Who is going to be the 2022 AFL Draft steal?

We won’t know the answer to this for some time but the question does make us stop and reflect.

The VFL/AFL Draft was introduced in 1986 due to failures in the zoning selections that resulted in some areas being favoured over others.

In 1997, the AFL introduced the Rookie Draft which enabled clubs to list players that weren’t on the primary list.

That same year, Port Adelaide joined the league, as did the Brisbane Lions – the merger between Fitzroy and the Brisbane Bears.

For that reason, we have decided to look at the last 25 years to determine who was the biggest draft steal.

Taking into consideration draft selection, expectation, career and individual achievements, we think these could be some of the best (in chronological order):

Adam Goodes (Sydney)

Pick 43, 1997 Draft

It’d be pretty hard to find a better career than Adam Goodes.

Dual premiership player, dual Brownlow Medalist, four-time All-Australian and three-time Bob Skilton Medal winner,

Goodes played 372 games for the Swans and arguably reinvented the ruck role, becoming a mobile tall around the stoppages.

Pick 43 currently sits well within the third round and historically hasn’t provided the accolades the Sydney champ has.

At his best, Goodes was one of the best players in the competition but his work off the field is just as tremendous.

Achievements: Two-time Brownlow Medalist (2003, 2006), two-time premiership player (2005, 2012), three-time Bob Skilton Medal winner (2003, 2006, 2011), four-time All-Australian (2003, 2006, 2009, 2011), Rising Star (1999) and Australian of the Year (2014).

Adam Goodes

Dean Cox (West Coast)

Rookie Pick 28, 1999 Draft

Arguably one of the best ruckmen to have ever played the game, Dean Cox reinvented the role as a mobile tall that played as the ruck.

Featuring in 290 games, the Eagle made his debut in 2001 and never looked back.

Playing no less than 13 games (due to injury) in a season, Cox’s durability and capability made him one of the most dangerous players in the competition.

He, along with a star-studded midfield, led West Coast to back-to-back grand finals, of which they were able to snag one flag (2006).

That year was Cox’s second All-Australian selection as he dominated opposition tall men.

In 2008, the number 20 was awarded with a club best-and-fairest and his fourth AA jacket.

Cox retired as one of the best ruckmen to ever play, with Max Gawn closing in on his individual feats.

Achievements: Six-time All-Australian (2005-2008, 2011, 2012), Premiership player (2006), John Worsfold Medal (2008).

Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn)

Pick 36, 2001 Draft

Mitchell was initially overlooked at the 2000 National Draft but managed to get scooped up by Hawthorn’s VFL side (Box Hill Hawks).

The following year, the midfielder found himself on the senior list after fighting his way into the hearts of the recruiters.

Known for his leadership qualities and persistence, Mitchell quickly made a splash at Hawthorn. 

Awarded the Rising Star in 2003 and secured his first Peter Crimmins Medal in 2006, he was becoming quite the player.

Named captain at 26 ahead of Luke Hodge, he took his club to a grand final and beat the unconquerable Geelong line up that lost one game in 2008.

Mitchell finished with four premierships (2008, 2013-2015), three All-Australians (2011, 2013, 2015), five best-and-fairests (2006, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2016) and a Brownlow Medal (2012).

A fair resume for someone who wasn’t touted to do anything great.

Achievements: Four-time premiership player (2008, 2013-2015), Brownlow Medal (2012), three-time All-Australian (2011, 2013, 2015), Hawthorn Captain (2008-2010), five-time Peter Crimmins Medal (2006, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2016), Rising Star (2003).

Dane Swan (Collingwood)

Pick 58, 2001 Draft

Swan was taken with a late pick in the ‘Superdraft’ but was still seen as a battler who struggled in his first four seasons at Collingwood.

The champion midfielder was known for his laid back approach to the game and had limited chances in the senior side until a heart-to-heart with then-coach Michael Malthouse.

Swan’s quick rise to stardom was capped off by his first Copeland Trophy in 2008, which was followed by two more consecutively.

He also finished on the podium another four times and won two Anzac Day Medals (2012, 2014).

Arguably Swan’s greatest achievement could be the 2010 premiership at Collingwood to go along with his five successive All-Australian selections between 2009 and 2013.

Swan also won the Brownlow Medal in 2011 although some have suggested he was unlucky not to have picked up the honour the year prior.

Achievements: Premiership player (2010), Brownlow Medal (2009), Leigh Matthews Trophy (2010), AFLCA Player of the Year (2010), five-time All-Australian (2009-2013), two-time Anzac Day Medal (2012, 2014), three-time Copeland trophy winner (2008-2010).

Dane Swan

Brian Lake (Western Bulldogs)

Pick 71, 2001 Draft

A left field selection but Brian Lake was deemed lucky to get drafted into the AFL system.

Rocked by an adenoid medical issue with sleep apnea, it seemed there was only one club  keen on picking him.

Selected at pick 71 in what is known as the ‘Superdraft’, the Western Bulldogs used their fourth pick to secure Lake.

Although it took a little bit to get going, the full back managed to add two All-Australian selections and a Charles Sutton Medal (2007) in his decade with the Dogs.

Lake then crossed to Hawthorn at the end of 2012, where he played in three consecutive premierships (2013-2015).

He also was awarded with a Norm Smith Medal (2013) for being best afield in the Grand Final.

Achievements: Three-time premiership player (2013-2015), Norm Smith Medal (2013), two-time All-Australian (2009, 2010), Charles Sutton Medal (2007).

Matthew Boyd (Western Bulldogs)

Rookie Pick 23, 2001 Draft

There is no other diamond in the rough like Matthew Boyd from the Western Bulldogs.

Overlooked in the National Draft, Boyd was selected as a Rookie and wasn’t given much hope.

However, across 15 seasons, the midfielder proved all doubters wrong to become one of the greatest players at the club.

Boyd was selected in the All-Australian side three times (2009, 2010, 2016), three-time Charles Sutton Medalist (2009, 2011, 2012), captain (2011-2013) and a 2016 premiership player.

Once a surprise selection, he currently holds the record for most AFL games (292) by a player recruited from the rookie draft.

Achievements: Premiership player (2016), three-time Charles Sutton Medal (2009, 2011, 2012), three-time All-Australian (2011-2013).

Jeremy McGovern (West Coast)

Rookie Pick 44, 2010 Draft

The West Coast key defender didn’t come into the club with high hopes of playing senior football.

McGovern struggled to find his spot in the senior side and was forced to wait until round six in 2014 to debut.

In 2015, coach John Worsfold unlocked oppositions’ worst fears as the tall Eagle dominated the backline, making the All-Australian squad.

The next four years, McGovern continued his stellar form, earning four AA jackets.

He also held aloft the premiership cup in 2018 and will be forever remembered as the man who helped set up Dom Sheed’s clutch match-winning goal with in the Grand Final.

McGovern is forging a Matthew Boyd-esque career and giving all rookie selections hope in their endeavours.

Achievements: Premiership player (2018), four-time All-Australian (2016-2019).

Lachie Neale (Fremantle)

Pick 58, 2011 Draft

10 years after Dane Swan was selected with pick 58, another champion would bring the selection into further esteem.

Not much was expected from the late third-round choice but Neale had other plans.

Debuting in round four 2012, the classy midfielder was immediately impressive with his clean hands and elite accumulation skills.

Hidden in the shadows of Nat Fyfe and David Mundy, Neale wanted to make a name for himself and that he did.

His ability to find the ball was second to none and he didn’t waste many disposals, leading the competition in 2016 for average possessions (33.5 per game).

Feeling the ship had sailed at Fremantle to win a flag, Neale swapped the colours over for Brisbane at the end of 2018 despite winning his second Doig Medal.

The champion rover instantly put the Lions into premiership contention and has kept them there ever since.

In his four seasons at Queensland, Neale has won three club best-and-fairests and a Brownlow Medal (2020).

He also fell agonisingly short of a second ‘Charlie’ in 2022 but Carlton’s Patrick Cripps pipped him by one vote.

Achievements: Brownlow Medal (2020), Leigh Matthews Trophy (2020), AFLCA Player of the Year (2020), three-time All-Australian (2019, 2020, 2022), two-time Doig Medal (2016, 2018), three-time Merrett-Murray Medal (2019, 2020, 2022), three-time Ross Glendinning Medal (2014, 2015, 2018) and Marcus Ashcroft Medal (2020).

Lachie Neale

Tom Stewart (Geelong)

Pick 40, 2016 Draft

Stewart’s story is one of the more unique careers of recent times but it is Geelong we are talking about.

Being overlooked for multiple drafts, the defender had to wait his turn before being selected at the age of 25 late in the second round.

Cats legend Matthew Scarlett was the person who plucked Stewart from the Geelong Football Netball League and it was a stroke of genius.

The mature-age recruit turned out to be another success story but he is far from being finished.

An absolute steal at the draft, it seemed that Geelong had dibs on him due to the Scarlett-South Barwon connection and they’ve thanked their lucky stars ever since.

Stewart has missed a measly 18 games in five seasons, proving his durability and worth to Chris Scott’s line-up.

Awarded with four All-Australian selections, a Carji Greeves Medal and a premiership, the 29-year-old has defied the odds.

Achievements: Premiership player (2022), four-time All-Australian (2018, 2019, 2021, 2022), Carji Greeves Medal (2021), AFLCA Young Player Award (2018).

Notable mentions

Andrew Embley (West Coast) pick 57 in 1998 – Premiership Player (2006), Norm Smith (2006), 250 games.

Corey Enright (Geelong) pick 47 in 1999 – Three-time premiership player (2007, 2009, 2011), two-time Carji Greeves Medalist (2009, 2011), six-time All-Australian (2008-2011, 2013, 2016), 332 games.

Robbie Gray (Port Adelaide) pick 55 in 2006 – Four-time All-Australian (2014, 2015, 2017, 2018), AFLCA Player of the Year (2014), five-time Showdown Medalist (2010, 2015, 2018, 2018, 2019), three-time John Cahill Medal (2014-2016), 271 games

Potential Draft steals

James Sicily (Hawthorn) pick 56 in 2013 – Peter Crimmins Medal (2022)

Luke Ryan (Fremantle) pick 66 in 2016 – Doig Medal (2020), All-Australian (2020)

Nick Larkey (North Melbourne) pick 73 in 2016 – 80 goals (2021+2022)

Mitch Lewis (Hawthorn) pick 76 in 2016 – 37 goals from 15 games (avg. 2.5) in 2022

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