THE NAB AFL Academy squad is a good measure of the wider draft pool.
At last year's national draft, eight of the first 10 players picked by clubs were members of the Academy, and graduates of the prestigious talent program have regularly dominated the first round of the draft.
Although many players will emerge across the season – this time last year nobody would have predicted Clayton Oliver, Harry and Ben McKay would have been first-round picks to come from outside the Academy – the dynamic of the 34-man group gives an insight into the crop.
This year's level two squad has spent the past week at a high performance camp in Florida, training at the world-class IMG Academy centre in Bradenton.
They were put through a heavy conditioning session and intense follow-up main training days, which were valuable viewing for the 11 clubs who sent recruiters on the tour.
The Academy's US trip is the start of a long year for the draft hopefuls, and many things will change and develop across the season, throughout the under-18 championships and closer to when names are called in November.
But here are a few early thoughts about the shape of the draft after observing the Academy's camp.
How does this year's pool compare to last?
The depth in last year's draft was panned by recruiters from an early stage, with many hopeful of more talent available later in this year's draft beyond the first 30 or so picks. It's too early to know how that will look, because prospects always bob up and surprise and go past the members of the Academy.
But there is definitely a different look to this year's draft at the top end. Where last year six of the first 12 picks (and eight of the first 16) were talls, this year's group seems likely to be shared mostly in the early stages by midfielders and smaller types.
Forwards Ben Ainsworth and Jy Simpkin and midfielders Will Brodie, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Jonty Scharenberg and Jarrod Berry all have runs on the board already and are highly rated. Half-back Alex Witherden also has some class and poise.
Of the talls, Josh Rotham is one to watch. The West Australian defender has impressed on tour with his speed, run and competitiveness, while Jack Scrimshaw and Jeremy Goddard are also worth keeping an eye on. Scrimshaw might end up a tall, mobile midfielder while the 200cm Goddard is raw but aggressive.
Alex Witherden during a handball drill in Florida. Picture: AFL Media
Where will recruiters be looking for the best prospects?
Everywhere, like they always do. But some of their trips to Western Australia might have more tangible results this year, with a much stronger WA contingent in the Academy this season. The state has provided seven players in the group and should produce far more draftees than the handful it had picked last year.
Again Vic Country looks like being the most dominant area from a draft perspective, with nine members of the Academy set to line-up for Country at the under-18 carnival.
Vic Metro have just two players in the Academy squad – Jordan Gallucci and Scrimshaw – but will have a handful of quality players outside the squad who have shown exciting signs already at TAC Cup level.
South Australia has five players in the squad, while Brandan Parfitt (who plays in the SANFL with North Adelaide) is likely to be the Northern Territory's first player drafted.
Who might be in the mix for pick No.1?
The prospects who performed last year as bottom-agers are the standouts at this stage.
Ainsworth made the under-18 All Australian team after an electric championships as a small forward and was a joint winner of Gippsland Power's TAC Cup best and fairest.
He is good enough to have played AFL last year had he been eligible, he has match-winning traits and will be in consideration right near the top of the draft.
Petrevski-Seton and Berry also made the All Australian team in 2015, and Petrevski-Seton's class on both feet and zip have seen him high on recruiters' minds since his brilliant under-16 carnival.
Berry is tough, tall and a great athlete, and made a point to be the standout leader of the group on tour.
Murray Bushrangers pair Will Brodie and Jy Simpkin also seem likely to be in the mix early in proceedings. Brodie is a tall midfielder who wins the ball, and Simpkin a half-forward with creativity.
The Academy's games against VFL teams in April should start to make the pecking order at the top of the draft a little clearer.
Do the northern clubs have any more academy prospects coming through?
In short, yes. This season looks set to be the first time Gold Coast can join the party and take a zone academy player early in proceedings. Lively midfielder Jack Bowes influences games and has a good temperament, and has already moved down from Cairns to the Gold Coast.
The Suns also have access to Brad Scheer, a tough inside midfielder with strong running capabilities.
Eight of the 34 players in the Academy squad are tied to the northern clubs via academies – Jacob Allison and Jack Rolls at Brisbane, Zach Sproule, Harrison Macreadie, Kobe Mutch and Will Setterfield with Greater Western Sydney, and the two Suns prospects.
Allison is another All Australian, and his long kicking, versatility and size make him a likely early choice for the Lions, but Macreadie might be the first academy player to attract a bid, given his 195cm frame and athleticism as a tall defender.
Expect clubs to again agitate about the Giants' generous academy zone after they drafted four players from the Riverina region last year and look set for another batch in 2016 (and even more next season).
Ben Ainsworth, centre, running the time-trial at the IMG Academy. Picture: AFL Media