With the trade period complete and the draft on the horizon, all 18 AFL clubs are finalising their lists for the 2023 season.
But there are still some high-quality players with top-level experience on the market – and they won’t cost anything but a bargain salary.
So who could be the next Tyson Stengle as a game-changing delisted free agent? Foxfooty.com.au analyses the top 16 options on the market.
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PREDICTED SIDES: Every AFL club’s best 22 after the trade period
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Jake Aarts (Richmond)
At 27 years of age, Aarts still has plenty to offer as a pressure small forward with goalkicking nous. He was one of those fringe players who just fell out of favour at the wrong time in 2020 en route to the premiership. He was a reliable source for goals as well as score involvements during the 2020 and 2021 seasons before he endured a tougher run in 2022. He’s a weathered VFL performer and could be a good goalsneak for any clubs in need. Essendon has struggled to fill the void (currently) left by Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and they missed out on Toby Bedford this year despite showing interest, so Aarts could be a ready-made inclusion.
Jed Anderson (North Melbourne)
He played 14 senior games in 2022 and was brilliant in 2020, when he finished third in the best-and-fairest count. At 28 years of age, he can still be a force in the middle of the ground and had some games this year where he was well and truly among the best players on the ground. Many of his key stats this year were above average for a midfielder-forward and he can rack up the tackles as well as the football when fit and firing. It’s hard to see him not getting another crack at senior football, which would give him a third AFL home.
Connor Blakely (Fremantle)
The medical substitute rule was Connor Blakely’s worst enemy in 2021, while in 2022 he couldn’t break into the senior side. He has played 78 games for Fremantle across seven seasons. There’s plenty of competition for midfield spots in the AFL, but Blakely had a huge season in the WAFL this year and has reportedly met with Gold Coast. He’s happy to relocate to continue his AFL career and is just 26 years old, so he has plenty more to give, even though he won’t be at the top-end of midfield brigades.
Callum Brown (Collingwood)
The 70-gamer showed promising signs at times across his career at the Magpies. But outside of a 22-game season in 2019, the midfielder/forward never quite established himself at senior level. His senior opportunities really dropped away this year under Craig McRae, making just six senior appearances despite strong form in the VFL. The former father-son draftee was even moved onto a half-back flank and he‘s shown he can play all over the field. At just 24 years old, he could make sense for North Melbourne or GWS to help add a bit more experience to a young group.
Bombers still in finals hunt | 01:27
Tyler Brown (Collingwood)
Part of a host of 22-and-under prospects with experience at senior level. Brown played 27 games in total for Collingwood and was a father-son draftee along with brother Callum. He’s a big-bodied midfielder who managed 11 games in 2022, although some were as the medical sub. He’s a bigger presence at stoppages than his brother, with the glaring issue being he at times doesn’t get enough of the football to do sufficient damage to warrant a spot in the senior side.
Riley Collier-Dawkins (Richmond)
Collier-Dawkins was taken with pick No.20 in the 2018 draft, but simply couldn’t get regular game time at senior level, with just two games in 2022 after nine in 2021. He’s a tall midfielder and at 22 years of age could take some time to fill out and hit his full potential. He has attracted some interest from rival clubs. It’s hard to know whether that interest will result in a list spot given we’ve seen so little from him in a side whose midfield depth wasn’t that great prior to bringing in Jacob Hopper and Tim Taranto.
Francis Evans (Geelong Cats)
Port Adelaide has shown some interest in the medium forward, who was taken with pick No.41 in the 2019 draft. Evans has played seven AFL games, but is one of a host of youngsters who cannot break into the reigning premiers’ senior squad. He hasn’t had much exposure at AFL level, but at 21 he has a stack of development ahead if a club was to take a chance on him.
Martin Frederick (Port Adelaide)
Frederick had interest from West Coast as part of potential compensation for losing Junior Rioli and the side still could consider the 22-year-old. He would join with Jayden Hunt in offering some great speed in a half-back role and he showed lots of promise in some of his senior outings, which were capped at 14 for Port Adelaide. Of particular note was his AFL debut against St Kilda in round six, 2021, with Frederick registering 23 disposals. Again, the Eagles could be a great spot for him, with the added bonus of being in the same state as his brother, Fremantle’s Michael Frederick.
Kangaroos fight back to defeat Port | 01:03
Daniel Howe (Hawthorn)
Howe was one of several players to fall out of favour under Sam Mitchell as he prioritised youth and potential over some experienced heads. In his final year under Alastair Clarkson, Howe managed a career-best 20 games. He finished the 2021 season in fantastic form and showed a willingness to play on the outside as well as in the engine room. He’s 26 and has expressed a desire to continue his career.
Quinton Narkle (Geelong Cats)
Unsurprisingly there‘s already been interest in the talented midfielder, who could never cement a spot in a packed Geelong group, playing 41 games across five seasons. He was a very strong VFL performer and had some excellent games at the top level too, most notably a 34-disposal haul against Gold Coast in 2021 which earned him his two career Brownlow votes. He played 16 games that year. You suspect Narkle would’ve remained at the Cats if they hadn’t brought in Jack Bowes and Tanner Bruhn, so he’s definitely worth an AFL pick-up. His manager Anthony Van Der Wielen said during the Trade Period he was expecting interest to come, and West Coast has already been linked to the West Australian. The 24-year-old would add some much-needed youth to their embattled midfield.
Tom Phillips (Hawthorn)
Pure wingers don’t grow on trees. Granted, it’s a niche vocation, but Tom Phillips would be a near-perfect addition to any team looking to bolster its running power. He’s played 115 AFL games and managed 22 for Hawthorn in 2021, but it quickly became apparent in 2022 that he was not part of Sam Mitchell’s long-term plans. Essendon is reportedly keen to secure his services for 2023 and beyond once the delisted free agency period opens in November. He and Will Setterfield would prove two good additions to a side for virtually nothing draft-wise.
James Rowe (Adelaide Crows)
Being axed by his childhood club was “the worst day of his life”, according to radio host and his dad Stephen, but the small forward was pushed out of Adelaide following the recruitment of Izak Rankine, which put him behind the ex-Sun plus Josh Rachele, Lachie Murphy and Ned McHenry in the pecking order. It was on the cards for a while with an SEN SA report in August stating the Bulldogs had interest in the 23-year-old. ”They were into him a couple of years ago, they were going to draft him, hence why the Crows had to nominate Jamarra Ugle-Hagan to get rid of a lot of their (the Bulldogs’) points,” Andrew Hayes said at the time. Could the Dogs pick him up cheaply to add to an otherwise tall-heavy front six?
Lions flex might with win over Crows | 01:05
Ely Smith (Brisbane Lions)
The big-bodied midfielder was part of what looks like a superstar 2018 class, taken with Brisbane‘s first pick at 21, but is the highest-selected player from that class to not have played an AFL game. (The Lions’ 2018 draft was actually quite poor, with Thomas Joyce and Connor McFadyen also not playing an AFL game, and Tom Berry playing 20 before his trade to Gold Coast; thankfully they nabbed Noah Answerth at No.55.) A run of injuries, plus a midfield that has generally been excellent in his time at the club limited Smith’s opportunities. If a club can trust its medical staff to help get his body right, Smith could be worth a gamble; though Brisbane is typically the club injury-prone players go to…
Sydney Stack (Richmond)
The 22-year-old was a revelation in his first year at Punt Road, featuring both as a forward and in defence and finishing third in the Rising Star Award, behind Sam Walsh and Connor Rozee but ahead of players like Bailey Smith, Gryan Miers, Nick Blakey and teammate Liam Baker. Champion Data rated him as an elite general defender heading into the 2020 season, during which he received a 10-game suspension for breaching Covid protocols in the Queensland hub. After that ban he played just nine more AFL games, including only two in 2022, taking his career tally to 35. Stack is clearly good enough to remain at AFL level – the Tigers‘ delistings were among the most talent-laden this year – and just three weeks ago Richmond development coach Xavier Clarke had been expecting Stack to remain at the club. It’s just a matter of getting him in the right environment and ensuring he’s fully committed to the AFL. A move back home to Western Australia would make a lot of sense, or even to a club that has plenty of professionalism like Geelong.
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Liam Stocker (Carlton)
The delisting of Stocker was arguably the biggest shock list change from the off-season given how highly rated the former Pick 19 was at Carlton. Originally drafted as a midfielder, Stocker was predominantly used across half back and could never quite crack into the Blues‘ on-ball brigade – he was effectively caught in the middle, without the tank to play midfield, but without the pure ball skills to play in defence. But still just 22 years of age, he still has plenty to offer prospective clubs. Essendon was originally reported to have interest, but after picking up fellow ex-Blue Will Setterfield, it now seems an unlikely landing spot. You could make a case for virtually every other club to have a need to add some midfield depth.
Mitch Wallis (Western Bulldogs)
The veteran fell out of favour at the Bulldogs in recent times, playing just 11 games over the last two seasons as the club instead turned to younger options up forward. But still only 29 years old, the 162-gamer could still have a role to play for a club in need of some leadership to help with the development of a young group, even if he doesn‘t get regular senior games. Essendon makes the most sense in that regard, particularly given its lack of small forwards.