sandringham’s Blake Howes were all overlooked on Wednesday night but should all be snapped up promptly from the second round onwards.