Size Matters: The Types Of Forwards Scoring For And Against Your Club

Size matters in the AFL.

Although tactics keep evolving over the years and players find new niches to occupy, there’ll always be a place for high-flying talls, speedy crumbing smalls, and those hard-to-match-up-on tweeners.

But which type of goalkicker is performing best at your AFL club? And which is giving your backline the most trouble? Today, we'll answer those questions.

The first and biggest hurdle to clear with a topic like this is definition: just what constitutes a small, medium or tall forward?

Those labels would imply that it’s solely a matter of size, but one could easily make the argument that - as per the old adage - it’s really more about how you use it, and players of differing sizes could fit into unexpected categories.

Think of high-flying Jamie Elliott for example who in the past has ‘played tall’ to provide the kind of marking target you’d expect a man another 20cm higher in stature to do. He blurs the lines, as do many others.

RELATED: Does Jamie Elliot moving away from goals hold the key to a Collingwood flag?

This is a debate we could have all day – if we’re going to do real analysis, some lines have to be drawn. For this case, we decided that any played 184cm or shorter is a small, and anyone 191cm or taller is a tall.

Those may seem like arbitrary numbers to pick. The logic was this: Luke Breust (184cm) is a small forward and so is anyone the same size or smaller, Jack Darling (191cm) is a tall forward, as is anyone his size or taller.

It’s not a perfect delineation. But it’ll do.

Our first chart shows how many goals have been kicked for your club since the start of 2019 by players fitting into each of the three categories.

This varies significantly from team to team, depending on what type of player their most prolific goalkickers are, and some interesting features are immediately apparent.

Brisbane and Richmond lead the way for goals kicked by smalls, which is no surprise. Charlie Cameron and Lincoln McCarthy are the obvious contributors here, but the likes of Dayne Zorko, Lachie Neale and Mitch Robinson also fit into this category.

Richmond on the other hand are well known for their mosquito fleet of small forwards. The Tigers have fielded the shortest side in the competition on average over the last two years.

Teams like Melbourne and North Melbourne addressed their lack of small forward goals at last year’s draft picking up Kysaiah Pickett and Jack Mahony respectively, while after a Rising Star debut Izak Rankine looks set to help Gold Coast improve in this area.

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At the other end of the table, GWS’ tall trio of Jeremy Cameron, Harry Himmelberg and Jeremy Finlayson sees them top the charts for the most goals by talls, with West Coast not far behind.

The Giants are the only team in the league to source more than half of their goals from tall players – 52% to be exact – which is more than double Melbourne’s 23%.

St Kilda and Gold Coast will be looking to the King twins – Max and Ben respectively – to help them move up the rankings in future years, while Melbourne’s path off the bottom appears less clear.

The Dees instead strike an unusual position of sourcing more than half of their goals through medium-sized players (the league average is just 26%), with Christian Petracca and Bayley Fritsch being the notable names here.

One suspects that’s not by design – Melbourne would probably love to be getting more goals from talls and smalls if they could, and doing so will be one of their big challenges in what’s left of 2020.

What about the other side of the coin? This chart looks not at what type of player is kicking goals for your club, but who’s kicking them against you.

The numbers are a bit more balanced across our 18 teams here, but there remain some interesting trends of note.

One that jumps out is Carlton who are conceding the least goals to tall players of any club in the league over this time period – it’s a testament to their tall defenders, spearheaded by the rapidly-developing Jacob Weitering.

They are the only team in the league who can boast that less than 30% of the goals kicked against them come from talls. The league average is 37%- they’re at 29.7%.

RELATED: Have the Blues finally broken free from their shackles? 

Containing smaller players appears on the other hand to be an area for the Blues to work on, as it is for Melbourne, North Melbourne and St Kilda also.

Gold Coast give more goals away to small players than anyone – but they’re in the same boat regarding talls also, and it’s more a reflection on the big scores kicked against them in 2019 than a specific weakness in their backline.

A trend less pronounced but still interesting is Collingwood’s difficulty stopping tall goalkickers. 

Their 128 goals conceded to talls may be middle of the pack for raw numbers, but for their miserly defence, it makes up 45% of their total goals conceded – the largest proportion of any side in the competition.

Of course, one would expect the elite form we’ve seen from Darcy Moore so far this year will see them make a marked improvement in this area of the game by the end of 2020.

Who knows how these numbers might change for the AFL’s 18 clubs by then? 

We’ll check in again later in the year to find out.

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Josh Elliott

Josh Elliott is an RMIT Data Science student and rusted-on North Melbourne fan who believes that a well-jittered scatter plot is the height of humanity's artistic achievement. He does not enjoy pie charts or donut charts but he does enjoy eating pies and eating donuts. Follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29

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