IT'S AMAZING what pressure for spots can do. Coaches talk about it all the time, and it has become one of the underrated elements of Richmond's drive towards a top-four finish this year.

Dustin Martin's sensational season, clever recruiting, the best backline in the competition and a licence to play with freedom have all been obvious reasons for what looms as the Tigers’ best season since 2001.

But there have been hidden heroes at Punt Road Oval all season, driving standards and making sure there are players doing everything in their power to perform and hold their spots.

Sam Lloyd played 22 senior games last season, but this year he’s played just eight. On Sunday the forward racked up 50 possessions and kicked four goals in the VFL and is no guarantee to earn a call-up.

The player he would most likely have replaced, Jacob Townsend, booted six goals against Fremantle, while Jack Graham made an impressive debut in the midfield with 11 tackles and a goal.

Pressure for spots has been a theme all season for Richmond, with the VFL team qualifying for finals and driving those young and middle-tier players in the senior team to new heights.

It has also been clear to those performing in the VFL that form will be rewarded, with Damien Hardwick and his match committee happy to turn the team over and experiment with their line-up.

The Tigers have used 38 players this season, more than any other top eight team and less than only Carlton (39) and Gold Coast (42).

It is testament to the club's VFL program, led by coach Craig McRae, that players have slipped in and out of the team so seamlessly this season, giving the club stability when injuries have hit.

The changes Richmond has made to its team since round 11 last season, when they were spanked by North Melbourne by 70 points at Blundstone Arena, highlight the players who have stepped in to drive standards up.

R11, 2016 v North Melbourne

B: Brandon Ellis, David Astbury, Alex Rance
HB: Kane Lambert, Taylor Hunt, Brett Deledio
C: Steven Morris, Shaun Grigg, Trent Cotchin
HF: Jake Batchelor, Dustin Martin, Ty Vickery
F: Jack Riewoldt, Sam Lloyd, Shane Edwards
FOLL: Shaun Hampson, Nick Vlastuin, Ben Griffiths
I/C Troy Chaplin, Daniel Rioli, Anthony Miles, Corey Ellis

Below: A dejected Richmond after losing to North Melbourne. Picture: AFL Photos

Eleven of the 22 that represented Richmond that day were absent from the team that beat Fremantle on Sunday, including players Hardwick had been loyal to for a long time.

R22, 2017 v Fremantle
B: Nathan Broad, Alex Rance, Dylan Grimes
HB: Bachar Houli, David Astbury, Nick Vlastuin
C: Kamdyn McIntosh, Trent Cotchin, Jacob Townsend
HF: Kane Lambert, Shane Edwards, Jack Graham
F: Dan Butler, Jack Riewoldt, Jason Castagna
FOLL: Toby Nankervis, Dustin Martin, Dion Prestia
I/C Brandon Ellis, Shaun Grigg, Daniel Rioli, Oleg Markov 

Of the 11 'ins' against Fremantle, five were in the VFL when the Tigers were beaten by North Melbourne last year – Nathan Broad, Jacob Townsend, Dan Butler, Jason Castagna and Oleg Markov.

Regular senior players Dylan Grimes, Bachar Houli and Kamdyn McIntosh were injured, while Graham was toiling in the under-18s as a draft hopeful. Toby Nankervis and Dion Prestia were with rivals Sydney and Gold Coast.

The 'outs' include Taylor Hunt, Steven Morris, Jake Batchelor, Anthony Miles and Lloyd, who have all spent the majority of this season in the VFL, playing a combined 17 AFL games.

It is now on them to drive standards from the lower level and fight for a recall as the Tigers, who haven't played in a preliminary final since 2001, shoot for a successful September.