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Players' Top 50: Can Bont and the Bulldogs bite back?

The Bont at his barnstorming best The Dogs' fan-favourite lands at No. 15 in the Players' Top 50 countdown

IN A year where he won his second consecutive club best and fairest, Western Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli took the third-biggest tumble down the Players' Top 50 poll.

After finishing the 2016 season as an All Australian and a premiership player, Bontempelli's ranking fell from fifth to 15th, as the Dogs' underwhelming flag defence ended without the club qualifying for finals.

Despite not missing a game for the past two years, the newly-appointed club vice-captain's 2017 campaign yielded 128 possessions and six goals fewer than the season before.

Only Sydney pair Luke Parker and Dan Hannebery suffered bigger declines as the players rated the AFL's best in the Players' Top 50, falling from ninth to 24th and 13th to 36th respectively.

Players 15-11 are revealed below, and you can click here to see the full Players' Top 50 as they are revealed

While it would be easy to link Bontempelli's tumble to the Bulldogs' struggles last season, the 22-year-old recently revealed a less-than-perfect preparation may have played a part.

"You don't know how much a little niggle here, a little niggle there is going to influence you, but it certainly sends you into the season a tiny bit underprepared," Bontempelli said.

"So far, so good (this pre-season because) it's always nice to get a clean run into the practice games, so fingers crossed it stays that way."

Fans' season preview: Bulldogs' bite should return, but are they toothless down back?

With 'The Bont' cherry ripe for the season ahead, the question is now whether he serves the Dogs best in his customary midfield role, or pushing forward more to help the side with their ongoing efficiency problems.

Bontempelli shows the benefits of a clean pre-season in Saturday's outing against Collingwood. Picture: AFL Photos

Superstar midfielder Nat Fyfe gave Dogs' coach Luke Beveridge something to think about after his dominant performance as a far-roaming forward in Fremantle's recent JLT Community Series loss to Adelaide.

At 192cm, Bontempelli is marginally taller and possesses similar elite attributes to the 2015 Brownlow Medallist, and it would be tempting for Beveridge to employ him more in attack with his knack of making things happen.

"As it sits at the minute, it's probably a bit more midfield (time) than forward," Bontempelli said in July.

"We're always fostered the philosophy of being able to multiply positions, and I really do think spending time in other positions helps you with your main position.

"For me to play as a forward or play a bit more on the outside at different times can be beneficial – whether that's for me or the team.

"I've got to continually learn on how to play as a natural forward a bit better. It's a tough thing to learn, it's a hard position to play, but I've been able to learn pretty quickly."

- Ryan Davidson

 
15. Marcus Bontempelli

Western Bulldogs
Midfielder

Last year's ranking: 5
Official AFL Player Rating: 15
Debut: 2014

Games: 85
AFL Fantasy value: $704,000

14. Josh Kennedy

West Coast
Forward

Last year's ranking: 15

Official AFL Player Rating: 36
Debut: 2006
Games: 207
AFL Fantasy value: $575,000

It was a testament to the ability of the key forward that he managed to finish second in the Coleman Medal last year despite missing five games with a calf injury. Kicked 69 goals, with his most consistent work keeping the Eagles in the finals race after he returned from injury in round 17. Was named All-Australian for the third straight year, and rated elite for forward 50 groundball gets and marks inside 50 as he again staked his claim as one of the Eagles' most important contributors.

13. Tom Lynch 

Gold Coast
Forward

Last year's ranking: 14
Official AFL Player Rating: 45
Debut: 2011
Games: 121
AFL Fantasy value: $566,000

It wasn't Lynch's best season in 2017, but he still topped the Suns' goalkicking for the fourth straight year with 44 from 19 games before a knee injury ended his season in round 20. Attracted plenty of attention as the Suns' focal point, but still managed to rank eighth for AFL Player Rating points per game of all key forwards. He might have delivered less on the field last year, but it hasn't hurt his currency, with his outstanding signature one the Suns – and their opposition – are desperate to secure on a long contract. 

12. Robbie Gray

Port Adelaide
Forward

Last year's ranking: 16
Official AFL Player Rating: 8
Debut: 2007
Games: 178
AFL Fantasy value: $572,000

Remains one of "those" players every coach would want two of. Gray has proven himself as a dominant midfielder, but last year earned his third All-Australian selection playing mainly as a small forward. Kicked 47 goals and was ranked as the No.1 score assist player in the AFL. While he's not a force in one-on-one contests, his silky skills and ability to read the play make him a standout. Port's recruitment of a handful of "finishing" players will give Gray even more flexibility to play where he's needed in 2018.

11. Scott Pendlebury

Collingwood
Midfielder

Last year's ranking: 6
Official AFL Player Rating: 3
Debut: 2006
Games: 252
AFL Fantasy value: $767,000

Likely would have claimed his sixth best and fairest last season had he not lost the last six rounds to a finger injury that needed two bouts of surgery. Still, polled the most Brownlow votes of any Pie, with the smooth-moving, skillful midfielder comfortably leading the club for goal assists. Pendlebury spent more time in the forward half last year and collected plenty of possessions there, while being involved in 31 per cent of the Pies' scoring chains. Remained a class above despite his shortened season in his fourth year as captain.

Catch up on the 2018 Players' Top 50

50-41: The man who must carry the Suns

40-31: Why McGovern is a million-a-year defender

30-21: From carefree mid to Giant killer

20-16: Joe Daniher's secret weapon

• Players tip 2018's top five breakout stars

Who's next?

• Check out the rest of the 2018 Players' Top 50 as they are revealed