In what is being considered a 'midfielder's draft', AFL scouts and recruiters have taken note of the bevy of onballers at their disposal for next week's National Draft.
With those that call the engine room home almost always being a deciding factor at the elite level, the next wave of star midfielders are sure to warrant plenty of attention and the pressure that comes along with it.
Nevertheless, this year's crop stands as a mouth-watering ensemble of teenagers that share the traits of power, skill, speed and intelligence to combine for fans to behold.
With less than a week until the National Draft, AFL Talent Ambassador and veteran list guru Kevin Sheehan has provided insight into the top talents for clubs looking toward boosting their medium forward stocks.
Nick Daicos (Oakleigh Chargers)
The Magpies father-son prospect is seen as arguably the most talented in his class, emerging as a swift and powerful midfielder for the Chargers in 2021.
Averaged 35.8 disposals, 5.8 marks and two goals in his five games this year, Daicos has proven to be an exciting talent for Collingwood for the years to come, also collecting 41 disposals for Vic Metro in their showcase clash against Vic Country.
Daicos' imminent arrival at the Holden Centre is set to bode very well for rookie coach Craig McRae, who will be able to inject the teenager's ball-winning ability into a revamped engine room next season.
With an extensive list of strengths to his name and the ability to also move forward and impact the scoreboard, Daicos is sure to be a focal point of the Magpies' system for the future.
Sheehan says: A creative player who has clean hands and wonderful vision, he reacts quickly to bring his teammates into the game. Very nimble on his feet, he steps through traffic with his natural speed and pushes forward to regularly hit the scoreboard. His running patterns are elite along with his overall footy smarts and he absorbs the pressure in congestion. Predominately a ground-level player who keeps his feet and remains in the contest.
Jason Horne-Francis (South Adelaide)
A great benefit Horne-Francis holds over the aforementioned Daicos is his ready-made capabilities and proven prowess against bigger bodies.
Having dazzled for the Panthers in the SANFL this season, the talented teenager sent a strong warning to the rest of his class to stamp his name at the top of the draft ranks.
A contested onballer that has the ability to move into the attack and threaten in the air, Horne-Francis is sure to be quickly utilised in North Melbourne's structure early next season as he awaits the honours of being crowned with the first overall selection.
Until then, tapes on the South Adelaide star's performances in the SANFL and representing South Australia speak for themselves.
Sheehan says: Has rare ball-winning ability, whether it's at stoppages or overhead and is a dangerous player near goals. Averaged 16.5 disposals (8.8 contested), 4.2 tackles and 3.2 clearances in 20 games at senior level this year as well as representing both Australia at Under-18s level and South Australia at Under-19s level, showcasing his precocious talent. His 82cm running vertical jump at the South Australia Draft Combine gave a glimpse of his natural spring.
Finn Callaghan (Sandringham Dragons)
A swift mover on the outside, Finn Callaghan separates himself from the rest on this list with his ability to play as a taller midfielder that offers width, while being able to cover a flank at either end of the ground.
The silky Sandringham product has been closely compared to Bulldogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli given his ability to win the ball both on the inside and outside of the contest and offer his teammates silver service with the Sherrin.
Averaged 24.3 disposals, 3.2 tackles and 4.5 marks per game for the Dragons, winning the club's best and fairest honours while also being named on the wing in the NAB League Boys' Team of the Year as a standout in the competition.
Sheehan says: Left-footed medium midfielder who burst onto the scene with dominant performances early with the Sandringham Dragons winning selection in the Australian Under 18s team for its Challenge match against Geelong (VFL) and showcasing his natural talent and athleticism. Can play inside and excel at stoppages or on the outside on the wing using his penetrating kicking to give good service to his forwards. Has unique aerial ability as well as goal sense making him a difficult matchup at his size when he goes forward.
Ben Hobbs (GWV Rebels)
Touted as the best inside midfielder for the 2021 National Draft, Ben Hobbs is a lethal weapon at the coal-face.
Having shown an astounding ability to win the contested ball and make the most of his chances, the Horsham product is sure to warrant an early selection at next week's draft following a stellar 2021 campaign with the Rebels and Vic Country, despite the smaller sample size.
A vocal leader and a prominent presence at any centre bounce, Hobbs makes his impact on the game known with his ability to out-muscle his opponent and move the ball forward from the clearance.
Sheehan says: A hard-edged beauty who excels one-on-one and consistently extracts the ball out of congestion. Has elite game sense, reading the cues in winning the loose ball and has been ultra-consistent from the Under-16s championships in 2019 when he won All-Australian selection and Victoria Country's MVP. Has similar traits to Port Adelaide star Travis Boak with his competitive edge and ability to hit the scoreboard, averaging 25 disposals (11 contested), 5.2 clearances and five tackles in six matches for the Rebels and winning Team of the Year honours.
Josh Ward (Northern Knights)
After impressing in a more contested role with the Knights, Ward's 2021 campaign has proven his ability to play as an inside ball-winner as well las he can play out wide.
An elite endurance athlete, the teenager has quickly emerged as a top 10 draft prospect with his four-quarter efforts in the NAB League and with Vic Metro.
Ward prides himself on his professionalism and has put in a stellar effort to be ranked among the best onballers in his class and has the numbers to show it, amassing an average of 30.2 disposals per game.
Sheehan says: Showed all the traits this season of an emerging future star. Uses his elite endurance and footy smarts to win the ball then shows poise and sharp vision to use it in an elite fashion by hand and foot. His natural leadership, running capacity and prolific ball winning ability like Carlton’s young star Sam Walsh. Capped off his year being named captain of the NAB League’s ‘Team of the Year’.
Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera (Glenelg)
A dead-eye user of the ball, Wanganeen-Milera is seen as arguably the best mover of the ball by foot in his draft class.
His accurate ability in possession adds to a long bow of skills at his disposal, with speed and evasiveness also on show in his time with the Tigers and South Australia.
Another impressive outside midfielder, Wanganeen-Milera is sure to offer an AFL club exciting levels of dash and dodge as his upside seems as high as any.
Just catching up on the U19 game over the weekend and Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera is the truth 🤯 pic.twitter.com/i9SMnG0rin
— Jourdan Canil (@JourdanCanil) September 1, 2021
Sheehan says: Medium midfielder who has had an outstanding development season which included impressing at representative and club levels, culminating with a premiership at reserves level with Glenelg after playing four matches in their League team. A playmaker on the wing, he is both poised and composed with the ball in hand and uses his step through traffic and deft foot skills to create for his team and can take a one-on-one mark with his natural spring.
Matthew Johnson (Subiaco)
A cool, calm and collective operator in midfield, Johnson's poise on the ball has given the Western Australian star comparisons to Magpies captain Scott Pendlebury.
A big-game player - evident in his best afield outing for the Black Swans over South Australia in September - Johnson showed plenty of promise across all three levels of the WAFL this year.
Another prospect that is sure to benefit from a larger sample size in 2021, Johnson is touted to warrant a first-round selection at the draft and could slide into the top 10 calculations.
Sheehan says: Tall midfielder who has risen to every challenge this season with ultra-consistent and impressive performances across the board at club and representative levels. Has that ideal combination of speed and endurance with cleans hands, composure with the ball as well as neat disposal, drawing comparisons to Geelong star Mitch Duncan.
Matt Roberts (South Adelaide)
Despite being a teammate to Horne-Francis and fellow South Adelaide star Arlo Draper, Roberts didn't look to take a back-seat in 2021, impressing recruiters with his contested and attacking ability with the Panthers.
Was another to show strong glimpses in representing his state this year, the 18-year-old has looked to differ himself from the rest of his class in his ability to lead with and without ball-in-hand.
Another versatile midfielder that can move forward and threaten opposition defences, Roberts could be moved into a debut early next year and quickly have an impact in the top flight.
Sheehan says: Powerfully built midfielder who pushes forward where he impacts the scoreboard. Prolific ball winner with the footy smarts, one-touch hands and a penetrating kick on his preferred left foot. A fierce competitor he has progressed from dominating Under-18s at South Adelaide to playing seven League games including a preliminary final, kicking two goals to show a thin slice of his potential.