The 2022 Unrestricted AFL Free Agency Class Could Be Epic
Ok, so the 2021 AFL trade and free agency period wasn’t exactly riveting.
Relatively little business was done, with just 20 players finding new homes, few of whom could be classified as massive names within the sport.
Where last season we witnessed all manner of mayhem with the likes of Jeremy Cameron, Adam Treloar, Joe Daniher, Ben Brown and Adam Saad switching teams (to name just a few) this year’s big-ticket transactions were limited with Jordan Dawson, Adam Cerra and Robbie Tarrant the pick of the crop.
There’s of course no guarantee things will be different in 12 months time, yet what we do know is that the 2022 unrestricted free agency class, based on the current roll call, is pretty epic.
At the time of writing there are more than 30 players who might hit unrestricted free agency next October, many of whom could have a premiership altering affect should they opt for a change of scenery.
For now, let’s take a look the top dozen UFA’s using Stats Insider’s Player Ratings as a reference point.
Stats Insider Ranking: 13
He’ll be 32 next offseason yet Nic Natanui might only now be at his most destructive best having just won his second-straight Eagle’s Best and Fairest in a cakewalk while also making his third All-Australian team.
If Natanui did express a desire to leave Perth there’d be no shortage of suitors. In fact, the likes of Geelong or the Western Bulldogs would crawl over broken glass to get their hands on one of the best ruckmen of his generation.
Key Stat- In 2021 Natanui led the league in hit-outs to advantage, led all ruckemen where stoppages and centre clearances were concerned while his career-high 12.4 contested possessions per game were also the most among all active big men.
Stats Insider Ranking: 21
Technically, Fremantle legend David Mundy will be an unrestricted free agent in 12 months time, however the 36-year old, 354 game veteran won’t be leaving the Dockers. With that said, the fact that he just placed second at the Fremantle Best and Fairest whiling ranking 21st in Stats Insider’s Player Ratings speaks volumes about one of the greats of the modern game.
Key Stat- Mundy’s fresh off polling at least 20 votes at the Brownlow medal for the first time in his career having ranked top-3 at Fremantle where inside-50’s, uncontested possessions, tackles and clearances were concerned.
Stats Insider Ranking: 24
Over the last decade Ben Cunnington has functioned as a clearance god, making a consistently profound impact at the game's coalface since being drafted in 2009.
Put simply, the 30-year old Roo is a machine, and while one suspects he’ll remain loyal to North Melbourne beyond 2022, he’d be the kind of player who would provide any premiership aspirant an immediate power boost.
Key Stat- In 2021, Ben Cunnington set career-highs in contested and uncontested possessions, in inside-50s and rebound 50s, in marks, in clearances, in metres gained and score involvements. And intercept possessions and tackles inside 50. And Brownlow votes……
Stats Insider Ranking: 26
Still an absolute beast and despite turning 33 in the middle of the season is showing few signs of slowing down.
Along with Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Jack Steele, Boak is one of four players in the league to have placed top-10 at the Brownlow over the last two seasons.
Boak has previously resisted a move back to Victoria, and with Port still firmly in the premiership window you can write your own ticket on Boak finishing his distinguished career anywhere else but Port.
Key Stat- in 2021, Boak was one of only 8 players in the league to average at least 6 clearances and 6 score involvements per game, and the only one to do so over the age of 30.
Stats Insider Ranking: 35
Should Macrae actually hit the open market next off-season his signature would be the most sort after in the AFL.
Just 27 years old and fresh off 3-straight All-Australians we’re talking about one of the most consistently excellent mids in the sport and a player who just smashed the record for the most disposals ever amassed in a single season.
He’s already one of the best Bulldogs to have ever pulled on a jumper and something would have to go hideously wrong for him to not resign beyond 2022.
Key Stat- While yes, Macrae set career highs in disposals and clearances, his prolific ball-winning ability went up another notch in 2021 also setting career-highs in inside-50s and score involvements, while his 27 goals assists ranked him 2nd in the entire league.
Stats Insider Ranking: 36
At 32 Dayne Zorko just won his 5th Brisbane Best and Fairest and is as a much of a destructive force as he was when he won his first in 2015.
In recent years, and thanks to the Lions bolstering their midfield with the likes of Lachie Neale, Jarryd Lyons and the continued growth of Hugh McCluggage, Zorko has been able to operate closer to goal, and along with Marcus Bontempelli was the only player in the league to rank top-5 for both total goal assists and score involvements in 2021.
Zorko’s Lions are still firmly in the premiership window evidenced by three-straight top-4 finishers and thus a move to another club would be highly unlikely.
Key Stat- In 2021, the list of players to average at least 500 metres gained per match as well as at least 6 tackles per game consists of……. Dayne Zorko.
Stats Insider Ranking: 42
All Daniel Rich has done for 12-straight seasons in the AFL is kick the footy as well as anybody on the planet. At 31 he’s just earned his first All-Australian blazer and like his captain Dayne Zorko seems to be getting better by the year.
He’s thrived since Chris Fagan moved north and at this stage there’s little doubt he won't finish his carer in Brisbane.
Key Stat- Since the public recording of metres gained began in 2015 Daniel Rich is the only player to surpass 15,000 total metres over the course of a season- a feat he achieved in 2021.
Stats Insider Ranking: 44
It wasn’t that long ago that many thought Walker’s days as a functioning AFL footballer were numbered. Walker’s response in 2021 was to put together a remarkable, near All-Australian campaign that was ultimately blighted by unacceptable racist taunts, the likes of which a player with a dozen years in the AFL system ought to be significantly more enlightened about.
Walker of course faced an internal suspension and mightn't return as Crow’s skipper in 2022. Without a contact beyond next year, and with the Crows still quite a ways off contention, would another club be tempted to secure his services?
Key Stat- In 2021 Walker registered a career-high 1.9 contested marks per game while his 2.8 goal per game average was his best since 2012.
Stats Insider Ranking: 50
There are few active players in the AFL with as glittering a resume as Geelong’s evergreen power forward with Hawkins winning the Cat’s goal kicking for a tenth time in 2021 while also making his third-straight All-Australian team and fourth overall.
He’s a 3-time Geelong premiership winner and living legend of the club and it’d be highly unlikely he ends his career anywhere else by the Cattery.
Key Stat- In 2021 nobody took more total marks inside-50 or more marks on the lead than Tom Hawkins.
Stats Insider Ranking: 81
He’s risen from the Swan’s rookie list to become one of the league’s coolest customers, rolling along the half back flank, racking up ungodly possession numbers and executing with pinpoint precision.
Sydney’s burgeoning midfield means Lloyd can continue doing his thing, the likes of which he does better than almost any player in our sport.
Key Stat- In 2021 Lloyd was 1 of just 6 players in the league to amass at least 500 effective disposals and at least 10,000 total metres gained.
Stats Insider Ranking: 90
Fresh off a premiership, Melbourne’s Tom McDonald has developed into one of the league’s most adaptable players in recent years transitioning from the backline to a work-horse power forward. Still only 29, and on the best team in the league, his Demon tenure beyond 2022 might have a lot more to do with his club’s wishes than his. If that’s the case, there’d be quite a few clubs who’d relish the chance to bring him on board.
Key Stat- In 2021, the list of players to have produced more than 50 scoring shots, 50 tackles and 100 marks includes….. Tom McDonald.
Stats Insider Ranking: 96
The league has currently awakened to the power of the intercept possession and Carlton’s Liam Jones is one of the sport’s best practitioners. He’ll turn 31 over the summer but the Tasmanian has only 145 games worth of tread on the tyres and a verity of premiership-seeking clubs would think seriously about adding him to their ranks should he become available.
Key Stat- In 2021 Jones was 1 of just 5 players in the league to amass at least 70 intercept marks and at least 160 intercept disposals.
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