Rory Laird: There's nothing flashy about the way Laird plays his footy – he just gets the job done. His greatest improvement this year, though, has been to the offensive side of his game. He's averaged 22 possessions so far in 2015, up from 16 a game last year and he's led the Crows for rebound 50s. Laird has also led the way in terms of skill execution. The club's skills have been questioned this year but Laird has managed more effective disposals (183) than any of his teammates (Patrick Dangerfield is second with 165).
Laird's best game in 2015: R10 v Carlton. Laird was clearly the best attacking defender on the ground and his four inside 50s and seven rebound 50s (11 combined) was the second most of the round, bettered only by Sydney Swans captain Jarrad McVeigh (12 combined). He finished with 26 possessions, of which 10 were gathered from interceptions.
Others who’ve stepped up Jake Kelly, Cam Ellis-Yolmen. - Harry Thring
Marco Paparone The ultimate utility over his first two seasons, Paparone has found a home in the Lions' back six. Mixing time between key post and running half-back, the 20-year-old has come on in leaps and bounds. While he still occasionally gets caught out of position and gets beaten in the odd one-on-one contest - which will improve as he gets stronger - Paparone's elite running ability allows him to leave his man, get into space, and be an ideal link between defence and the midfield. Still plenty of room to improve, but the more he plays, the more comfortable he looks.
Paparone's best game in 2015 R10 v GWS. Paparone's most reecent game was superb. He finished with 25 disposals and 11 marks and was a major reason the Lions stayed competitive for so long.
Others who’ve stepped up Ryan Lester, Harris Andrews - Michael Whiting
Patrick Cripps: In a difficult season Cripps has been one of Carlton’s most consistent players. The Blues’ first round selection in the 2013 NAB AFL Draft is likely to play a key role in the club’s midfield as it seeks to rebuild in the next few years. While the team has struggled this season Cripps has shown leadership qualities and is not intimidated by any situation. After 10 rounds he leads the Blues in handballs (123) and contested possessions (112), is equal second in score assists (10) and clearances (45), third in tackles (38) and fourth in score involvements (43).
Cripps’ best game in 2015: R4 v St Kilda. The West Australian earned a Rising Star nomination in the Blues’ only win of the season over St Kilda. He gathered 33 touches – 23 contested – laid 11 tackles and won eight clearances.
Others who’ve stepped up: Sam Docherty, Tom Bell - Howard Kotton
Adam Oxley: As a former Collingwood coach might have said, the Ox's progress has been slow but the Pies patience is being rewarded. Slow, that is, until the past few months. Before this season Oxley had played just two games, two years ago, gathering a combined tally of 10 possessions. He was touted as a rebounding option early last year but his season was ruined by a long-term ankle injury, so his form this year has been a revelation. The 22-year-old hasn't missed a game this year and six times has amassed at least 22 disposals. Has been a blessing for the defence that in recent seasons has lost enormous experience and a few quarterback types. The athletic Oxley is a good mark for his light build, an astute decision-maker and an incisive kick.
Oxley's best game in 2015: R10 v Melbourne. One of the best players afield as he superbly exploited his role, largely as loose man in defence. Had a team-high 30 disposals (24 kicks) and 14 marks, including eight from intercepts.
Others who’ve stepped up: Jack Crisp, Brodie Grundy - Ben Collins
Travis Colyer: If Colyer isn't the most improved player in the competition then he's very close to it. The speedy Bomber gained confidence from playing the final 11 games of last season and has taken that into this year, averaging 17 disposals in the first 10 matches. He has also kicked 11 goals, ranking him equal-second at the club for majors. His pace, run and carry makes him a vital (and rare) part of Essendon's line-up, and his foot skills have lifted several notches to be reliable under pressure.
Colyer's best game in 2015: R2 v Hawthorn. The 23-year-old's game-breaking ability was on show in round two as Essendon stunned Hawthorn with a brilliant two-point win. Colyer gathered 21 disposals and kicked two goals for the game, with his second major coming late in the game after he had bolted from deep in defence to get the handball, steady and slot his shot. In an Essendon team that is lacking in confidence and pace, Colyer has been a shining light.
Others who've stepped up: Michael Hurley, Mark Baguley - Callum Twomey
Lachie Neale: There is a case to be made for Neale to have been the most improved at the Dockers last season, but he has taken another step forward in 2015. He has become a top-line AFL midfielder. Neale averaged 23 touches and kicked eight goals in 2014, but has risen the bar this season averaging 27 disposals and kicking eight goals in 10 games so far. He is among the top 20 clearance players in the competition, averaging six per game. His consistency has been the greatest source of improvement, in nine out of the 10 games this year Neale has collected 22 touches or more.
Neale's best game in 2015: R3 v West Coast. Neale gathered 42 disposals and kicked three goals in an outstanding display that won him his second Ross Glendinning medal.
Others who've stepped up: Clancee Pearce, Nick Suban – Alex Malcolm
Tom Nicholls: It's amazing what some continuity does and the big Suns ruckman has shown the benefits of it in 2015. Before a season-ending PCL injury last year, Nicholls had displayed plenty of promise as a tap ruckman. But since taking the No.1 job from Zac Smith seven weeks ago, he has added so many more elements to his game. The 23-year-old still competes strongly in the ruck but now tackles so much better around the contest and even more importantly has drifted back to help in defence and also snuck forward to be a marking option in the forward 50.
Nicholls' best game in 2015 R8 v Collingwood. Pitted against Brodie Grundy and Jarrod Witts, Nicholls shone in a 10-goal loss. His 14 disposals, seven marks and 26 hit-outs helped him get the better of the young Magpies duo.
Others who’ve stepped up: Kade Kolodjashnij, Mitch Hallahan - Michael Whiting
Mark Blicavs: You could make the argument that Blicavs is the most improved player in the competition, let alone at Geelong. The 198cm running machine has shifted into a permanent midfield role in 2015 and has created all sorts of problems for opposition teams. Blicavs has spent certain games in run-with roles to limit the opposition's best midfielder, while his ability to spread from the contest and his improved marking capabilities have made him a far more rounded player. The 24-year-old, who only played two years of football before being rookie-listed by the Cats in 2012, is averaging career-highs for disposals (18.8), hit-outs (12.7), tackles (4.8), clearances (3.9), contested possessions (10.1) and marks (five) in 2015.
Blicavs' best game in 2015: R6 v Collingwood. Blicavs went to Magpies star onballer Scott Pendlebury and nullified his impact superbly. Pendlebury still had 24 touches, but did not have the kind of influence he usually enjoys. Blicavs had a career-high 27 disposals to shade the Magpies skipper.
Others who’ve stepped up: Josh Caddy and Jackson Thurlow - Ben Guthrie
Cam McCarthy: The West Australian is different that’s for sure, with his ponytail and 1980's moustache, but he's been a revelation in 2015, providing the perfect foil for All Australian forward Jeremy Cameron. McCarthy is strong on the lead and extremely mobile for a big man, but is equally at home with the footy at ground level. He has kicked 24 goals from his 10 games so far this season, and hasn't gone a week without hitting the scoreboard at least once. With Cameron and James Stewart all lurking inside 50, McCarthy gives the Giants an exciting three-pronged attack.
McCarthy's best game in 2015: R4 v Gold Coast. Kicked five goals, took six marks and had a career high 18 possessions against the Suns in Canberra. McCarthy and Cameron had 17 shots between them in an 11-goal thumping.
Others who’ve stepped up: Nick Haynes, Toby Greene - Adam Curley
Billy Hartung: It has been an excellent second season in brown and gold for Hartung, who broke into the Hawks line-up in round three against the Western Bulldogs and has played every game since, averaging 21 possessions, four marks and two tackles a game. His run and carry has been a critical component for the Hawks this year and he has really benefitted from opposition teams putting more work into Isaac Smith and Brad Hill. They can't keep all three on the chain and it is Hartung who has often cut loose. He is now very close to best 22 status at Hawthorn, which is a huge compliment in just his second season.
Hartung's best game in 2015: R10 v St Kilda. Hartung had an equal career-best 26 possessions and kicked a lovely, laconic left foot goal in the first term that helped get his side going.
Others who’ve stepped up Jon Ceglar, Taylor Duryea - Ashley Browne
Tom McDonald: Already a quality player he would be close to the leading the club's best and fairest. Outstanding in the key defensive post he has stood tall since James Frawley departed, progressing from being merely a stopper to becoming a legitimate springboard out of defence. His early season form was outstanding and he was one of the few Demons who maintained good form against the competition's best teams. He is in the top five for rebound 50s with Essendon's Cale Hooker the only tall defender near him on that statistic. An honest competitor, the 22-year-old looks set to be a quality defender for many years.
McDonald's best game in 2015: R6 v Sydney Swans. Kept 'Buddy' Franklin goalless for just the 16th time in the Swans' forward's storied career. McDonald relished the battle and made Franklin work at all times.
Others who’ve stepped up: Christian Salem, Jimmy Toumpas - Peter Ryan
Tom McDonald has been superb for the Dees. Picture: AFL Media
Todd Goldstein: Simply put, the Kangaroos ruckman is in career-best form. Goldstein has long been lauded for his tap work, but he's taken his game to another level with his influence around the ground this season. The 26-year-old is averaging more disposals (+1.6), marks (+1.5), contested marks (+0.7) as well as hit-outs (+5.7) than 2014. Goldstein is even leading Fremantle monster Aaron Sandilands for hit-outs per game (40.6 to 39.9), although the service he is giving the Roos midfielders remains far more telling than just getting his hands on the ball first at the contest. Without him, North's season could be in serious trouble.
Goldstein's best game: R2 v Brisbane Lions. After the horror show of the season-opener against Adelaide, the Roos needed their leaders to stand up and Goldstein didn't let the club down. He had 23 touches, seven marks, 37 hit-outs, kicked 1.1 and laid eight tackles in a determined display.
Others who've stepped up: Jack Ziebell, Shaun Higgins - Travis King
Jack Hombsch: Greater Western Sydney didn't see a place for Hombsch and let the defender go at the end of 2012. He's been sublime for the Power though, particularly this year when he's been forced to take on some of the League's superstar forwards. He's third at the club for rebound 50s and is clearly Port's leader for one percenters (75), 20 more than Jackson Trengove. Already this year he's held West Coast's Josh Kennedy goalless and restricted Sydney Swan Lance Franklin and Hawthorn's Jack Gunston to two each. For someone who will play just his 50th senior game on Friday night, Hombsch is pushing himself into possible All Australian consideration.
Hombsch's best game in 2015: R6 v West Coast. The Power lost the game but Coleman Medal leader Josh Kennedy didn't trouble the scorers while Hombsch was on him. The 22-year-old managed 17 disposals while Kennedy had just 11 and only two on Hombsch's watch.
Others who’ve stepped up Alipate Carlile, Nathan Krakouer - Harry Thring
Shane Edwards: The 26-year-old has claims on this award two years running now after taking big strides in 2014. He has grown again this year and been the Tigers' most consistent performer. His improvement is evident in all key indicators, lifting his disposals (21.6), tackles (4.4), inside 50s (3.4) and clearances (4.6) to career highs. After developing across half-back and half-forward and modeling his game on Port Adelaide and Hawthorn champion Shaun Burgoyne, a move into the midfield has suited Edwards. His ability to stand up in big games this seasons means he is starting to get the recognition he deserves after developing in the shadows of higher-profile teammates.
Edwards' best game in 2015: R9 v Essendon. Edwards highlighted the inside aspect of his game against the Bombers, winning 16 of his 25 possessions in contests. He was arguably the best player on the ground in a 13-point win at the MCG, pushing forward to have a team-high seven inside 50s.
Others who’ve stepped up: Dylan Grimes and Jake Batchelor – Nathan Schmook
David Armitage: Has always been a good player but has taken his game to another level this year when the Saints needed him the most. Armitage embraced a pre-season challenge to help fill the void left by the retired Lenny Hayes, in both a midfield and leadership sense, and shed some kilos in an attempt to improve his running and ability to contribute on the outside. Since then, he's found career-best form and is averaging nearly 32 disposals and over six clearances a game, and is third behind Nat Fyfe and Dan Hannebery in the AFLCA Champion Player of the Year voting.
Armitage's best game in 2015: R6 v the Western Bulldogs. Announced himself as one of the competition's most improved when he was crucial in the Saints' come-from-behind win over the Bulldogs with 45 possessions (16 contested) eight clearances, five inside 50s and a goal.
Others who've stepped up: Josh Bruce and Jack Billings. - Jennifer Phelan
Dan Hannebery: Hannebery has bounced back to his absolute best after a frustrating 2014 season, in which he missed six games through injury to finish outside the top ten in the Swans' best and fairest award. While many of his teammates have struggled for consistency this season, the 2013 All Australian has been a prodigious ball winner every week. The hard-running Hannebery sits third in the league for possessions at an average of over 31 per match, 12 of those contested, and also racks up five clearances and tackles a game. Could be an early leader in the Brownlow and had a season-high 42 touches against Gold Coast last week.
Hannebery's best game in 2015: R5 vs Western Bulldogs. Hannebery had 37 possessions and laid 10 tackles in the Swans' narrow loss, but was a workhorse in the wet.
Others who’ve stepped up: Dane Rampe, Gary Rohan - Adam Curley
Elliot Yeo: The Eagles have plenty to choose from with stark improvement across the board, but Elliot Yeo's development has been the most exciting. He started the year in defence as cover for an injury-depleted back six, but coach Adam Simpson sees him as a big-bodied midfielder long term and his move into the middle has been a masterstroke. He averages 19 touches but it is his clearance work and contested marking that makes him unique. Yeo is second in clearances at the Eagles and third in contested marking. He has drifted forward and kicked nine goals as well. In his previous three seasons in the AFL he had only managed three majors.
Yeo’s best game in 2015: R7 v Gold Coast. He performed magnificently in the two weeks leading up to this game, but in wet conditions Yeo gathered 29 disposals and kicked four goals in a dominant performance.
Others who've stepped up: Dom Sheed, Brad Sheppard – Alex Malcolm
Liam Picken: The former negator has been transformed in to an attacking midfielder by new coach Luke Beveridge in 2015. The 28-year-old is averaging 22 possessions a game (up from a career average of 16) and he's also taking more marks and laying more tackles. So good has Picken's form been, he's the one receiving the tag now and he's a smokey for an All Australian guernsey.
Picken's best game in 2015: A career-high 33 touches in the Dogs' memorable round five win over the Swans was complemented with 12 tackles and a massive 143 AFL Fantasy points.
Others who have stepped up: Easton Wood, Mitch Wallis, Tory Dickson - Ryan Davidson