AFL 1 month ago

Five Young AFL Stars That Will Become Future Brownlow Medallists

  • Five Young AFL Stars That Will Become Future Brownlow Medallists

    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 18: Clayton Oliver of the Demons handballs during the round 13 AFL match between the Western Bulldogs and the Melbourne Demons at Etihad Stadium on June 18, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The AFL has an abundance of young star talent coming through the system, and it showed when the AFL released their squad of 40 players who are 22 years of age or younger - to be named in a selected side. Players such as Isaac Heeney, Zach Merrett, Jake Lever and Ollie Wines are all going to be superstars of the competition in the near future, if they are not already and they are yet to come of age.

But as I have a look at this year's under 22 roster, there are five names who I reckon are genuine chances for the Brownlow Medal in the future, and that's what this article is about today. There were a couple of other players that I left out and can be considered very stiff, but I felt these five players are the best chances of becoming Brownlow Medallists.

They are all midfielders and they are all 22 years of age or younger, they might be young stars of the competition, but their best is yet to come, these are my top five future Brownlow Medallists.

Number 5 - Matt Crouch

Matt Crouch 2017 Averages: 32.4 disposals, 6 clearances, 4.5 tackles, 3 inside 50s, 0.2 goals
2016 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 31.7 disposals, 6.6 clearances, 4.5 tackles, 8.1 inside 50s, 1 goal
2015 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 28.8 disposals, 8.6 clearances, 4.3 tackles, 4.3 inside 50s, 0.8 goals
2014 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 28.5 disposals, 6.7 clearances, 7.3 tackles, 3.2 inside 50s, 0.4 goals

Matt Crouch's arrival onto the AFL scene came with far less fanfare to that of brother Brad's, when the Crows snapped him up as one of two selections in the 2011 mini-draft as opposed to when Matt was selected with the 23rd overall pick in the 2013 AFL Draft. The Crows were even very fortunate to have gotten in this position after the AFL had taken away Adelaide's first and second-round pick, However after managing a deal with Melbourne to send Bernie Vince from the Crows to the Demons, the Crows used the pick acquired in that trade to draft this young man from Beaufort.

Whilst many thought that older brother Brad would be the better of the two, following a stunning debut season that saw him average over 24 disposals a game across 14 senior games, younger brother Matt slowly worked his way towards being one of the game's elite on-ballers. Whilst brother Brad had suffered numerous injuries in his short time in the big-league, Matt has been super consistent and ultra reliable, playing 11 games more than his older brother after he made his debut a year after.

In 2017, Matt Crouch has stepped up his game and has averaged 32 disposals, six clearances and four tackles a game in what is just his fourth season in the AFL. He sits a distant second in the league behind Tom Mitchell in disposals, and is only one of five people to play every game this season and average over 30 disposals a game. In my opinion, it's going to be a matter of time before he starts getting All-Australians, best and fairests and possibly a Brownlow in there as well, and given how the Crows are travelling so far, a premiership could well be on the way as well.

Number 4 - Clayton Oliver

Clayton Oliver 2017 Averages: 30 disposals, 6.8 clearances, 7.1 tackles, 2.9 inside 50s, 0.2 goals
2016 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 31.7 disposals, 6.6 clearances, 4.5 tackles, 8.1 inside 50s, 1 goal
2015 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 28.8 disposals, 8.6 clearances, 4.3 tackles, 4.3 inside 50s, 0.8 goals
2014 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 28.5 disposals, 6.7 clearances, 7.3 tackles, 3.2 inside 50s, 0.4 goals

Clayton Oliver has been one player I've enjoyed watching develop in 2017, but I still find it incredible that at one point during the 2015 TAC Cup season, he was struggling to make an impact and looked at long odds to even make it to an AFL list. However, not only did a massive change in form help, he was a massive draft bolter, eventually to be taken with the fourth overall pick by Melbourne in the 2015 Draft.

In less than two years, Oliver has justified Melbourne's selection, as after an indifferent debut season in which he found himself in and out of the team, exploded in 2017 to be a huge piece of a vastly improved Melbourne midfield. 11 of his 21 games so far, Oliver has managed to hit the 30-plus disposal mark, including a career-best 36 disposals back in round one against St. Kilda. Not only has he managed to find more of the ball on a consistent basis, Oliver has already proven himself in contested situations, one game this season saw him record 12 tackles, 12 clearances and 33 disposals.

Oliver has had his flaws as well. Most notably his dive after a soft Will Schofield elbow just touched the jaw, his fiery twitter feud with a former test cricketer Damien Martyn and also his altercation with a Carlton fan on the sideline, but for a 20-year old young man to come out and average nearly 30 disposals a game in only his second season in the AFL speaks so much about where he is heading as a player, and if there are a couple of minor incidents here and there, the one positive is that he still has over a decade of footy to mature and when he does, he'll truly become a star of the competition and a Brownlow may be on the way if he can continue to rack up 30 disposals a night. 

Number 3 - Patrick Cripps

Patrick Cripps 2017 Averages: 25 disposals, 6.7 clearances, 6 tackles, 3.1 inside 50s, 0.4 goals
2016 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 31.7 disposals, 6.6 clearances, 4.5 tackles, 8.1 inside 50s, 1 goal
2015 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 28.8 disposals, 8.6 clearances, 4.3 tackles, 4.3 inside 50s, 0.8 goals
2014 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 28.5 disposals, 6.7 clearances, 7.3 tackles, 3.2 inside 50s, 0.4 goals

In just four seasons, Patrick Cripps has showed everyone that he is one of the best contested possession winners in the AFL at the moment, with his ability to amass clearances at will and win the ball in close. In 2016, Cripps averaged the most clearances of anybody, averaging nearly nine clearances per game in only 21 games for the Blues as well as averaging 27 disposals and over six tackles per game last year.

This prompted many Carlton supporters to suggest that Cripps was like watching Anthony Koutoufides whenever he was in Carlton's engine room in the 90s-early 2000s. For those who don't remember 'Kouta', he was a big-bodied midfielder who had the capacity to win contested ball at will and was unquestionably one of the best contested possession winners Carlton had to offer back in the late-1990s. Back then, midfielders who were 190 centimetres or more were a rarity, but fast forward to 2017, those type of midfielders have become more and more common with every season.

But the thing I like the most about Cripps as a player is that he is continuing to find ways to improve and make him the next AFL star. At 22 years of age, he has already claimed a club best and fairest at Carlton and is amongst one of the game's top clearance winners and an elite ball-winner in contested spaces. However, his issues in front of goal has been an well-documented issue, kicking 16.27 in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, but before going down with injury, he had kicked 7.4 from 15 games this year. There's no doubts that Cripps will be back stronger and ever and the Blues will need him if they want to climb back up the ladder.

Number 2 - Zach Merrett

Zach Merrett 2017 Averages: 30.3 disposals, 4.3 clearances, 5.6 tackles, 4 inside 50s, 0.2 goals
2016 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 31.7 disposals, 6.6 clearances, 4.5 tackles, 8.1 inside 50s, 1 goal
2015 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 28.8 disposals, 8.6 clearances, 4.3 tackles, 4.3 inside 50s, 0.8 goals
2014 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 28.5 disposals, 6.7 clearances, 7.3 tackles, 3.2 inside 50s, 0.4 goals

At 21 years of age, Zach Merrett is already a star in the Essendon midfield brigade, and after a 2016 season which saw a depleted Essendon roster win just three games, Merrett was ultra consistent all throughout 2016, averaging nearly 32 disposals in what is just his third season of AFL footy. On Brownlow night last year, he polled 19 votes on the night, which is the most any Bomber has polled in a count since Jobe Watson won it in 2012 - that was before he was forced to hand it back, which eventually led to a runaway victory in Essendon's best and fairest count, the first of what could be many best and fairests in his career.

When the Bombers got back all their stars this season after serving their year-long bans in 2016, Merrett has continued to thrive in the Bombers' midfield in season 2017 and is in serious contention for his maiden All-Australian selection after consistently superb performances all across 2017. In round one against the Hawks this season, he had 37 disposals, seven marks, seven inside 50s and five clearances as the Bombers defeated the Hawks and has recorded 30 disposals or more in 11 of 20 games this year and has recorded 5 or more clearances 12 times out of 20 games.

Not turning 22 until October, Merrett is already an elite running midfielder with good kicking skills, but he is continuing to develop his inside game. When he came to Essendon, he was known as a classy half-forward type and nobody could've predicted what great things he was destined to achieve, but in a span of just a couple years, he has seriously emerged as one of the AFL's brightest stars and could seriously become Essendon's first Brownlow Medallist since James Hird in 1996.

Number 1 - Marcus Bontempelli

Marcus Bontempelli 2017 Averages: 23.1 disposals, 4.2 clearances, 6.4 tackles, 4.5 inside 50s, 0.9 goals
2016 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 31.7 disposals, 6.6 clearances, 4.5 tackles, 8.1 inside 50s, 1 goal
2015 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 28.8 disposals, 8.6 clearances, 4.3 tackles, 4.3 inside 50s, 0.8 goals
2014 Brownlow Medallist Averages: 28.5 disposals, 6.7 clearances, 7.3 tackles, 3.2 inside 50s, 0.4 goals

This may not come to a surprise to anybody, but 21-year old Marcus Bontempelli's future is incredibly exciting for someone who has already won a premiership, already won a club best and fairest and has already won an All-Australian selection - all three of those accolades coming in the Western Bulldogs' 2016 campaign. On Brownlow night, he was the highest vote-getter in the Bulldogs' camp, recieving 20 votes, including five games to which he received the maximum three votes.

Everyone by now is aware that the Bont can play almost any position and make an impact on the team. Up forward, he has proven time and time again that he could be a match-winner, and from the moment he kicked that goal to win the game against Melbourne back in his debut year in 2014, I knew this guy was going to be something special. But his best footy is unquestionably in the midfield, where he has the ability to make things happen, especially over the past couple of years, where he has set up plenty of team mates and earn crucial wins in the clearances and in the contested spaces.

However, as talented and as great as 'The Bont' has been so far, I do have a couple of concerns that might hold him back from being a future Brownlow Medallist. The first is that he doesn't get enough of the ball like the past Brownlow Medallists have, averaging only 23 disposals this year, after averaging 24 last year. My second concern is that he has been horribly inaccurate in front of the big sticks slotting 20.29 this season, in the three seasons before that, he had kicked 58.37 in his first three years.

Some don't seem to realise that he is still only 21 years old and still has a decade of footy ahead of him, even to the point that analysts believe he will be the greatest player in the history of the Western Bulldogs - the sky is well and truly the limit for Marcus Bontempelli.

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