AFL draft 2020: Best mature age state league prospects, SANFL, WAFL, VFL, Alec Waterman, Sam Fisher, James Rowe
AFL clubs over the past decade have struck gold at the draft by recruiting mature-age prospects.
And considering the lack of exposure for some Under 18 prospects in 2020, some list managers could turn to the proven, wiser bodies of state league stars.
With the help of Champion Data, foxfooty.com.au profiles 18 players from the VFL, SANFL and WAFL that could be bargain pick-ups at the drafts next month.
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Alec Waterman (Claremont – WAFL)
Position: General forward (182cm, 88kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 111
A second crack at an AFL career looms. Waterman, the son of dual premiership Eagle Chris Waterman, spent two seasons on West Coast’s list, but his stint was ruined by illness. After a few solid seasons for Claremont, Waterman has surged into AFL draft contention in 2020, winning the club’s best and fairest award. This season he kicked 26.13 from 10 games, led the league for average score involvements (6.1) and was clearly the top-ranked general forward by averaging 20 more ranking points than the next best. Several clubs, including WA-based Fremantle, have been keeping an eye on Waterman throughout the season.
Corey Gault (Swan Districts)
Position: Ruckman (200cm, 100kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 148
He might be in his late 20s, but several clubs should be eyeing Gault as a potential recruit, considering the lack of ruck depth and options across the competition. After six AFL games in five seasons for Collingwood, Gault retired to return home to original WAFL club Swan Districts. He has since thrived without the AFL-style scrutiny, particularly in 2020 where he claimed his second club best and fairest award and was the No. 1 ranked played in the league. While Gault averaged 19 disposals and 31 hit-outs from eight games, he was also the No. 1 ranked ruckman for contested possessions (13.5) and clearances (6.3). Gault hasn’t received too much AFL club interest at this point, but his sparkling form – and the fact he’s in an excellent headspace to return to the AFL landscape – make him a compelling prospect.
Sam Fisher (Swan Districts – WAFL)
Position: Midfielder (182cm, 85kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 130
A former Category B Swans rookie for one season, Fisher now seems better prepared for a second AFL stint. After impressing for the Northern Blues in the VFL, Fisher relocated to WA to play with Swan Districts – a decision that paid big dividends in 2020. The ball magnet, who grew up mostly in Canberra, was rewarded for a consistent season by winning the Sandover Medal after he averaged 26.9 disposals (ranked 2nd in the WAFL) and 7.5 clearances (3rd) per game. They’re hard numbers – and awards – to ignore.
Jackson Ramsay (East Perth – WAFL)
Position: Midfielder (184cm, 83kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 143
A familiar name for Collingwood fans as Ramsay spent five years at the Pies, mainly as a defender. But over the past two WAFL seasons for East Perth, Ramsay has thrived as a full-time midfielder, consistently racking up a ridiculous numbers. This year he was ranked No. 1 in the league for average disposals (28.8) and second for contested possessions (15.5) and ranking points (143) to finish third in the Sandover Medal count. At 25, Ramsay could be an excellent acquisition for a club looking to bolster its midfield stocks.
James Rowe (Eagles – SANFL)
Position: General forward (173cm, 71kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 96
A pocket rocket who’s now put together two eye-catching yet consistent seasons at SANFL league level. Rowe, the son of former Adelaide and Norwood player Stephen Rowe, has been overlooked the past three drafts. But he’s become of the competition’s most exciting forwards, highlighted by his 38-goal haul in 2020 that saw him share the Ken Farmer medal with Glenelg’s Liam McBean. Not only that, Rowe was the league’s No. 1 player for average forward 50 ground-ball gets (2.8) and third for score involvements (6.5). His coach Jade Sheedy labelled him “the most talented player in the SANFL”. He might be small in stature at 173cm, but he’s big in heart – and big in talent.
Mitchell Duval (West Adelaide – SANFL)
Position: Key defender (187cm, 81kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 79
One of the few mature-age players to score a draft combine invite this season – and he made the most of his opportunity. Duval’s agility test at the SA combine was eye-catching, recording the second-best time of 7.98 seconds. He also finished among the top five in the vertical jump and 20m sprint. It comes after Duval quickly cemented his spot in West Adelaide’s senior team, averaging 13.2 disposals and an impressive 7.0 intercepts per game to finish fifth in the club’s best and fairest count. All this comes 12 months after Duval was playing amateur football in division two of the Adelaide Footy League.
Tom Highmore (South Adelaide – SANFL)
Position: Key defender (193cm, 92kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 88
The Canberra and Giants academy product’s move to South Australia for the 2020 SANFL season was a shrewd move. Highmore, who showed off his excellent intercept ability for the Allies at the 2017 national carnival, has incredible faith in his judgment and aerial ability, leading the league for average intercept marks (3.7). He also averaged 16.9 disposals per game – ranked fifth among key defenders. There could’ve been more hype around Highmore if it wasn’t for a mid-season ankle injury, which sidelined him for four rounds and probably limited his output upon return. Blessed with strong hands, athleticism and great skills, Highmore would be a shrewd pick-up for any club.
Jacob Wehr (Eagles – SANFL)
Position: General defender (184cm, 71kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 75
If you’re a club looking for a classy distributor off half-back with a beautiful kick, Wehr might be your guy. The 22-year-old developed into a mainstay of the Eagles’ premiership team this season, averaging 16.4 disposals, 5.0 rebound 50s and 3.7 intercepts. He’s very lightly framed, but Eagles coach Jade Sheedy told The Advertiser: “Jacob’s a beautiful left-foot kick, the best kick at our club. His ability to hit a long, punch or advantage kick is outstanding.”
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Tyler Keitel (West Perth – WAFL)
Position: Key forward (196cm, 91kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 107
Keitel has been a mainstay of West Perth’s side and consistent WAFL goalkicker for years, highlighted by his Bernie Naylor medal in 2018. But his outstanding 2020 campaign has put him right in AFL draft calculations. He was among the league’s top goalkickers (25.12 from 10 games) and all key forwards for average disposals (13.1) and forward 50 ground-ball Gets (3.1). Blessed with strong hands and great forward presence, Keitel is capable of kicking big bags, punctuated by goal hauls of five, six and five against Peel Thunder, Perth and Subiaco respectively this year. If a club misses out on one of the glut of Under 19 key forward prospects at the top of the draft, Keitel could be a handy pick-up.
Jye Bolton (Subiaco – WAFL)
Position: Midfielder (187cm, 84kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 132
Another November, another mature-age prospects list featuring ex-Collingwood player Bolton after another outstanding season. A dual Sandover medallist, Bolton added a bittersweet Simpson medal – best on ground in the WAFL grand final – to his trophy cabinet, racking up 35 disposals and seven inside 50s in Claremont’s heart-breaking three-point loss to South Freo. Bolton this season was ranked second in the WAFL for average disposals (28.2) and was the No. 1 ranked midfielder for average score involvements (5.1). The 28-year-old is a perennial member of these lists, which probably means Bolton might be running out of time. But the fact Marlion Pickett was taken as a 27-year-old and Bolton himself isn’t slowing down – in fact his ranking points averages have increased in each of his past four seasons (110, 118, 123 and 132) – suggest he has to be considered.
Chad Pearson (South Fremantle – WAFL)
Position: Key defender (193cm, 89kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 86
Backed up his excellent 2019 campaign – which put him in the draft mix last year – with another great season for the Bulldogs this year, being the top-ranked WAFL key defender to play at least five games. At 193cm, Pearson has the size to play on almost any forward, making him ideal for a club seeking a third tall defender. He’s more of a rebounding backman than an interceptor, highlighted by the fact he averaged 17.3 disposals but ranked low for intercepts and spoils.
Nick Ebinger (Williamstown)
Position: General forward (183cm, 85kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 72 (2019)
A dynamic small forward with great aerobic capacity, Ebinger has all the potential to become the latest Williamstown product to crack the big time. He only stands at 183cm, but Ebinger’s marking ability sets him apart from most other small forwards. In 2019, he ranked first among VFL small forwards for average contested mars (1.2) and second for marks inside 50 (1.6). Ebinger also hit the scoreboard consistently, booting 18 goals from 13 games. Above all, he stood up in big games, booting three goals against Footscray in a qualifying final, five goals against Essendon in a preliminary final and plucking nine marks (four contested marks) in a grand final against Richmond. If he was to get drafted, Ebinger would see him follow in the footsteps of Seagulls alumni Kane Lambert, Michael Gibbons, Brett Bewley, Lachie Schultz and Ben Cavarra.
Marcus Lentini (Coburg – VFL)
Position: Midfielder (184cm, 79kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 116 (2019)
Again, nothing to go off in 2020 – but recruiters would be well aware of his 2019 VFL campaign. Lentini was the VFL’s top ball-winner and best pure inside ball-winners for the past two straight seasons. In 2019, he averaged 30.1 disposals (elite), 15.4 contested possessions (elite) and 8.0 clearances (elite). However, by his own admission, Lentini needs to improve his ball use, highlighted by his below average kicking efficiency of 48 per cent.
Sam Lowson (Eagles – SANFL)
Position: General forward (182cm, 84kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 56
He’s a talented, crafty goalsneak, but Lowson has had rotten timing over the past 18 months. An ill-timed ankle injury just days before the 2019 mid-season draft ruined his hopes of joining an AFL club after he kicked 13 goals from his first four VFL games. He returned for the final four games of the season to build some confidence, but it wasn’t enough to see him drafted. Then COVID-19 hit, postponing the VFL season. But Lowson moved to South Australia to keep his AFL dream alive, linking up with the Eagles and featuring in six of their final seven games for the season to end up with a SANFL premiership medallion. Lowson stayed close to goal, averaging 1.7 majors per outing and 2.2 forward 50 marks – the latte was ranked No. 1 among general forwards. Clubs will take note, though, that he laid just 11 tackles in six games. But as an explosive, powerful small forward with excellent goal sense, Lowson still holds hope he could get picked up by an AFL club next month.
Will Fordham (Frankston – VFL)
Position: Midfielder (188cm, 84kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 113 (2019)
Fordham was on North Melbourne’s rookie list for three seasons but never played a game. However he appears to be a much more complete player since leaving the AFL system. In his second season with Frankston, Fordham took out the club’s 2019 best and fairest, kicking 11 goals and averaging 24.1 disposals and 5.7 tackles from 18 matches. He was rated elite for uncontested possessions (13.9). Like all VFL counterparts, Fordham has barely had any match touch this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he has AFL list experience and is arguably a much better player now.
Rhyan Mansell (Eagles – SANFL)
Position: General defender (182cm, 75kg)
Average Champion Data ranking points: 78
The Tasmanian product represented the Allies at the 2018 national carnival but quickly became a key member of the Eagles’ SANFL side, averaging 14.1 disposals and 5.7 intercepts. Mansell saved one of his best games for the SANFL grand final, racking up 19 touches, eight marks and five tackles. He’s put himself on the draft radar with his burst of pace and skills off half-back, as well as his toughness. Could thrive in an AFL club environment.
Other players to watch
Tim Bockman (East Fremantle – WAFL)
Luke Parks (Glenelg – SANFL)
Daniel Fahey-Sparks (Sturt – SANFL)
Cooper Sharman (Coburg – VFL)
Jack Henderson (Werribee – VFL)
Nigel Lockyer (Palmerston Magpies – NTFL)
Lachie McNeil (Eagles – SANFL)