Each year it seems AFL fans are banking on a different player to rise above expectations to cap an All-Australian level season after years of middling performances.

High draft picks, adjusted roles or players in their early 20s showing glimpses of being elite create the most off-season buzz from December to March, and this summer is no exception.

In years past, pundits have pre-empted the breakout of Jake Stringer, Cameron Rayner, Errol Gulden and Charlie Curnow just to name a few. Some rise with the pressure, while others succumb to it.

In 2024, the fate of many teams rests primarily on the improvement of their young guns, some are hoping to fill a void left by departing greats and some are looking to bolster an area of the field for a particular team.

We've named five players who need a breakout campaign this year for the sake of their teams and their own career arcs.


1. Tom De Koning

The 201cm Blue is entering his sixth season in a side with flag-fancy status and should be motivated after a successful September campaign in 2023.

Last year was De Koning's career-best season, but only slightly.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 18: Tom De Koning of the Blues celebrates a goal during the 2023 AFL Round 14 match between the Carlton Blues and the Gold Coast Suns at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on June 18, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

He averaged a mere 12 disposals, 3 marks and half a goal per game, but shone on the grandest stages possible in front of 96,000 in Carlton's two-point semi-final victory over Melbourne.

His 15 disposals and 2 goals came with some big pack marks and kicked the Blues into gear after a slow start.

Now four months removed and with real premiership aspirations, pressure is on De Koning to display this form on a routine basis and become the point of difference on Carlton's list that lifts them to a flag.