A busy off-season has Essendon preparing to make the leap into the top eight after flirting with the chance of playing finals football in 2023.

After falling out of the September race, the Bombers took to the free agency and trade space to improve their list ahead of Brad Scott's second campaign at The Hangar, adding Ben McKay, Jade Gresham, Todd Goldstein and Xavier Duursma while managing to keep their first-round selections for this year and next.

Trading into the top 10 of the draft saw them secure teenager Nate Caddy, who looms as a key piece in the Dons' puzzle moving forward, while some outside run was acquired on night two of the National Draft.

An altered backline, a stacked midfield group and an upside-high forward line will have Bombers fans calling for a top-eight return in 2024, with Scott's first year with the club putting them on the path to do so after treading water in the finals frame throughout this year.

While they soon sunk to 11th, the Bombers did climb four rungs compared to their prior campaign and in the wake of a frantic off-season of off-field change.

With plenty of promise in their current crop of on-field assets, here's how Essendon is likely to take shape in 2024.



1. Defenders

New recruit Ben McKay will seamlessly slot into the full-back role for Brad Scott after making the move from North Melbourne, with Brandon Zerk-Thatcher's exit making it an easy switch for Essendon's defence.

McKay will go toe-to-toe with the opposition's best tall forward and will gain support from fellow key defender Jayden Laverde, while interceptor Jordan Ridley will again look to take the third-tall role after flourishing in a similar position this year.

Midfielder-turned-backman Andrew McGrath will continue in his defensive post after a promising 2023 campaign down back, working alongside ex-skipper Dyson Heppell and attacking flanker Mason Redman in offering some run on the transition.

Speedster Nick Hind will push for a starting role in 2024 after a 16-game season that saw him in and out of Scott's plans. Hind could be a viable sub option for the Bombers as a player who can help flick the switch from defence to offence with the advantage of his pace and run through the late stages of a game.

AFL Rd 9 - Essendon v Brisbane
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31: Andrew McGrath of the Bombers handballs during the round nine AFL match between the Essendon Bombers and the Brisbane Lions at Metricon Stadium on July 31, 2020 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Scott's half-back options don't extend too much further from there, however, with the Dons coach potentially experimenting with one of his midfielders in a new role at half-back. Entering his second season, Elijah Tstatas could look to learn off someone like Heppell, while Sam Durham or former defender Matt Guelfi could also be deployed across half-back.

The Dons did bring in Archie Roberts and Luamon Lual through the National Draft, but whether either of those two is ready for AFL level remains to be seen.

Jake Kelly and Kaine Baldwin are unlikely to start in Scott's plans to open the 2024 season, while Bombers fans will be hoping Zach Reid and Nik Cox get through the pre-season unscathed before making returns to senior level sometime next year.