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AFL players' top 50: Hard-as-nails Demon debuts as the countdown begins

The players pick their best: 50-41 The Players' Top 50 countdown is back for 2017

FOR the fourth year, on the eve of the premiership season AFL.com.au presented the AFL players with a simple challenge: rank the best 50 players in the League.

Players from all 18 clubs took part in the survey.

There are 15 newcomers in this year's AFL Players' Top 50. Between them they boast seven Brownlow Medals, six Coleman Medals and four Norm Smith Medals. Five are NAB AFL Rising Star winners.

Two players rocketed from outside the list into this year's top 20.

The 2017 countdown starts with Demon hard nut Jack Viney's debut at No.50, continuing until Thursday, March 16, when the AFL's No.1 player – according to his peers – is unveiled.

You can click here to check out the AFL Players' Top 50 as they are revealed.

50. Jack Viney

Melbourne
Midfielder
Last year's ranking: -
Official AFL Player Rating: 57
Debut: 2013
Games: 70
AFL Fantasy value: $611,000

Jack Viney has red and blue blood running through his veins, giving his ascension to Melbourne's captaincy an air of destiny.

Named co-captain with Nathan Jones for season 2017, Viney follows in the footsteps of his father Todd, who captained the club from 1998 to 1999.

At 22 and beginning just his fifth year at the club, it's been a fast rise to club leadership.

But that won't surprise fans who witnessed Viney's first seasons when the Demons were at their lowest ebb.

While the Dees slumped to consecutive 17th-placed finishes in 2013-14, Viney's near-reckless attack on the ball won him instant admirers.

Tempered with a growing maturity, Viney's ruthless footy has now been recognised with his debut in the fourth annual AFL Players' Top 50.

Former coach Paul Roos said Viney was one of the toughest players he has ever coached.

 

Viney won his maiden best and fairest award in 2016 following a breakout season where he stamped himself as one of the competition's best inside midfielders.

New Demons coach Simon Goodwin echoes the players' backing of Viney as a man who whose time has come: "This needs to be made clear — Jack Viney was ready to captain this football club. This is not a handover period. He was ready to captain alongside Nathan Jones."

– Ben Guthrie

 

49. Tom Hawkins

Geelong
Forward
Last year's ranking: 44
Official AFL Player Rating: 66
Debut: 2007
Games: 189
AFL Fantasy value: $455,000

While the prototype AFL forward is fast becoming the 200cm-plus giant who can run, Hawkins remains one of the game's top spearheads. The Geelong forward does his damage in a different way. Hawkins relies on his powerful 110kg frame to nudge his opponent off the line of the ball to take strong contested marks. Hawkins has ranked inside the top three in that important category the past three seasons and he's booted 45 goals or more in every year since 2012.

Who's next? Check out the rest of the AFL Players' Top 50 as they are revealed

48. Trent Cotchin

Richmond
Midfielder
Last year's ranking: 22
Official AFL Player Rating: 39
Debut: 2008
Games: 173
AFL Fantasy value: $585,000

One of the game's most scrutinised stars, Cotchin plunges 26 spots in his peers' ranking since last year, having ranked as high as No.9 in 2014. He led the Tigers through a difficult 2016 but battled on manfully in the midfield. Support for the 26-year-old has been an issue at Richmond in recent seasons, but aggressive recruiting should see him given more freedom to play forward, where he is deceptively strong in one-on-one contests. If the Tigers stay the course with a mooted game plan that will be more aggressive, Cotchin will have opportunities to be a more damaging player. Sharing the heavy lifting in 2017 could see him return to the career-best football he played in 2012, for which he now owns a Brownlow Medal. 

47. Travis Boak

Port Adelaide
Midfielder
Last year's ranking: 16
Official AFL Player Rating: 26
Debut: 2007
Games: 199
AFL Fantasy value: $541,000

The Port Adelaide skipper lacked the impact he has had in previous seasons in 2016. His 23.9 possessions per game and seven Brownlow Medal votes last season were the lowest returns in both categories since 2012. Boak's standing has also fallen dramatically in the eyes of his peers, sliding 31 places in the AFL Players' Top 50 rankings from last year. Boak finished fifth in the Power's best and fairest and will play his 200th game in the season-opener against Sydney at the SCG. 

46. Dayne Beams

Brisbane Lions
Midfielder
Last year's ranking: 28
Official AFL Player Rating: 302
Debut: 2009
Games: 128
AFL Fantasy value: $519,000

Beams is coming off a season he'd rather forget, playing just twice before undergoing knee surgery to fix an ongoing tendon issue. Despite his time out of the game, the 27-year-old is still arguably the best player on the Lions' list with his mix of inside ball-winning and outside run and quality ball use. Beams has had a slightly interrupted pre-season and just how well he returns will be an interesting Lions storyline in 2017.

45. Michael Hurley

Essendon
Defender
Last year's ranking: - (suspended)
Official AFL Player Rating: 346
Debut: 2009
Games: 119
AFL Fantasy value: $447,000

Michael Hurley returns to the Essendon fold in the prime of his career. Picture: AFL Media

Hurley's return to Essendon will be a huge boost to the club following his doping suspension last year. The star defender was named an All Australian in 2015 and produced a career-best season. His power, aggression and smarts make him a commanding presence in the back half, and his terrific foot skills give him an ability to counter-attack from defence. The 26-year-old is in the prime of his career and is one of the competition's leading defenders. 

44. Jordan Lewis

Melbourne
Midfielder
Last year's ranking: 27
Official AFL Player Rating: 117
Debut: 2005
Games: 264
AFL Fantasy value: $623,000

The four-time premiership Hawk enters this season in an entirely different surrounding, as one of the elder statesmen among a promising group of young players hoping to achieve success. Lewis' trade from Hawthorn to Melbourne was one of the biggest shocks of last season and already he has made his impact felt at his new club. The 30-year-old's polished ball use, his on-field direction and big game experience make him an important addition to a club trying to find its identity.

43. Stephen Coniglio

GWS
Midfielder
Last year's ranking: -
Official AFL Player Rating: 87
Debut: 2012
Games: 85
AFL Fantasy value: $625,000

The original Giant makes his AFL Players' Top 50 debut after a career-best season in 2016 when he missed just one game, broke the club record for disposals, and finished third in the best and fairest. Coniglio's year started when he was elevated into the GWS leadership group and after providing enormous drive for Leon Cameron's midfield, the 23-year-old was rewarded with selection in the 40-man All Australian squad. The tough West Australian is a fantastic competitor and often sits on the opposition's best onballer, while gathering plenty of footy himself, especially around stoppages.

42. Heath Shaw

GWS
Defender
Last year's ranking: -
Official AFL Player Rating: 36
Debut: 2005
Games: 237
AFL Fantasy value: $614,000

All Australian for the past two seasons and club champion in his second year at the Giants in 2015, Shaw is enjoying a career renaissance. He is the game's best attacking defender and has led the competition for rebound 50s and kicks for the last two years. The premiership Magpie has outstanding leadership qualities, is extremely vocal, and his driven nature has ensured his younger teammates are following his ruthless approach to winning games of footy.

41. Jobe Watson

Essendon
Midfielder
Last year's ranking: - (suspended)
Official AFL Player Rating: 429
Debut: 2003
Games: 200
AFL Fantasy value: $477,000

Watson was battered and broken the last time he played for Essendon in 2015, as the weight of the supplements scandal and a debilitating shoulder injury plagued his form. But he rejoins the club fit and firing, and ready to make the most of what shapes as Essendon's first drama-free season since 2012. The three-time best and fairest winner remains one of the premier midfielders in the competition. Re-entering the Players' Top 50 after placing 12 in the last countdown before his doping suspension, he can find the ball like few others and set up the play from the clearances with a quick handball.

Who's next?

• Check out the rest of the AFL Players' Top 50 as they are revealed

• Breakout stars: The players name the seven most likely to explode in 2017