Zero Hanger's first instalment of 'start, bench, cut' to kickstart the 2024 pre-season sees us examine three polarising midfielders who will always be associated because of their status as top-ten draft choices in 2018.
Sam Walsh (Pick 1; Carlton), Connor Rozee (Pick 5; Port Adelaide), and Bailey Smith (Pick 7; Western Bulldogs) were each chosen among the first ten selections at the 2018 National Draft and have gone on to stage impressive, yet changing, five-year AFL stints.
As we dissect the careers and recent form of the trio of ball-winners, we ponder who to hypothetically 'start' (our number one choice of the three), 'bench' (our runner-up) and 'cut' (our odd man out).
We reviewed the cases of Smith, Rozee, and Walsh before revealing our final verdict.
1. Bailey Smith
It's no secret Bulldogs midfielder Bailey Smith didn't have the season he desired in 2023, having faced consistent criticism throughout the year regarding his form.
Smith failed to have the vast influence on games we'd become accustomed to expect from the former Sandringham Dragon.
Smith's deployment amongst a busy Bulldogs engine room by coach Luke Beveridge was a persistent talking point. The 22-year-old didn't find as much of the Sherrin as during previous campaigns, resulting in his fading out of games numerous times this year.
Smith's 23.5 disposal-per-game average this year was his lowest tally since the time-shortened 2020 season when he managed a 21.2 possession-per-game mean.
Smith, who continually surfaced in trade rumours throughout this year, is also the only one out of this trio who hasn't yet earned an All-Australian blazer.