Zach Merrett dives for the ball during the match between Essendon and North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium in round 12, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

THE MOST expensive Bomber is their captain Zach Merrett (MID, $1,019,000) which should not come as a shock to anyone.

Merrett's average of 112.9 ranked him as sixth overall and the fourth best midfielder of 2023. His owners were quite happy to give him captaincy in their Fantasy teams with his top return being 158 against Richmond in round 10 to go with four more scores of 140-plus.

While he copped attention on occasion, his ceiling scores certainly made up for the modest totals when he was clamped by the opposition.

Alongside Merrett, his partner in crime in the midfield was Darcy Parish (MID, $965,000).

Parish has completed his transition into the midfield and was used at a club-high 81 per cent of centre bounces. His career-high average of 106.9 came from a super-consistent season with a handful of 120-plus scores but most of his scores falling between 90-110.

Darcy Parish in action during Essendon's clash with the Western Bulldogs in round 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Will Setterfield (MID, $830,000) got off to a flyer in his first year in the red and black. Opening up the season with scores of 122 and 130 made him a popular trade target at a budget price. Although he was solid following those big scores, his season average ended up as 92 with a large stint on the sidelines due to a foot stress injury.

Other Bombers to enjoy career-high Fantasy returns in 2023 included Mason Redman (DEF, $774,000) who has now posted back-to-back seasons of 85-plus while Nic Martin (MID, $769,000) was a winner for those who drafted the then-MID/FWD.

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Lock them in

Is Zach Merrett (MID, $1,019,000) the most consistent Fantasy player in the game? If we look at his performances since he entered the League, he's been in the mix as one of the top midfielders in every season since 2016 where he averaged 118 in just his third season. Since then his season average hasn't dipped below 100. If you're looking for a captain option and someone who will be on the park each week, Merrett is your man. The fact he has missed just six games in the last eight seasons means that your first round draft selection could be spent nicely with Essendon's skipper.

Track their pre-season

Jade Gresham (FWD, $664,000) ended up as a Bomber through free agency. He's previously averaged 80-plus across three seasons and as a forward, that could put him in the mix as a top 20 player in the line that is missing a lot of firepower. Midfield time has been helpful for him which could be a challenge at Essendon, where a half-forward role is likely. In saying that, last season he averaged 81 from the nine games he attended fewer than 20 per cent of centre-bounce attendances (CBAs) compared to the 65 in the six games he attended 40 per cent or more CBAs.

Jade Gresham is unveiled as an Essendon player in October, 2023. Picture: Essendon FC

Dual-position tempter

The No.5 selection in the 2022 AFL Draft, Elijah Tsatas (MID/FWD, $476,000) made his debut in round 21 last season. We got a glimpse of his capacity to score at AFL level in his second match where he racked up 23 disposals, four marks, three tackles and kicked a goal for 86 points. The start to his career at Essendon was interrupted by a meniscus tear in the pre-season but he managed to play nine VFL games in the middle of the season. His average of 91.4 from his seven games at that level helped him earn his debut. With the all-important FWD status, Tsatas is definitely one to watch that will improve on his price in Classic and offer great value in Draft.

Bargain basement

We're not usually fans of picking key-position players in Fantasy but Nate Caddy (FWD, $273,000) may pull on the boots early for the Dons and make a few dollars. The 193cm forward was impressive for Vic Metro in the under 18 championships, averaging 70 points, while for the Northern Knights he averaged 2.8 goals per game and 86.6 Fantasy points in the Coates Talent League. The Bombers traded up to grab him and he might be in their round one plans.

Nate Caddy during the AFL Draft at Marvel Stadium on November 20, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Draft sleeper

There were plenty of coaches who jumped on board the Ben Hobbs (MID, $691,000) wagon in Fantasy Classic last year as he added plenty of value while pumping out very fieldable scores. A mid-season run of six scores of 85 or more in a row thanks to increased midfield time was a win. Hobbs had dual-position status which added to the value, but even though he's MID-only, coaches should consider as a late Draft selection after we saw his capacity to score. If he's available in your keeper league, snap him up. But for single-season Draft leagues, Hobbs is the type of player who should outperform his Average Draft Position.

Custom stat star

The arrival of Ben McKay will hopefully allow Jordan Ridley (DEF, $729,000) to do the things he does best … and improve his Fantasy output. Ridley enjoyed a career-high average of 80.8 from his 17 games. This number would be boosted if his score of 14 from a second-quarter concussion wasn't included. If you’re looking at adjusting value of statistics in your custom scoring Draft league, Ridley might gain a few extra marks with McKay doing some of the heavy lifting in defence.

Jordan Ridley in action during the match between Essendon and Adelaide at Marvel Stadium in round 17, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Buyer beware

Look, Todd Goldstein (RUCK, $662,000) is going to be great for the Bombers as he'll be the main man while Sam Draper recovers from groin surgery. The issue is what will happen to numbers when both are in the side? Goldstein might be worth a look as a back up ruck in Draft considering he can average 85-plus as a solo ruck, but how often will this happen? It's not worth spending the money in Classic or a pick in Draft until you’re considering your bench.

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