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Josh Gibson's poor start to the year has typified the Hawks' malaise

Unbeaten after the opening four rounds and chasing the club's first 5-0 start in its 28-year history, it's difficult to pinpoint a single Crows player who would be disappointed with his form this year. With that said, midfielder Curtly Hampton has the potential to take his game to another level after returning to the AFL for the first time in more than a year. Hampton played 51 games in four seasons for Greater Western Sydney as a half-back flanker before joining the Crows at the end of 2015. He was injured for the first half of last year before being unable to force his way into the team. Hampton has averaged 14 possessions in his four games this season, with his best performance coming in his side's Showdown win against Port Adelaide in round three. Hampton's outside run and pace is critical to the way the Crows play with their quick ball movement. – Lee Gaskin

Generally, the Lions have used inexperienced teams through the opening month of the season and the older players, led by Dayne Beams, Tom Rockliff and Stefan Martin have performed strongly. Even Daniel Rich, who had a poor first fortnight, has lifted significantly over the past two weeks as the Lions search for consistency. The man they need more from is Tom Bell. The former Blue has been used in a mix of roles, but spends most of his time at half-forward and occasionally pushes into the midfield. It's not all about disposals, but Bell has averaged just 13 a game in the first four weeks (down from 17 last year) and kicked three goals. Of more concern is his work-rate, which has fluctuated within games. Bell is a powerhouse runner – one of the best at the club – and needs to improve his output to help the Lions for the rest of 2017. - Michael Whiting

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Patrick Cripps is struggling to recapture the form that made him one of the AFL’s best inside midfielders in the past two seasons. The AFL’s leading clearance player last season with 185, Cripps sits equal 26th with 22 in four games this year, 26 behind league leader Tom Rockliff. He averaged almost 17 contested possessions a game in 2016, but this year that has dropped to 11. Cripps’ pre-season was hampered by a back injury which restricted his preparation for 2017, and he has already taken several heavy hits this season. After last Saturday night’s loss to Gold Coast, coach Brendon Bolton admitted the star midfielder was playing with injury and he appears to be struggling to cover the ground and get to contests. Veteran Dale Thomas, who needs to produce a good season as he seeks to trigger an option in his contract to play on in 2018, has performed well in patches but struggled for consistency. - Howard Kotton

Dale Thomas is going to want to hit some good form before the season goes on too long. Picture: AFL Photos
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As much as we don't like singling out a third-year player, the most glaring example, particularly given the Pies' scoring problems, has been key forward Darcy Moore. The prodigiously talented father-son prospect has been burdened by the crippling weight of expectation and responsibility of spearheading the Pies' forward line at the tender age of just 21. Just as he was asked to do last year at 20 when he went goalless just three times. Moore has already been goalless three times this year, tallying just 1.3 in the opening four rounds. Of course, the athletic youngster hasn't been helped by poor delivery into a forward line that is yet to find chemistry. Solutions include freeing him up with the occasional run in the ruck, a temporary move to defence (where he has played competently at VFL level), or perhaps a state-league stint to regain confidence. Other underwhelming Pies include ex-Docker forward Chris Mayne, whose presence was meant to help the likes of Moore, as was silky former Kangaroos midfielder Daniel Wells, who arrived at his new club out of condition, which no doubt contributed to a lingering calf injury that has so far restricted him to just one VFL game. - Ben Collins

Mark Baguley has been a consistent and regular member of Essendon's backline since 2013, with his best work often going unnoticed. He's seemed a little off the pace so far this season, though, aside from the Bombers' stirring victory over Hawthorn in round one when he performed well. Baguley isn't the first defender to struggle against Eddie Betts like he did last weekend and he certainly won't be the last, but as Essendon's best small defender he often has the important task of shutting down the opposition's leading small goalkicker. He's one of a few senior Bombers off their best, with Michael Hurley still warming into things after missing all of last season and having an off-season peppered with ankle issues. Brent Stanton, too, hasn't quite hit his straps having perhaps not had the same amount of pure midfield time that he enjoyed in years previous to his anti-doping ban in 2016. - Callum Twomey

It was only two years ago that Garrick Ibbotson was nominated in the 40-man All Australian squad, but the Dockers defender's form slid last season and he has struggled to recapture his best in 2017, despite coming off a strong summer. The 29-year-old was considered by some to be fortunate to avoid the axe after Freo's horror loss to Port Adelaide in round two, when he overran an attempted half-volley gather in the first minute and coughed up the opening goal – setting the tone for a disastrous day. Disposals certainly aren't always the best way to judge a backman – and coaching staff might rate performances on a range of other factors – but Ibbotson had just eight touches in Saturday's nailbiting win over Melbourne and is yet to consistently deliver the intercept marking displays he was once renowned for. - Travis King

 

It's hard to pluck players who haven't started the season well out of Geelong, given the team's unbeaten stance. It's no secret the ‘Harry Taylor playing as a forward’ experiment hasn't worked, as it's becoming apparent he makes much more of an impact when shifted forward late in games. Defender Jackson Thurlow is unsurprisingly taking time to find his feet after missing all of 2016 with a knee injury, and has averaged nine disposals over the three games he's played. Midfielder Sam Menegola missed selection in rounds one and two, but worked hard in the VFL to gain a call up against Melbourne. However, he will now miss a week after a careless tackle on Hawthorn's Luke Hodge, which will further disrupt his continuity at senior level. - Jennifer Phelan

The Suns have really only had one poor performance in the opening month (and a horror first quarter against the Brisbane Lions), so picking out struggling players is a little difficult. Jarryd Lyons started slowly but has come on nicely over the past two weeks, while co-captain Steven May was also a bit tardy out of the blocks before a good fortnight prior to his hamstring injury. Matching expectations with output, the man struggling most has been boom young forward Peter Wright. It's far, far too premature to be concerned for a third-year forward – and he turned things around with a three-goal second half against Carlton – but the 203cm powerhouse hasn't made the most of his opportunities early on, kicking five goals in four matches. While getting his fair share of the ball, Wright has spilt a number of easy marks when getting both hands to the ball. His work-rate has been good though, and a change of fortunes is likely not far away. - Michael Whiting

Big things were expected of Peter Wright this year. Picture: AFL Photos
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With an abundance of younger midfielders snapping at his spot going into the season, veteran Ryan Griffen started the year under pressure, and that pressure hasn't been released four rounds in. Like most of his teammates in the season opener, the 30-year-old had a shocker against Adelaide when his side really needed some leadership and grunt around the footy, with vice-captain Stephen Coniglio injured. Griffen did his bit to shut down Gold Coast star Gary Ablett when he was on the ball in round two, but just five of his 20 possessions were contested, and as we know, the Sun had his head elsewhere that day. A serious ankle injury now sees Griffen out for at least another two months which has to lead to questions surrounding his place in the Giants' best 22, with players like Jacob Hopper, Matthew Kennedy and Tim Taranto showing some great signs, and Coniglio still to come back in. - Adam Curley

Where do you start? A number of Hawks have made their poorest starts to a season for many years. Cyril Rioli is averaging just over 11 touches a game and has kicked just thee goals. Paul Puopolo is averaging only 10 touches a game. Liam Shiels and Jack Gunston aren’t having anywhere near the impact of previous seasons, although Gunston finally found the goals on Monday against Geelong. Josh Gibson is another warrior from seasons past who just hasn't got going this year. Luke Breust has averaged two goals a game for the last five seasons but has just five through four games so far in 2017. If any of these players come close to replicating their form of seasons past, the Hawks will soon be out of the pickle they currently are in. - Ashley Browne

Listen to this week's AFL Exchange podcast

• Should the Hawks trade Jack Gunston, and what could they get for him?



There has been plenty of recent analysis and debate about St Kilda's decision to draft Paddy McCartin with the No.1 pick in the 2014 NAB AFL Draft. The No.3 pick in the draft, Angus Brayshaw, is also yet to fully live up to his standing. It is important, however, to identify a few mitigating circumstances in regard to Brayshaw's slow start to 2017. The inside midfielder played in the first two games of the season before being dropped, yet with Melbourne's plethora of midfield depth, Brayshaw was forced to spend the majority of his time up forward and struggled to have a major impact. The 21-year-old was also hampered by a calf complaint in the pre-season and missed a couple of key training sessions over January. Brayshaw was restricted to just 10 games in 2016 due to repeat concussion symptoms. He showed in his debut season in 2015 that he has the talent and aptitude to become a very good player. As a result, Melbourne is confident the young midfielder will reach his potential once he gets continuity and the required assuredness back in his game. - Ben Guthrie

Angus Brayshaw has had a tough run with injuries. Picture: AFL Photos
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The popular name to put in here is Andrew Swallow, whose current role and future at the club were put on the agenda by ex-teammate-turned-media commentator Nick Dal Santo last week. The tough midfielder is spending more time up forward this season. Swallow's average disposals (16.5, down from 20.3 in 2016), contested possessions (7.5, 11.5), clearances (3.3, 5) and tackles (6.8, 7.5) have all suffered. Another player who is yet to get going is 200-gamer Lindsay Thomas, who has kicked just 2.6 in four matches. The small forward – who kicked at least 34 goals in each of the past five seasons – also missed the match-winner on Good Friday in a cruel crescendo to a thrilling contest. His form issues might be an offshoot of Jarrad Waite's absence, with the ex-Carlton star's return potentially only a fortnight away. Ruckman Todd Goldstein kickstarted his season with a much-improved display against the Dogs. - Marc McGowan

Apart from a huge six goal, 30-possession game against Fremantle in round two, star midfielder Robbie Gray has had limited impact for the Power. In the other three games, he has kicked three goals and is averaging less than 15 disposals. Gray – the Power's best and fairest for the past three years - has played mostly in attack after being troubled by groin soreness in the pre-season. As he showed against the Dockers, Gray is a match-winner at his absolute best with his ability to create something out of nothing and quality ball use heading into the forward 50. But the Power would be keen to see Gray dominate a game on a more consistent basis. Winger Karl Amon has struggled to win much of the football in his four games this season, averaging 14.5 possessions, 2.8 marks and 2.2 tackles. The 21-year-old is in his fourth season with the Power and is out of contract at the end of the year. – Lee Gaskin

Former defender Nick Vlastuin is adjusting to a new role in the midfield and he hasn't had great results offensively in the opening four rounds, averaging 11 disposals. The plan was for Vlastuin to rotate forward with the team's other inside midfielders, but he has won 55 per cent of his possessions in the back half. The hard-nosed Tiger's defensive side certainly hasn't disappeared, laying 22 tackles in four games, and he is using the ball at 96 per cent efficiency. Josh Caddy came into the team in a similar midfield/forward role, but his average disposals (17.3) have been down on 2016 at Geelong (20.2). He also hasn't hit the scoreboard as much, kicking three goals from four games, compared to 21 from 18 last season. The recruit is finding his place in the team and expect his score involvements (5.0) and clearances (3.3) to increase the more he plays. - Nathan Schmook

Tom Hickey would be disappointed with his start to the year. After an excellent 2016 when he established himself as the club's clear No. 1 ruckman, Hickey found himself competing with Billy Longer in the pre-season for a spot in the round one side. The former Sun won the position after an excellent game against Sydney in St Kilda's last JLT Community Series game, but has been outpointed in three of his four contests this year. His sole win in an individual match-up came against West Coast, which had Nic Naitanui, Scott Lycett and Drew Petrie unavailable. One player on the watch list is Jack Billings. He was excellent last week against Collingwood but had been quiet the previous three weeks. After a full pre-season, there are no excuses for the third selection from 2013. The class he has is enormously useful for a side that can be wayward with its disposal, so the Saints need him to consistently deliver. - Dinny Navaratnam

He started the season with a new role as a forward, but things haven't gone well for Kieren Jack. Jack blitzed the Swans' intra-club scratch match in February and looked at home playing inside 50, where his speed and experience are valuable assets, but it went downhill from there when he missed the entire JLT Community Series with a hip problem. The 29-year-old hasn't been able to find the footy playing as a small forward, averaging just under 17 touches a game, and in the absence of the injured Isaac Heeney, Tom Papley and Gary Rohan, hasn't been hitting the scoreboard either, booting just three goals from four games. Jack's ferocious attack on the footy hasn't left him, but his tackles (2.5 per game) are well down for a man who has averaged more than five in each of his previous seven seasons. - Adam Curley

Former captain Kieren Jack is adapting to a new role. Picture: AFL Photos
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After an underwhelming first season in blue and gold, former Swans speedster Lewis Jetta looked to be on the right track during the JLT Community Series after a couple of promising efforts against GWS and Fremantle. However, a quiet round one performance of just nine disposals and a 'gimme' goal was followed by a glute scare, which saw him miss out in round two – when coach Adam Simpson admitted his spot would have been under pressure anyway. Jetta returned for round three at the MCG but was criticised for not taking the game on when he had chances to tuck the ball under his arm and break the lines in a deflating loss to Richmond. The 27-year-old was dropped for round four against his old side and, despite picking up 36 touches for East Perth, the 2012 premiership Swan is no certainty to come back in for Sunday's clash with Hawthorn. - Travis King

Luke Beveridge conceded recently that some his premiership stars, like the Bulldogs as a team so far this season, have been playing in "spits and spurts". Tom Boyd is one player yet to recapture the form that saw him one of the Dogs' best on Grand Final day. The mobile big man is only averaging seven disposals, 12 hit-outs and two marks, and has booted just two goals. The coach quickly lost patience with reliable playmakers Caleb Daniel and Shane Biggs, and dropped the duo for the round four clash with North Melbourne. Forward Stewart Crameri has battled form and injuries in his return from a 12-month doping ban. The 28-year-old had little impact in the opening two rounds of the season, before succumbing to a hip complaint.  Premiership forwards Josh Dunkley and Clay Smith started the season in the VFL, and were only serviceable when recalled for the win over the Kangaroos. - Ryan Davidson