The squad of 40 for this year’s AFL 22under22 team, which recognises the best performing players under the age of 22 each season has been released. As fans across the country discuss the brightest talents in the land, here is a list of the top 5 AFL players under the age of 22.
5. Clayton Oliver – Melbourne
Eyebrows were raised when fresh-faced on-baller Clayton Oliver was drafted by Melbourne ahead of now Essendon midfielder Darcy Parish at Pick 4 in the 2015 National Draft. But after a modest debut season in which the Murray Bushrangers product managed 13 games, Oliver has improved massively in his second campaign. He averages an even 30 disposals per game as well as 7 tackles and 7 clearances and has delighted Dees fans with his ferocious attack on the football and silky smooth hands in traffic. An early season Brownlow Medal smokey, Oliver has been key to Melbourne’s likely return to finals football and if he continues on this path he will be a pivotal figure in the Demon renaissance.
4. Zach Merrett – Essendon
It’s been a turbulent few seasons for Essendon having battled through the supplements saga which rocked the foundations of the club and the league as a whole. A shining light throughout however has been blue chip rover Zach Merrett. The 21 year old became the youngest Essendon best and fairest winner in 35 years when he claimed the Crichton Medal in 2016 and has impressed with his excellent disposal and ability to impact the game both on the inside and outside. A prolific ball-winner who averages a tick under 31 touches per game this season, the young Bomber is set to be one of the game’s leading midfielders for years to come.
3. Matt Crouch – Adelaide
Younger brother of fellow Adelaide Crow Brad, Matt Crouch has had an outstanding 2017. Much like his sibling, Crouch is a ball magnet, and his average of just under 33 disposals per game this season is second only to Hawthorn star Tom Mitchell. Crouch does not waste any of the mountain of football he wins, with his precision kicking rare for a player as prolific as he. With teammate Rory Sloane regular subjected to an opposition tag, much pressure falls on Crouch’s young shoulders to spearhead the Adelaide engine room. With All Australian honours mooted, the sky is seemingly the limit for the hard nosed Ballarat boy.
2. Josh Kelly – Greatest Western Sydney
Recruited with the second selection in the 2013 draft, Josh Kelly has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom in 2017. One of a number of precociously talented footballers at GWS’ disposal, it took until this season for Kelly to start to tap into his potential but the results have overwhelmingly confirmed his status as one of the competition’s elite. Kelly is the definition of a smooth mover – able to kick with unerring accuracy and great power on both feet while also being a supremely gifted athlete. Kelly is also adept at winning his own contested footy, highlighting his versatility and his proven himself dangerous around goal. One of the Brownlow Medal favourites this season, Kelly’s contract situation has been one of the hottest stories of 2017 and whether he remains a Giant or moves elsewhere in the off-season, whichever club secures his services will be blessed with an unbelievable talent.
1. Marcus Bontempelli – Western Bulldogs
At the tender age of 21, Marcus Bontempelli has been an elite player of the competition for a couple of seasons. “The Bont” is a unique footballer – at over 6ft 3 he is exceptionally tall for a midfielder, but moves through congestion with the guile and grace of a nippy small forward. He has the immeasurable quality that separates the good from the great: he’s a match winner. Put simply, Bontempelli has frequently shown that when games are on the line, he is the man to put on the finishing touches. A goal-kicking threat who is adept either in the midfield or up forward, Bontempelli has cemented himself as one of the AFL’s biggest stars. Having been integral to the Bulldogs’ fairytale 2016 premiership, Bontempelli will be eager to continue to develop his legacy at Whitten Oval.