The underrated crew: your AFL club’s unsung hero

Only a select few footballers will ever be considered true AFL stars but that often means the ones who don’t reach that company get slapped with the underrated tag.

Not everyone can be an AFL star but that doesn’t mean the others don’t have value.

Every club has a footballer or two who are underrated externally, and that can mean many different things: from being too-often overlooked or people simply not realizing just how good they are.

Not everyone on the below list is a role player but many of them made the same realization as Chicago Bulls NBA basketballer Adrian Caruso – and survive at the highest level because of that.

“A big reason guys get stuck in the G-League is because they don’t realize the position they’re trying out for,” Caruso once said.

“It’s like going to a job interview thinking you’re going to be the CFO of the company, and they’re looking for someone to clean the bathrooms.”

Adelaide

Luke Brown

The Crows’ trusty 181cm defender doesn’t have a big profile but his performance has long spoken for itself. Brown’s lost only 14 per cent of his defensive one-on-one contests since the start of last season, the fourth-lowest percentage of the top-100 players to defend a contest.

Brisbane Lions

Darcy Gardiner

Another defender who flies well under the radar (at least when he’s not crashing into the back of Josh Daicos). The Lions give Gardiner all sorts of challenges and he’s responded with career-high averages of six marks and two intercept marks per game this season. His teammates know his value of him.

Carlton

Matt Owies

One of the reasons the Blues were comfortable enough to part with all-time great Eddie Betts last year was Owies. The category B rookie is best known for his pressure of him but he’s actually racked up eight score assists in 2022, which ranks equal-fourth among general forwards.

Collingwood

Isaac Quaynor

Guess which general defender has the second-most intercept possessions behind All-Australian Cat Tom Stewart this year? Quaynor has certainly hit his straps down back in the past two seasons since being the No. 13 pick in the 2018 draft and having to bide his time for a senior opportunity.

Essendon

Mason Redman

Are you even a modern defender if you’re not an intercept specialist? That’s not a problem for the Bombers’ Redman, whose career-high numbers in intercept marks and intercept possessions this season rate him elite and above average, respectively.

Fremantle

Sam Switkowski

Only one small forward in the AFL rates elite for forward 50 groundball-gets, score assists and forward-half pressure this year. That man is Switkowski, who the Dockers selected as a 21-year-old from Box Hill with the No.73 pick in the 2017 draft. It’s fair to say he’s paid them back.

Geelong

Brad Close

Close pretty much does everything you want from a small forward – and well. There’s a reason the Cats handed him a multi-season deal in October. As for this season, Close rates elite for forward-50 marks (1.6) and above average for goals (1.4), forward-50 groundball-gets (1.8) and score involvements (6.2).

Gold Coast

Sean Lemmens

Injuries and a lack of form once prevented Lemmens from being a senior regular for the Suns. He was even tried unsuccessfully as a forward. But there’s no doubting his prowess of him as a lockdown defender. Lemmens, who scored a three-year deal in October, held each of Bayley Fritsch, Bobby Hill, Matt Owies and Dan Butler to one goal or less in match-ups this season.

GWS Giants

Connor Idun

There is plenty of reasons why Idun’s missed only one match since the start of last season, including his ability to play on varyingly sized opponents. But another of his talents di lui is standing out this year: his kick rating of plus-9.1 per cent ranks 23rd of the 303 players who have recorded at least 30 kicks.

Hawthorn

Harry Morrison

The boy from Benalla is enjoying a breakout season in his sixth year in brown and gold. Morrison rates above average among wingmen for marks (5.2), clearances (1.6), score involvements (7) and tackles (3) this season, and is also averaging career highs in disposals (19.8) and uncontested possessions (13.8).

Melbourne

Charlie Spargo

The diminutive Demon lacks the physical attributes to be an AFL midfielder – the role he starred in as a junior – but his smarts and skills transfer perfectly as a small forward. Spargo’s 1.4 score assists per game this year rates elite among general forwards, while he is above average for disposals (14.4), uncontested possessions (10) and marks (4.2).

North Melbourne

Josh Walker

The former Lion and Cat has found a home in at the Kangaroos’ backline. Walker rarely gets any external plaudits but has lost only 18 per cent of his defensive one-on-one since the start of last year. That percentage is the fourth-lowest conceded of the top-50 players to defend a contest in that period.

Port Adelaide

Willem Drew

Drew has the odd explosion of possessions but it’s his defensive work in the midfield that is his bread and butter and makes him a senior regular at the Power. The 23-year-old rates above average among midfielders for pressure points and tackles this season.

Richmond

Nathan Broad

We need to stop thinking of Broad as one of the Tigers’ defensive sidekicks. He doesn’t have the All-Australian recognition of co-captain Dylan Grimes or ex-teammate Alex Rance but he’s a strong contributor in his own right. Broad rates elite for marks, intercept marks and spoils, while averaging career highs for disposals, uncontested possessions and meters gained.

St Kilda

Daniel McKenzie

There are a few unheralded Saints – we’re looking at you, Callum Wilkie – but arguably none receives less publicity than McKenzie. After never playing more than 15 matches in any previous season, the 25-year-old winger / defender hasn’t missed a game this year. With good reason, too: McKenzie is averaging career highs for disposals, uncontested possessions, meters gained and intercept possessions.

Sydney Swans

Chad Warner

There’s no lack of talk about Warner, so he may seem an odd choice here. But it’s possible this 20-year-old isn’t rated enough, given his output by him. Warner is one of 11 players this season to average at least 20 disposals, 400m gained, six groundball-gets and six score involvements. The others? Christian Petracca, Andrew Brayshaw, Jack Macrae, Lachie Neale, Clayton Oliver, Darcy Parish, Tom Green, Ben Keays, Bailey Smith and Tim Taranto.

West Coast

Patrick Naish

The former Tiger had to wait until almost season eve before finding out if he would be playing in the AFL this season but hasn’t looked back since scoring a gig with the injury-ravaged Eagles. Naish ranks eighth among wingmen for disposals, 10th for uncontested possessions, third for meters gained and sixth for groundball-gets. Not bad for a guy off the competition scrap heap.

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