AFL draft: Three key trends to look out for

There's less than a month to go until the AFL Draft and the introduction of pick trading before and during the event adds a new dimension to this year's draft.

However, we can still draw on recent history to predict what key trends may influence the November 22-23 draft, to be held at Marvel Stadium.

Here are three trends to look out for.

1. Speed now comes at a premium...

At last year's draft, clubs paid a premium to secure speed, with some of the draft's surprises each boasting relative speed at their positions. Matthew Ling (Sydney - pick 14), Wil Powell (Gold Coast - pick 19), Will Walker (North Melbourne - pick 23), Tom De Koning (Carlton - pick 30) and Brayden Ainsworth (West Coast - pick 32) were among those expected to be selected later than they were.

Time will tell whether those were risks worth taking, but it could be argued clubs have over-adjusted in recent years, placing too high of a premium on pace. Less fleet-footed types such as Jack Higgins (Richmond - pick 17) and mature-agers Tim Kelly (West Coast - pick 24), Liam Ryan (West Coast - pick 26) and Bayley Fritsch (Melbourne - pick 31) all had immediate impacts for their clubs. Even last year's youngest prospect, Tom McCartin (Sydney - pick 33), also exceeded expectations and has to date outperformed quicker types in 2018.

What will happen this year? Clubs may again take a punt on some of the quickest prospects -- Zak Butters, Ian Hill, Xavier O'Halloran, Tom McKenzie, Zac Foot and Will Hamill -- inside the first or second round, ahead of arguably better performed prospects.

The belief within the industry is that clubs will continue paying a premium for speed, seeking speedy players and showing a growing hesitation to play or recruit slower ball-winners with the view that the rules in the AFL are shifting towards a more open style of play with fewer stoppages.

2. But clubs no longer pay a premium for key position prospects

Clubs recognise Sam Day (pick 3, 2010), Jonathon Patton (pick 1, 2011), Tom Boyd (pick 1, 2013), Paddy McCartin (pick 1, 2014), Jacob Weitering (pick 1, 2015) and Josh Schache (pick 2, 2015) were all taken earlier than their level of performance at AFL level have shown. This was due to a perception that the best key position players were taken early in the draft, which led to clubs placing an increased weighting on promising talls.

But over the past couple of seasons, teams have adjusted their weighting of key position players. Todd Marshall (pick 16, 2016), Darcy Fogarty (pick 12, 2017) and Jarrod Brander (pick 13, 2017) were all viewed as likely top-10 selections for most of their draft years only to feature lower than would be expected.

A relative devaluing of key position prospects is likely to continue, if not take a further step, this year with Jack Lukosius no longer expected to be the first picked despite arguably being a once-in-a-generation key position prospect.

The King brothers are further players of interest. If Max King was available in 2014, there would be an argument he would be preferred ahead of McCartin for the first draft choice. If available in 2015, he arguably would also be the choice ahead of Schache for the second pick. Travel forward to 2018 and Max is expected to feature in the 4-6 range. His brother Ben, if he was in another draft, is of such quality that he likely would be in the top-five mix, but instead figures this year to place in the 6-10 range.

This change is largely because young key position players taken with the earliest picks in the draft often struggle to develop compared to their midfield counterparts. Additionally, clubs no longer view it as a necessity to fill their key position posts with talls, as the AFL is transitioning towards a positionless game, with forwards and defenders covering more ground than ever before and sides playing non-traditional setups with smaller players often filling the once traditional key position posts.

3. The changing nature of drafting ruckmen

Following the 2010 season when Daniel Gorringe was selected with pick 10 and 2011 when Billy Longer was selected pick 8, there has been a steep drop-off in the number of ruckmen taken early in the draft, with rucks taken inside the top 20 each year prior to 2009. Clubs rightly recognised they had almost consistently overpaid for ruckmen, with results yielded from those picks underwhelming to the point where ruckmen selected in the rookie draft regularly outperformed them.

Brodie Grundy (pick 18 in 2014) and Tim English (pick 19 in 2016) are the only two who play exclusively as ruckmen to feature inside the top 20 over the past six drafts.

The secondary factor is many of those 200cm+ players are now developing as key position players instead. The start of this transition seemed to be in 2012, with Essendon's drafting of the mobile 203cm Joe Daniher and clubs realised there are players 200cm+ with the mix of attributes to contribute more as key position players than as ruckmen. The drafting of 200cm+ key position players has since become normalised with Tom Boyd and Michael Apeness (2013), Peter Wright and Darcy Moore (2014), Harry McKay and Eric Hipwood (2015) and Callum Coleman-Jones (2017) all selected in the hopes of playing mostly as key position players.

Max and Ben King appear set to continue this trend at 202cm as genuine key position players. Outside of the Kings, there is lack of height in 2018 and a very thin group of promising ruckmen. Kieran Briggs (GWS Academy) is the sole standout and the only ruck considered a sure thing to feature in the national draft.

With few quality ruckmen coming through the junior ranks and a high proportion of those 200cm+ players possessing attributes that make them better suited to playing as key position players, AFL clubs may need to start look abroad or at other codes to discover their next ruck prospect.