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The 20 players to watch at the NAB AFL U18 Champs

Future guns' European journey Draft expert Callum Twomey wraps up the AIS AFL Academy level two's tour of Europe
Corey Ellis of the Jets in action during the 2013 TAC Cup round 15 match between the Oakleigh Chargers and Western Jets at Warrawee Park, Melbourne on August 3, 2013. (Photo: Darrian Traynor/AFL Media)
Quick-thinking Corey Ellis could be one of the first midfielders taken at November's NAB AFL Draft
WITH the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships starting this weekend, it is a perfect opportunity to make note of some of the talented draft prospects of 2014. 

Here's a list, in alphabetical order, of 20 players to watch through the national carnival, which starts on Sunday when Vic Country and Vic Metro face off. 

Also tune into the first Road to the Draft podcast, featuring's Callum Twomey and Nat Edwards.

There will be a weekly podcast throughout the championships with analysis of games and future stars, as well as guest interviews and a close look at the next generation of AFL players.

Peter Bampton
From: Norwood/South Australia
DOB: 15/4/96
Height / weight: 182cm/78kg
He might not be overly fashionable, but Bampton will gather plenty of the ball for South Australia during the championships. He has significant senior experience in the SANFL over the last two years and has done well, using his clean hands and mature body to bustle through and collect possessions. He will do the same for his state over the next eight or so weeks. 

Angus Brayshaw
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro
Through hard work Brayshaw has become one of the top-line midfield options of the draft. Focusing on his fitness and speed, Brayshaw, the son of North Melbourne board member and former player Mark, started this season as the form player of the TAC Cup. Good at the stoppages, Brayshaw is also an excellent kick on both feet and finds plenty of the ball. 

Jordan Cunico
Gippsland Power/Vic Country
Cunico might not have the established reputation of some others on the list, but he's one to watch through the championships. Cunico is likely to produce some exciting moments during the carnival, be it a high mark or a clever goal. Has good skills both sides of his body and plays with pace – he's active and gets things moving. He can also shift to half-back if called on. 

Liam Duggan
Western Jets/Vic Metro
Duggan's weapon is his left-foot disposal: he hits passes over short and long distances and likes having the ball in his hand. Generally that has been off half-back but recently he has moved into an inside midfield role, where he has excelled at TAC Cup level. 

Liam Duggan's left foot is his key attribute but he is working to improve his inside game. Picture: AFL Media

Sam Durdin
West Adelaide/South Australia
Tall forward/defender
Durdin will be South Australia's top draftee this year, and could go very early if he can produce his best at the under-18 championships. Although he played last year's carnival as a ruckman for his state, he will be used as a centre-half forward or centre-half back this time, where he can show his marking strength and ability to read the play. He has had an underdone start to the year after thumb surgery ruled him out of action for 10 weeks. 

Corey Ellis
Western Jets/Vic Metro
Ellis might end up as one of the first midfielders picked at November's draft. The left-footer is a quick thinker: it only takes him an instant to weigh up the situation and what to do with the ball. He's versatile but best suited to winning his own disposals, and then using his skills to set things up. 

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Hugh Goddard
Geelong Falcons/Vic Country
Tall forward/defender
Goddard got a taste of things last year when he played four games for Vic Country in the under-18 championships as a 16-year-old. He has the ability to switch to both ends of the ground, but has played mainly as a forward this year. The cousin of Bomber Brendon, Goddard competes hard, flies for marks and gets his hands dirty when the ball's on the ground. 

Isaac Heeney
Sydney Swans Academy/NSW-ACT
Expect Heeney to dominate the division two championships for the Rams. Some recruiters rate the strong and athletic 17-year-old as the best midfielder in the draft. Heeney is a star at the stoppages, working his way through traffic, finding the ball and then getting it out. Heeney is already linked to the Swans as part of their zone Academy, meaning they have access to him in the same way as clubs do with father-sons. 

The Swans have first refusal on exciting NSW midfielder Isaac Heeney. Picture: AFL Media

Tom Lamb
Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country
Tall forward/midfielder
Lamb is one of the unique players in this year's draft because he can do some amazing things others can't. At 193cm he can hold down a key forward position and kick goals – he booted six in round one of the TAC Cup and five for the AIS-AFL Academy while overseas. But he can also play as a big, strong and hard-running midfielder, shown when he gathered 33 disposals for the Dandenong Stingrays recently. He's working on his consistency so that he does it more often, but will be keen to play a bit of both roles for Vic Country. 

Jayden Laverde
Western Jets/Vic Metro
A nice size for modern football, Laverde can play in a number of roles and do things with composure. Athletic and quick, Laverde moves well and caught the eye last year playing for the Western Jets as a bottom-age player. The 18-year-old is prepared to take some risks and run with the ball.  

Jake Lever
Calder Cannons/Vic Metro
Tall defender
While we won't see Lever in action during this year's championships, it is worthwhile including him in this list as his draft position will be a major point of discussion through the year. After captaining Vic Metro in one game during last year's carnival, Lever won't play at all this season following a knee reconstruction last December after a training mishap. Where he goes in the draft is now hard to assess: will last year's form be enough to keep him pegged as a high selection, or will a full season out push him down the group? 

Brayden Maynard
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro
Medium defender
With his father Peter a member of Glenelg's Hall of Fame in South Australia, Maynard comes with good footy pedigree. He's a tough player who builds his game around the contested side. At 186cm he's probably best suited to a half-back role, and he needs to work on his endurance, but he does have an impact with his physicality, particularly when he moves into the midfield for bursts. 

Brayden Maynard has a fine footy pedigree and a penchant for physicality. Picture: AFL Media

Patrick McCartin
Geelong Falcons/Vic Country
Tall forward
Everything about McCartin says he's a natural forward. He reads the play well, has a little burst of speed on the lead and makes space, and his hands are strong and clean. He plays with some aggression, too, jumping into packs and making a contest every time. McCartin isn't as tall as some of the other keys in this draft but plays taller than most. He starred at last year's championships as a bottom-ager, kicking five goals for Vic Country against Western Australia.

Darcy Moore
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro
Tall forward/defender
Some recruiters rank Collingwood's father-son prospect as the best player of this year's draft class. Moore, whose dad Peter played 172 games with the Magpies, has had an injury-interrupted past year or so but has strung together some games with the Oakleigh Chargers this season and impressed. Whenever the ball is in the air in his vicinity, he's there to grab it. Injury ruled him out of playing for Vic Metro last year when he was in the initial squad. 

Jarrod Pickett
South Fremantle/Western Australia
Pickett will excite with his speed and knack for producing eye-catching moments. His pace is the central element to his game: he runs a 2.81 second 20-metre sprint and he knows it, regularly bursting out of stoppages, taking a couple of bounces and delivering the pass. He's just as likely to take a big mark, land on his feet and then bolt off. 

Jarrod Pickett is quick and he knows it, delivering regular eye-catching moments. Picture: AFL Media

Christian Petracca
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro
Medium forward/midfielder
Petracca is the draft's point of difference. He's a big, strong and powerful forward who outmuscles almost everyone in one-on-ones and is taking his talents into the midfield. Petracca has a presence when the ball's in his area: he hustles and bustles through packs, breaks tackles, pushes and shoves and wants the ball in his hands. He's most comfortable around goal, but is working on using his improved aerobic capacity in an on-ball role. 

Clem Smith
Perth/Western Australia
Small defender/midfielder
There's not a player like Smith in this draft. He's a small and powerful prospect who enjoys the bash-and-crash elements of the game. He likes to lay bumps and shepherds, and attack the contest. The West Australian played last year's under-18 championships and was named an All Australian for his work in defence, but expect him to move up the ground this year and use his class and ball-winning skills from flank to flank. Smith has thrived at senior WAFL level at the start of this season.

Alec Waterman
Claremont/Western Australia
West Coast has first rights to grab Waterman as a father-son player, given his dad Chris played 177 games for the club, including the 1992 and 1994 premierships. So far Waterman has shown he would be worthy of selection, given his ability to rack up big numbers in the middle of the ground. In four games for Claremont at under-18 level this year Waterman has averaged nearly 31 disposals. He's not overly explosive, but he knows where to go to get the ball in his hands and does it week after week. 

Lachie Weller
Southport/Gold Coast Academy/Queensland
Weller is a damaging midfielder with excellent skills and a good sense of how the game will unfold. With the ball in hand Weller arches his back and sets up the play for others, but can also drift forward and regularly kicks goals. Weller, whose brother Mav plays for St Kilda after several seasons with Gold Coast, stood out for Queensland during last year's championships as a bottom-ager. 

Peter Wright
Calder Cannons/Vic Metro
Tall forward/ruckman
The possible No.1 pick enters the championships with some form under his belt after a six-goal haul for the Calder Cannons last week. All of his goals came in the second half and three were from outside 50 metres, underlining perhaps Wright's biggest strength: his elite kicking. Wright has kicked 17 goals in five TAC Cup games so far this season. 

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs