Jack Macrae in action for the Western Bulldogs against Essendon in round seven, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

UNFORTUNATELY, there was bad news for Western Bulldogs star Bailey Smith (MID/FWD, $752,000) in pre-season, succumbing to a knee injury which is set to cost him the entirety of the 2024 season.

It's also disappointing from a Fantasy perspective as many coaches had the young gun pencilled in as their first picked given his forward status and low price following a season where his average regressed by 23 points while being played largely out of position. He will certainly be the first picked in 2025.

In 2023, the Dogs had four players average in triple figures, so the gameplan is there to support good Fantasy numbers.

Listen to the AFL Fantasy Podcast with The Traders at Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.

Lock them in

Tim English (RUC, $1,071,000) enjoyed a secondary breakout to elevate himself to the best player in the game with an average of 119, up from 102 in 2022. He had eight scores over 130 and became a genuine captain option, playing bulk minutes in the ruck while resting forward. His ability to outwork his opponents and take uncontested marks around the ground was a feature that ensured his weekly domination. There is no reason anything will change for the big guy, the only issue is his huge asking price that will rule him out of many cash savvy coaches' starting squads.

Marcus Bontempelli (MID, $1,056,000) elevated his game to a whole new level which is pretty impressive considering the heights he had already reached. After previously recording a career-high average of 108 in 2021, Bontempelli topped triple figures for the sixth time with an impressive 117 to make him the best midfielder in the game. He has always been considered a safe 100 guy who doesn't regularly hit huge scores but that is a thing of the past after topping 120 on eight occasions and going 140-plus four times, topped by a season-high 158. His consistency came from his ability to consistently hit key stat lines including tackles, marks and goals.

Marcus Bontempelli leads out his side before the round 24 match between Geelong and the Western Bulldogs at GMHBA Stadium on August 26, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Track their pre-season

Nick Coffield (DEF, $358,000) has always been well regarded and considered an impressive talent since debuting with the Saints back in 2018, when he played 10 games for an average of 56. He has had no luck with injuries since then, playing just 40 games over the next five seasons without registering a senior game in the last two. He is priced at an average of 40 which is 16 points less than his lowest season average so if he can have a good pre-season and get his body right, he may well be a mid-pricer worth considering.

Dual-position tempter

Jack Macrae (MID/FWD, $829,000) has forward status after being played out of position. After years of being hailed as one of the League's best midfielders, Macrae moved to half-forward and his confidence and impact on games deserted him faster than his CBA count… as did his Fantasy relevance. He has been one of the elite players in the game, averaging triple figures for the last six seasons prior to 2023, three times over 115, topped by a whopping 123. Last year, he had his worst return since his debut season in 2013 which leaves him at a bargain price, in a forward line that is starved of talent. If, and it's a big if, he moves back into the midfield, he has to be at the top of your forward line watch list.

Caleb Daniel (MID/FWD, $811,000) is another Dog who gets thrown around on the magnet board, eventually landing with forward and midfielder status for the upcoming season, which given the lack of forward options could be very handy, that is if Daniel plays in his more fruitful defensive role. He has been extremely consistent the last three years, averaging 87, 87 and 90 respectively and he is capable of more if he consistently plays his best position.

Bargain basement

Ryley Sanders (MID, $285,000) is one of our boys, we claimed him earlier than the bargain the Dogs got at pick six and you will see why. He has been a beast his whole junior career but it was on full display in the Coates Talent League where his Piglet tendencies were a sight to see, averaging 31 disposals, four marks and five tackles for an average of 106. Prior to Smith's injury, we predicted a small forward role for the tough ball-magnet, but an increased role through the midfield is now on the cards and he is more than worth paying up for.

Draft sleeper

When sorted by average, James Harmes (MID/FWD, 637,000) will be way down with the players who averaged just 47 points per game. Obviously he is much better than that, as we saw in the previous two years when he averaged 73 and 82, so given the forward line drops off like a cliff this year, a player with Harmes' potential to tick the score over could be a game changer to round out your forward line, especially given the opportunities that may arise with Smith out.

James Harmes at Western Bulldogs training on November 27, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Custom stat star

If your league rightfully enjoys looking after the goalkickers and gives their scoring a boost, you would be silly not to bump the uber talented Jamarra Ugle-Hagan (FWD, $542,000) up your watch list. He made significant strides last year, playing 22 games at a career-high average of 60 but most importantly, he snagged 35 goals which is set to take another significant leap in 2024. A slight improvement in accuracy alone will see him reach 50, not to mention the trajectory of the young star's improvement.

Buyer beware

Jason Johannisen (DEF, $663,000) is a jet, especially when he is played in his best position across half-back which thankfully looks like being the case in 2024. The fear now with 'JJ' is his durability after not playing a full season in the last five years with just seven and 11 games registered in the two most recent seasons. He would be worth a late punt in draft as long as you have plenty of durable options in your defensive depth chart.

Get expert advice from The Traders during the pre-season in the Fantasy Hub. Follow AFL Fantasy on Twitter and Instagram and 'like' the Facebook page to join in the conversation.