As Brad Scott declared on Friday at his first official press conference as Essendon coach, he has a “massive opportunity” to help lead and drive success at the Bombers.
And while the club’s 2022 campaign was a mess both on and off the field, Scott will have a promising Bombers list to work with, albeit one with a few holes to fill this off-season.
Scott arrives at a club that has drawn ample criticism over recent years about its list, both the strategy that has been taken to build it and the players that have been picked up in the process.
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But Scott promised he wouldn’t storm into Essendon’s list management meetings “trying to override anything that‘s already been done”, stressing he’ll “play a supporting role, but not a leading one”.
“Every club‘s got deficiencies on their list, so I come in with a really open mind,” Scott told reporters on Friday.
“I can do all the work and analysis on the players and the list that you like, but until you‘re actually in the building and you’re on the track and you’re getting to know players and working with them, you can truly form an informed opinion. So no preconceived ideas on that.
“Ultimately the experts will do their job in that space. The bell doesn‘t ring for trade period and clubs start talking to each other, so that work has been going on in the background for a long time.”
The Bombers traded out of the early stages of three consecutive drafts – 2017 to 2019 – in order to bring established talent to the club, namely Devon Smith, Jake Stringer and Dylan Shiel. All three players have brought some success to the club, but also dealt with injuries and left fans disappointed at times during form slumps.
But Essendon has attacked the draft hard in the last few years, leading to three top-10 selections – Nik Cox, Archie Perkins and Zach Reid – in 2020 and the acquisition of Ben Hobbs with Pick 13 in last year’s draft.
There‘ve also been some hits with some late-round and rookie selections, including Matt Guelfi (Pick 76, 2017), Will Snelling (mid-season draft, 2019), Harrison Jones (Pick 30, 2019), Sam Durham (mid-season draft 2021) and Nic Martin (SSP, 2021).
Overall, the Bombers’ list is reasonably well balanced across the three lines. They have decent ruck and defensive depth, while there’s no shortage of players to rotate through the midfield.
But there’s still holes, especially in the forward line.
The retirement of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti has left a chasm in the small forward brigade – plus the Bombers ranked 16th for pressure applied in the forward half in 2022 – while the fact they were among the worst teams for contested mark differential this season suggests another key forward to support Jones and leading goalkicker Peter Wright would be handy.
The good news for Bombers fans is that both could be filled with their first two picks at the draft.
Exciting father-son prospect in Alwyn Davey Jnr looms as a terrific small forward acquisition
Clean below his knees with a nimble sidestep and a knack for knowing where the goals are, Davey is eligible to be drafted as a father-son prospect by Essendon as his dad Alwyn Sr played 100 games exactly and kicked 120 goals.
In an ideal world for Essendon, Davey would receive a bid after the Bombers’ Pick 22, meaning they could use their first two picks to select players in the open draft. But recruiters believe Davey should attract a rival club bid in the latter stages of the first round, meaning the Bombers would have to match and secure the talented forward before their natural second selection.
As it stands, the Bombers also hold Pick 4 in the draft – their earliest pick since 2016. That selection will almost certainly slide one spot, with Lions father-son gun Will Ashcroft expected to attract an early bid, likely with the opening pick of the draft.
The common knock on the Bombers’ list is it lacks star factor. But the club can not only pick up a high-end talent with their first selection, they could also fill a forward 50 need, with one of Aaron Cadman (key forward) or Harry Sheezel (small forward) both strong chances to be still available when they pick. Rival cub recruiters told foxfooty.com.au the Bombers have already been linked to both players.
Cadman, a 194cm goalkicker from the GWV Rebels, has had an outstanding 2022 campaign, starring in both the NAB League (34 goals from 12 games) and National Championships (10 goals from four games). A left-footer renowned for his goal sense, athleticism, swagger and ability to win the ball up the ground, Cadman has been compared to Geelong premiership star Jeremy Cameron.
Sheezel, an exciting Sandringham Dragons goalkicker that’s arguably the best hybrid forward prospect in the draft class, is a crafty and classy mover inside 50 that can conjure goals in many ways and set up teammates. He finished with the most goals in the NAB League this season (36), including five bags of four goals or more.
If Cadman and Sheezel both aren’t available, the Bombers should have access to a gun midfielder.
Geelong Falcons co-captain Jhye Clark and Sandringham Dragons on-baller Cam Mackenzie would both be solid top-five picks. Gippsland Power’s Bailey Humphrey, who one recruiter spoken to by foxfooty.com.au compared to Norm Smith Medallist Christian Petracca, is an electric forward-midfielder that’s also in the top-five mix.
Oakleigh Chargers star Elijah Tsatas, a speedy mover that can break lines with clean hands and an efficient kick, might also be available. Tsatas is a prototype athlete and everything a club is looking for in a wing/midfield prospect.
The Bombers’ lack of pressure on the ball-carrier was glaring in 2022, ranking 18th in the competition for pressure applied. Overall, they ranked 16th for points conceded and opposition score per inside 50, as well as 17th for opposition defensive 50 to inside 50 percentage and opposition points from defensive half.
Obviously it takes an entire team, not one player, to rectify that. But new personnel can help – and delisted Blue Liam Stocker, who’s been linked to the Bombers, might be a good fit as a free agent.
Perhaps Scott’s biggest challenge with the players he already has to work with, though, will be around leadership. Fox Footy’s David King multiple times throughout the year lamented the Bombers’ lack of on-field standards.
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While Scott wouldn’t be drawn into the Bombers’ list deficiencies on Friday, he hinted he was “open-minded” to the prospect of adding experience to a list that was the fourth-youngest and third-least experienced in the AFL in 2022.
“I think there‘s potentially an opportunity to look at some experience to assist,” he said.
“The only fact that you can draw from the list is their age and their experience in terms of games played. So all that says to me is that there are opportunities everywhere and we‘ll explore every opportunity to get the best out of our players and our list, whether that’s bringing in some experience or not.”
While there‘s some areas on Essendon’s list that need addressing, it’s one still multiple years ahead of most other bottom-10 clubs.
That should give Scott and Bombers fans hope of a reasonably quick bounce.