MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: Nick Daicos of the Magpies gathers the ball during the round six AFL match between Collingwood Magpies and Essendon Bombers at Melbourne Cricket Ground, on April 25, 2023, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The 2001 draft is spoken of in mythical terms; a draft that single-handedly set up multiple clubs for sustained premiership tilts, produced multiple Brownlow medalists, Norm Smith medalists, and undoubtedly dozens of future Hall of Famers.

It must be said that most years the draft is touted as stacked with future stars of the game, and while some years it's true, 2018 being a prime example, most years are much more of a lottery.

The top 10 from 2021 were highly regarded leading into the draft. Some inside the recruiting industry believed that the top 10-15 could go on to become superstars of the competition, and the evidence in favour of this is already mounting.

While it's still early days, the draft class of 2021 is beginning to show signs that the majority of clubs in the competition have found at least one gem. Of course, it helps when a once-in-a-generation player like Nick Daicos is part of said draft class. Beyond him, though, the rest of the top 10 are already quickly becoming household names.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 25: Nick Daicos of the Magpies poses for a photo after winning the Anzac medal during the 2023 AFL Round 06 match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Essendon Bombers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 25, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

What sets this draft apart from most is that after just 18 months in the AFL, so many seem to not only be getting a game for their respective clubs, but playing important roles. Perhaps it's a testament to the professionalism of the underage pathways and programs towards the AFL. However, two taking just two pre-seasons to adapt to AFL football is uncommon.

Of the top 15 or so picks, there are perhaps three or four who aren't already automatic selections for their respective clubs at the moment, which at 19 years of age is impressive. Beyond that, there are over a dozen seeing regular game time at AFL level and plenty more who have already had more than a taste of senior football.

This speaks to a level of quality and professionalism that begs the question of whether we are, in fact, seeing another 'super draft' developing right before our eyes.

The Stars (Top 10)

While most drafts produce a handful of stars from the top ten picks, on early evidence, the 2021 class is beginning to look scary. None more so than Nick Daicos, who has seamlessly walked into the AFL and justified the extreme hype that surrounded him.

Despite a recent injury, he is still a hot favourite for this year's Brownlow, which in just his second year of AFL football is staggering. Numbers aren't required here; Daicos is already a star of the competition and a lengthy career of carving his way through opposition midfields beckons. The sky is the limit for the Magpies' new golden boy.

Outside of Daicos, the top 10 contains plenty of superstar-potential players, with the likes of Jason Horne-Francis, Josh Rachele and Josh Gibcus having already proven that they are only just getting started, with each having already shown genuine match-winning quality in their first 18 months.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 28: Jason Horne-Francis of the Power in action during the 2023 AFL Round 07 match between the St Kilda Saints and the Port Adelaide Power at Marvel Stadium on April 28, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

There is little doubt that Horne-Francis will eventually become a dominant star of the competition, likewise Rachele. As for Gibcus, despite injury cruelling his 2023 campaign, he slotted straight into a key defensive position last year and hardly looked out of place in his debut season.

Perhaps the most impressive in season 2023 of the top 10 picks outside of Daicos is Jye Amiss. Since the retirement of Matthew Pavlich, Fremantle has longed for a reliable key forward to build around. Amiss has kicked 34 goals in just his second full season and ranks first among rising-star-eligible players for both goals per game and total contested marks. He is just beginning to scratch the surface.

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The same can be said of Sam Darcy, Finn Callaghan and Mac Andrew, who all look as though they may take slightly longer, but have shown enough to suggest that their raw potential will convert to AFL dominance. Darcy and Callaghan in particular have shown brilliant signs early despite respective injury hindrances.

Let's also not forget Josh Ward, who has quietly put together an impressive season for the Hawks, averaging 21.9 disposals, 4.7 marks and 2.2 clearances from his 13 games in 2023, suggesting he will be in the brown and gold engine room for years to come.

Comparatively, there's an argument to be made that some top 10 picks from the previous two drafts, despite having had more time in the system, are not quite showing the same level of comfort just yet. That's not to say that they still don't have plenty of time on their side, but more to establish how quickly some in the 2021 crop have found their feet.

The Steals (10-40)

Most drafts have players that, in hindsight, prove to be 'bargains' or 'steals' at the pick they are taken with. This particular draft appears to have quite a few and while you could reasonably expect the odd quality player from a pick between 10 and 35, there are a handful taken in that range that have shown tantalising signs of promise.

Again, it's still early days, but there is mounting evidence that Jacob Van Rooyen, Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, Ben Hobbs and Darcy Wilmot all appear destined to become crucial players for their clubs as they put together breakout 2023 campaigns.

With 24 goals from his 16 games this season, Van Rooyen has already established himself as a crucial focal point for the Demons, providing aggression in the air and on the ground along with good forward craft.

Meanwhile, Wanganeen-Milera has provided much-needed polish for the Saints across half-back, averaging 23.6 disposals with 17.7 kicks per game this season and looking unfazed by the speed of the game at the highest level.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 24: Jacob van Rooyen of the Demons celebrates a goal during the 2023 AFL Round 06 match between the Melbourne Demons and the Richmond Tigers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 24, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

When injury struck the Bombers' engine room, Hobbs stood tall as the Bombers recorded crucial wins. His average of 19.1 disposals, 3.7 tackles and 3.4 clearances per game this season hint at much bigger things to come.

Wilmot has begun to establish himself as a critical part of Brisbane's rebound and transition from defensive 50, while the Lions also boast Kai Lohmann, who is continuing to develop and show signs of a bright future.

For the Blues, Jesse Motlop has become the crafty goalsneak they have desired since Eddie Betts' departure. While those are big shorts to fill, Motlop's 20 goals and 2.4 tackles a game only hint at how crucial he is to Carlton's hopes. It's his ability to pounce on a half-chance and convert it into a goal that is perhaps most impressive.

Emerging as one of the steals of the draft is young Saint Mitch Owens, a hybrid forward-midfielder who pinch hits in the ruck, has kicked 23 goals, taken 21 contested marks, and ranks elite for tackles, disposals and total clearances per game, according to AFL.com.au. At pick 33, he has quickly become an integral part of Ross Lyon's game plan.

St Kilda Saint Mitchito Owens (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

These six players don't represent the only steals of 2021 however, merely that they are performing like players who generally are drafted much higher. Plenty of their peers in this part of the draft have made impressive starts to life in the AFL.

The likes of Matt Roberts, Angus Sheldrick, Paul Curtis, Josh Goater, Jake Soligo, Connor MacDonald, Campbell Chesser, Matt Johnson, Sam Butler, Judson Clarke and Rhett Bazzo have all begun to see significant AFL action.

After only 18 months, this again appears to be a change from the norm, indicating this crop of youngsters could all go on to have significant AFL careers.

The Sleepers (40 onwards)

It's no great secret that after pick 40, it's unlikely that clubs will have much success. This is where the 2021 draft reverts back to type. There are still bargains to be found, however, at this stage, many of them have not seen enough senior football to make a definitive call on their futures.

The likes of Arthur Jones and Marcus Windhager have made strong starts and shape as, at the very least, regulars for the Bulldogs and the Saints in the coming years. Windhager has claimed some big scalps as a tagger and recently settled into a new role at half-back while Jones showed against the Blues earlier this year that he could provide the Dogs with x-factor forward of the ball.

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After that, we've seen Jackson Archer, Jase Burgoyne, Greg Clark and Taj Woewodin all see senior football, however, they are all yet to cement themselves as regulars. That's not to say that they won't, just that it's still early days.

There is one impressive final bargain, however, in Judd McVee, who was taken as a rookie by the Demons and appears well on his way to becoming a very good AFL player, earning a Rising Star nomination and playing 20 games this season.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 12: Judd McVee of the Demons in action during the 2023 AFL Round 13 match between the Melbourne Demons and the Collingwood Magpies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on June 12, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

While there is still a long way to go in the careers of these players, on exposed evidence, there will be a lot of clubs around the AFL very happy with the talent that they added to their list from this draft.

From the coveted top 10 to the bargains in the middle and the late steals, every draft throws up future Hall of Famers, yet there is a growing sense that 2021 has provided a special crop of AFL players that have just begun to show how good they might one day be.