IN THE lead up to the 2021 NAB AFL National Draft, we’re taking the opportunity to look back on Melbourne’s draft years and the players that have gone on to become part of the club’s 2021 premiership.
In 2019, the club drafted premiership players Luke Jackson, Kysaiah Pickett and Trent Rivers.
Through the words of the club’s National Recruiting Manager Jason Taylor, let’s see the potential these players had when they first arrived at the club compared to their 2021 premiership season.
Draft: Pick No.3
Taylor on Jackson:
“He’s a non-fuss competitor and I don’t think he’s going to be inhibited by the next level and the pressure that comes with it, so that adds to his package.
“He’s an excellent athlete – his endurance is probably his number one asset with the way he covers the ground throughout the game and follows up at ground level.
“We’re not putting any limits on where he can play.
“He’s played the majority of his football as a ruckman, he’s got good scope forward, but who knows – we’re just scratching the surface with him.
“He’s only going to get better.”
Just two years on and Jackson has further solidified his talents across the ground. 2021 saw the 20-year-old develop into a regular performer among Melbourne’ starting 22.
The athleticism and versatility that Taylor and the fellow recruiters saw in Jackson back in 2019 became a key to his success. He showcased his ability to play in both the ruck and up forward, kicking 16 goals for the season and averaging 10.6 hit-outs. His strength at ground level also came into play, proving to be a huge advantage for the Demons in clearances and through the centre square.
It was a breakout year for the youngster with his efforts recognised, receiving the NAB AFL Rising Star Award. He was an integral member of Melbourne’s premiership side and will no doubt make an even more profound impact on the game in years to come.
Draft: Pick No.12
Taylor on Pickett:
“He will bring excellent ground level play to our forward half in terms of his ability to tackle and hunt the opposition and take the ball at ground level.
“He’s got really good speed and agility, really good balance.
“We just see that he’s got an excellent athletic profile that you’re really just scratching the surface of.
“The projection with Kysaiah is in two, three, four years’ time, he turns into a pretty good athlete.”
In the two years since joining the Demons, Pickett has become a valued member of Melbourne’s forward line.
The 20-year-old’s speed and agility has improved into an even bigger asset to his game, adding an explosive energy to the side. While further developing his athleticism, Pickett has also sharpened his goal-kicking craft, kicking 40 goals throughout his 25 appearances in 2021. In addition to his forward skills, Pickett has also developed his defensive game, with his ability to bring pressure to his opponents, totalling 39 inside 50 tackles for the year (second highest in the competition).
The small forward’s talents were recognised when he was announced as a member of the AFL Player’s Associations 22Under22. Making his AFL debut and finals debut within the space of two years, Pickett has quickly shown how important of a player he is to the club.
Draft: Pick No.32
Taylor on Rivers:
“Trent’s played some really good footy at national level as a half-back, so [he’s a] rebound defender.
“He’s a good kick, he’s good overhead, he’s got some real power about him, he’s a good size lad.
“He’s a strong, powerful player with an ability to play in all areas of the ground.
“He’s an exciting player who can provide run off half-back, so we’re really looking forward to watching him develop.”
Rivers showed promise from the moment he joined the club at the end of 2019, but it was this year that he really proved himself at AFL level, featuring in all 25 games and playing an important role within the side’s back line.
When Rivers was first drafted, Taylor explained how exciting his run off half-back was, which turned into one of the young defenders best on-field attributes. The 20-year-old was a major impact in helping Melbourne’s defence become the best within the league (conceding the least amount of points of any team in the competition), with his key defensive stops (averaging five intercept possessions).
Rivers was rewarded for his efforts down back, receiving a NAB AFL Rising Star nomination in Round 11 and as a part of Melbourne’s premiership side, the youngster has proved his potential, developing into a talented defender with a bright future ahead.