Raiding the nest: Crows coach Phil Walsh has repeatedly underlined his belief that his club needs to improve its "team defence" in 2015. And if you look at Adelaide's 2014 stats, you start to understand his worries. The Crows were ranked 11th in the competition for defence (86.7 ppg) last year. But Adelaide's struggles against the top eight teams were profound. The Crows conceded 110.4 points per game against the top eight sides last season, when compared to the 75.2 given up against the other 10 teams. Maintaining their defensive setups will be an important indicator under Walsh.

Swooping forward: As much as the Crows struggled to contain opposition sides in 2014, the way they attacked and moved the ball was a clear strength. Adelaide ranked third for points scored (98.9 ppg), they ranked fourth in the competition for inside 50s (55 per game) and, once inside 50, they kicked a goal 26 per cent of the time – good enough for a ranking of sixth. With Taylor Walker, Eddie Betts, James Podsiadly and Josh Jenkins all roaming the forward line, look for Adelaide to again show off its attacking weapons.

Filling the holes: Adelaide made a concerted effort to fortify its key defensive and ruck stocks in last year's draft and trade periods. The Crows brought in Hawks Kyle Cheney and Luke Lowden, and selected key defender Jake Lever at pick No.14 in last year's draft. Cheney and Lever will help complement the All Australian pairing of Daniel Talia and Brodie Smith, while Lowden is another versatile forward/ruck option at Walsh's disposal. – Ben Guthrie

Contested calamity: The recruitment of Dayne Beams and Allen Christensen is set to help the Lions rectify the area they fell down in last season. No team won the contested possession and clearance count fewer times than the Lions in 2014, but the former Magpie and ex-Cat are ranked elite in this area for their positions so there's help on the way.

Handball happy: No other team gained more metres from run and handball than the Lions. While the average metres gained per handball across the League was 0.8, the Lions averaged 1.9 – easily more than every other team.

Cub club: In 2014, the Lions blooded 10 debutants, which was three more than any other team. With Rising Star winner Lewis Taylor - the competition's only debutant to play every game - leading the charge, the young Lions racked up 108 games between them, which was 47 more than any other team. – Jennifer Phelan

The turnover Blues: Turnovers killed the Blues in 2014. Despite averaging the fourth-fewest turnovers in the competition (61.2 a game), they were scored against 25.9 per cent of the time when they did, with only St Kilda punished more often. They also conceded the fourth-highest score from turnovers (55.9 points a game). But it was the Blues' midfield turnovers that hurt them the most. They conceded more points than any other side in this area (869) and were scored against 29.3 per cent of the time, 2.6 per cent more than the next worst team. 

Gibbs thrives as middleman: Bryce Gibbs' move into the midfield was one of the success stories of the 2014 season. Not surprisingly, Gibbs' class shone out, with 53 per cent of his team-high 91 inside 50s resulting in a Carlton score, the third-best percentage of the AFL's top 50 players for inside 50s. Gibbs showed plenty of grunt too, sticking 73 per cent of his tackles, the fifth-best tackle efficiency rate among the top 50 players for tackle attempts. 

Yarran kicks on in defence: Shifted from the forward line to defence last year, Chris Yarran put his elite kicking to good effect. With the fourth-highest kick-to-handball ratio at Carlton, Yarran hit target after target, with only Grant Birchall and Mitch Duncan recording a better kick retention rate among the top 70 players in the AFL for metres gained. The West Australian was also extremely effective hitting targets in attack, with 41 per cent of his kicks inside 50 resulting in a Carlton mark, clearly the best percentage of the top 100 players for kicks inside 50. – Nick Bowen

The emergence of Bryce Gibbs was a massive success last season. Picture: AFL Media

Kicking themselves: Good kicking is so important in the modern game because everything depends on a team's ability to retain possession. Given the talent in the Magpies midfield, it's surprising the team is ranked 14th in its ability to retain the ball by foot. Without the sublime Scott Pendlebury (and Heritier Lumumba, who was traded to Melbourne) in the line-up that figure would have been worse. Repairing Collingwood's ball movement issues will not be easy.

Tiring backline: Collingwood's inexperienced defence relied on Jack Frost, Tom Langdon and Lumumba in the absence for extended periods of Nick Maxwell, Marley Williams, Paul Seedsman, Ben Sinclair, Lachlan Keefe, Nathan Brown and Ben Reid. They held up well for the first 11 games – in fact, they were brilliant – but when the season became a grind, the youngsters felt the pinch. Collingwood went from being the third most stingy defence per opposition entry inside 50 in the first half of the season to the second worst in the back half of the year. Collingwood conceded 100 points once in the first 12 games and six in the final 10.

Get outside: In the final 11 games, Collingwood averaged 53.6 fewer disposals than its opposition - 16 disposals worse on that measure than any other team. It could not win the ball more than its opposition and relied far too heavily on Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom to regularly challenge the opposition outside the contest. – Peter Ryan

A decade in the doldrums: There are just three players on Essendon's current list that played in the club's last finals win. Jobe Watson, Brent Stanton and Dustin Fletcher played in the 2004 elimination final triumph against Melbourne; a game in which coach James Hird also appeared. They've since lost four finals. Watson is one of three players ranked as elite in by Champion Data, along with Cale Hooker and Michael Hibberd.

Scoring sabbatical: The Bombers averaged 83.1 points per game last year, which was the lowest average by an Essendon team since 1971. They took the ball inside 50 plenty, with David Zaharakis leading the charge with 103 inside 50s – equal seventh in the League – but they were wasteful, with the biggest differential of all teams between delivery into the forward line and points scored.

The time is now: The Bombers have the third oldest list in the competition, with Fremantle and North Melbourne topping the table, and have the fourth most experience in terms of games. With four players currently over 30 or move – Watson, Fletcher, Paul Chapman and Jason Winderlich – and a further 15 in the peak age bracket of 25-29, their list has progressed from being ranked in the middle bracket for age and into the place where success needs to come soon. - Jennifer Phelan

Back to front: The Dockers are the best at forcing turnovers in their forward half, but last year they struggled to set up scoring opportunities from their back half. They were 16th when it came to moving the ball from their defensive 50 to their forward arc, and 14th at taking the ball inside 50 from their defensive midfield area (between the defensive arc and the centre).

Stopper shocker: According to Champion Data, Freo's tagger extraordinaire Ryan Crowley was a poor midfielder last year. A qualification though: this of course simply took into account Crowley's individual statistics and had zero to do with his chief focus, which is limiting his opponent's output. He continued to nullify some of the game's best playmakers, taking the honours against the likes of Steve Johnson, Ryan Griffen, Pearce Hanley and Leigh Montagna.

Age won't weary them: It seems the Dockers' premiership window is still open wide, and it needs to be, given they will again boast the oldest list in the AFL, with 11 players aged at least 29. But when the veterans finally retire, don't expect the Dockers to become anchored. Among their under-25s are stars Nat Fyfe, Michael Walters and Stephen Hill, while Lachie Neale, 21, could also elevate himself. They also have seven players no older than 21 who have tasted AFL football in the past two seasons.  Ben Collins

Clawless Cats: Much was made of Geelong's problems in winning the contested ball in 2014. The Cats won the contested possession count 45 per cent of each quarter, ranking them 13th in the competition. It was a clear barometer, as each time they won the contested possession count, they won the quarter 90.7 per cent of the time. The Cats will be hoping Josh Caddy, Cameron Guthrie and George Horlin-Smith can step up in this area to help ease the pressure on skipper Joel Selwood.

Hawkins or bust no more: Geelong's reliance on Tom Hawkins in 2014 was clear for all to see. The Cats targeted the spearhead 33 per cent of the time they went inside 50, with Jimmy Bartel (7.5 per cent) the next most used option. That's why the recruitment of Mitch Clark and Rhys Stanley was so important. Clark and Stanley have both filled forward roles in the past, with Clark in particular likely to create plenty of headaches for opposition defences. 

Draw difficulty: Champion Data has nominated Geelong as having the hardest draw in the AFL this season. Assignments against Hawthorn (round one), Fremantle (round two), Gold Coast (round three), North Melbourne (round four) and Richmond (round five) make for a tough start to the season. The Cats are also due to meet potential top-four teams Hawthorn, the Sydney Swans and North Melbourne twice, as well as return meetings against Adelaide and Collingwood. – Ben Guthrie

Ablett the all-rounder: There is no question Gary Ablett is an elite midfielder, but what most of us forget is just how complete a player he really is. Not only was he ranked No.1 in the League for disposals, clearances and contested possessions in the first 16 rounds last year before his season ending injury, but he was also the most reliable goal kicker in the competition. Ablett may have only kicked 24.7 but in terms of accuracy when kicking for goal the dual Brownlow medallist is the best in the competition. In 2014 he recorded a +28 per cent hit rate, which takes into consideration distance, direction, intent, target zone and pressure, when kicking for goal, the best in the competition. He was also involved in 33 per cent of Gold Coast's scoring chains, the third highest in the competition behind Nick Riewoldt and Lance Franklin.

Harley shines: Once a lone ranger in the elite category, Ablett now has some much welcome company. Former Swans defender Nick Malceski has joined the skipper in the top echelon at the Suns but it's the rise of youngster Harley Bennell, who was recruited in the club's first draft, that is most impressive. The 22-year-old has 66 games under his belt but already finds himself rated elite by Champion Data. Bennell was the fourth-ranked general forward in the competition last season behind championss Paul Chapman, Jimmy Bartel and Brent Harvey.

Forever young: Despite entering their fifth season in the competition, the Suns are still the second youngest side in the competition, behind GWS, and the third least experienced. Gold Coast's average age is 22 years 329 days and its average games experience 51.1, with just one 200 gamer in the side and three players with 100-199 matches behind them.  Nat Edwards

Harley Bennell is one of three Suns rated as elite by Champion Data. Picture: AFL Media

One-way traffic: GWS' backline came under fire from all angles last season and was especially susceptible from centre bounces. Despite Shane Mumford's best-and-fairest-winning season in the ruck, the Giants' opponents pumped the ball inside 50 from the centre square nearly 77 per cent of the time (the second worst in the AFL). The Giants conceded the most inside 50s for the third-straight season, but their defence and clearance work should improve as their developing mids put on size.

The kids are all right: They need to work on their defensive running, but the Giants certainly doesn't lack attacking prowess. When the Giants get the ball forward of centre, they wield extensive damage - they just don't give their forwards enough of a chance. Last season, GWS ranked No.1 for scores from a stoppage win in its attacking half (45 per cent of the time), second in scores from forward-half chains (55 per cent) and was third best at making opponents pay for defensive half turnovers (40 per cent). 

'Griff' flies solo: Despite the abundance of talent on GWS' list, only one player has been branded 'elite' by Champion Data this season – star recruit Ryan Griffen. The former Western Bulldogs captain is the cream on top of a rising Giants midfield, even though he fell from 'elite' status in 10 categories during his 2013 All Australian season to just one – centre clearances – last year after a back injury slowed him down. Expect the likes of Callan Ward, Adam Treloar, Devon Smith and Jeremy Cameron to knock on the door of the elite bracket soon. – Travis King

It's a knock-on: Since 2011, there has been a stat for contested knock-ons, where a player knocks a 50/50 ball to the advantage of a teammate. Hawthorn had four of the AFL's top-10 in this category in 2014 – Sam Mitchell (16), Cyril Rioli (15), Jordan Lewis (14) and Liam Shiels (13).

Look how flexible: Defining set positions for the Hawks can be difficult. Cyril Rioli is rated as the best general forward in the competition but spends 26 per cent of his time through the midfield. Sam Mitchell was named as a half-back flanker in the All Australian team but spent most time in the midfield.

Selection nightmare: According to Champion Data, 25 Hawthorn players are rated as elite, above average or even average. Of those listed as 'below average' two are premiership players – Taylor Duryea and Jonathan Simpkin. Little wonder Hawthorn's depth is the envy of the competition. – Ashley Browne

Leading indicator: Melbourne led the opposition in the last quarter in nine of its 22 games but could only convert such advantages into wins on four occasions. It is a step forward for the team that now has to learn to stick to the basics for the whole game rather than hoping individuals do something miraculous to win the game.  The Demons' defensive strategies kept them in the game. Now they need to learn how to manage slender leads.

Hit the scoreboard: Melbourne recorded the club's lowest points for per game tally since 1920, averaging just 60 points a match for the season. It was missing key forwards so a low figure was to be expected, however it was more a reflection of its inability to move the ball quickly off half-back. The addition of Heritier Lumumba and Jeff Garlett will help with the two-way running necessary for quick transition. The Demons have yet to score 100 points in a game under Paul Roos and were the only team to go through 2014 without posting such a score.  

Big changes: Melbourne has turned over half its list since the start of 2013, introducing 22 new players to the squad, which may surprise some still entrenched in thinking about Melbourne of two seasons ago. It has 12 players on the list from other clubs, second only to Carlton, and has introduced a blend of experienced players and those denied opportunities at their former club. Roos has shown he can bring groups together but mixing the blend of new and old shapes as his biggest challenge yet. – Peter Ryan

Heritier Lumumba should add plenty of spark and drive to Melbourne in 2015. Picture: AFL Media 

The cleaner: Scott Thompson regularly handles some of the toughest jobs on the competition's star forwards with aplomb, not least because of his outstanding intercept marking. But the All Australian defender has another, less obvious, string to his bow. Thompson led the AFL for total defensive ground-ball gets (50) last season, proving the 193cm big man's rare ability to create a spillage, then mop it up and launch an attacking move from the backline.

Rope-a-dope: Absorbing the best punches an opponent can throw and then counter-attacking is a hallmark of Fremantle's game plan, and it's become an important element for North Melbourne too. Brad Scott has built in a strong defensive element to his formerly free-wheeling Roos of 2012. Last season, North ranked third behind the Dockers and Swans for defensive-half efficiency (points against per 50 minutes defending) and came in ahead of Hawthorn. 

Negative North: Given the stronger defensive emphasis, it's no great surprise North averaged 14 fewer points than 2013. What was unusual is that the Roos went so deep into finals with their negative inside-50 differential. The Kangas were the only finalist to concede more inside 50s to their opponent (-1.2), but their forward line was efficient enough to kick a winning score. Tellingly, they reversed the stat against Essendon (+6) and broke even with Geelong (52-all) during finals. Unsurprisingly, they were smashed 69-44 by the Swans in the preliminary final thumping. – Travis King

Play on ... and on: Five Port players – Travis Boak, Brad Ebert, Ollie Wines, Kane Cornes and Matt White – have very high mark-and-play-on rates of more than 44 per cent. They are ranked in the top 53 players in the AFL in this category.

Fourth-quarter specialists: Remember the withering final quarter burst that nearly stunned Hawthorn in the preliminary final? The Power are final stanza experts, ranking second for points scored, third for points conceded, second for contested possession differential, third for pressure applied and fourth for clearance differential. 

Trending beautifully: Here's why we should be bullish about Port if we're not already: the Power had the third youngest list in the competition last year but they have 16 players who rank in the top 35 per cent for their respective positions. Only Hawthorn and the Swans can match that. – Ashley Browne

Port fell agonisingly short of a Grand Final berth last year but there's plenty of upside. Picture: AFL Media

Miles ahead: It took until round 12 for Anthony Miles to make his Richmond debut last season and he made quite the impact once he did. He racked up 145 contested possessions in the 13 games he played, which ranked him equal 15th in the competition and second at Richmond from round 12 onwards. He also amassed 88 clearances in that time, which ranked him equal fourth in the League in the second half of the season.  

Sharing the load: The Tigers have a scoring profile different from most other clubs. While Jack Riewoldt remains as their No.1 goal-kicker, the next best four last season were midfielders who pushed forward. Dustin Martin, Shane Edwards, Brett Deledio and Trent Cotchin kicked 87 goals between them, with Martin proving a match-winner on more than one occasion.

High talent: While much is made of the expansion teams' lists and their legion of top 20 draft picks, the Tigers are shaping well in that department too. They have 12 players who were picked inside the top 20, which ranks them equal second in that area.  Jennifer Phelan

Coast to coast: For a team ranked 17th in points for and 18th in points against, it would surprise to see St Kilda ranked top four in any scoring source stat. Well, for kick-in scores differential, the Saints rank No. 3 at +0.9 points. This is a stat that throws up anomalies, with Melbourne (10th) ranked ahead of Geelong (15th) for example. The Saints are in good company at the top of the table though, with Fremantle (No. 1), Hawthorn (No. 4) and the Sydney Swans (No. 5) making kick-ins a strong scoring source and preventing their opponents from doing likewise.     

Following the Hawthorn model: The list of devastating left-footers on the Hawks' list is a long one, not matched in the AFL for a long time. St Kilda, however, is now ranked equal No. 1 with the Hawks for left-footers. Both teams have 12 lefties on their lists, posing the question: was this a deliberate strategy from the Saints? Recent draftees Jack Lonie and Hugh Goddard bring penetrating left-foot kicks to the Saints, joining Jack Billings, Luke Dunstan and Jimmy Webster. 

Senior Saints still the key: St Kilda will take the fifth youngest list into the 2015 season, but their drafting hasn't yet delivered quality, according to Champion Data's AFL Prospectus, whichpaints a bleak picture for the immediate future. In their list analysis, the AFL's official number crunchers rank the quality of players under 25 "a clear 18th". Recent pick-ups Jack Billings and Luke Dunstan ooze class, but it appears there will still be a heavy reliance on the Saints' senior players to make the team competitive in 2015. – Nathan Schmook  

Slingshot Swans:
 Defence remains a trademark of the Swans, and this could be a reason why their ability to move the ball at devastating pace can be is underrated. The Swans ranked No.1 in the AFL in 2014 for the speed at which they turned rebound 50s into inside 50s (17.8sec), pipping the exciting Port Adelaide by 0.1sec. The Swans still deserve their dour reputation, built over the past decade, with a solid defence making their slingshot attacks possible.

The bearded burglar: Departed Swan Nick Malceski is the AFL's most dangerous thief, ranking No.1 in the League last year for forcing forward-half turnovers (44). His strength was the Swans' strength, with the team also ranking No.1 in this stat. After making his name as a classy rebounding defender, Malceski's ability to push forward and force turnovers is underrated. Now with Gold Coast, it will be interesting to see how the Swans' replace him, given 60 per cent of their scores come from opposition turnovers (No.2 in the AFL). Could Lewis Jetta be that man?

Hawk torment: A 1-5 record against Hawthorn since the 2012 Grand Final will obviously raise some statistical concerns for the Swans. But it is the extent of their struggles against the reigning premier – in areas that are normally strengths – that surprises. Opposition scores per inside 50 is one to highlight. Against all teams bar Hawthorn, the Swans rank No.1 across 2013-14, allowing teams to score from just 20.2 per cent of their forward entries. Against the Hawks this number balloons to 30.5 per cent in the past two seasons. How to regain this strength when playing the Hawks is a key conundrum for the Swans. – Nathan Schmook    

The Swans may look at Lewis Jetta as a potential replacement for Nick Malceski. Picture: AFL Media


Hot and Cold: forwards On paper the Eagles' forwardline looks dangerous, and while the stats show they were ranked fifth overall for points for, the truth is they were highly inconsistent. Against the bottom 10 sides, the Eagles forwards were ranked No.1 in the competition when it came to converting from forward 50 entries. But when it came to the top eight sides, West Coast's attack fell apart - the inside 50 conversion plummeting from 32 per cent to 17.5 - the worst in the League.

Brownlow snub: Matt Priddis may have won the League's most coveted individual award at the end of last season, but even Charlie wasn't enough to boost the Eagles midfielder into the elite category. Priddis finished the season ranked No.1 in disposals and handballs, second for contested possession and clearances and third for tackles, but that wasn't enough for his rating to be boosted from above average to elite. Letting him down was the quality of his disposal rather than the quantity, with the 30-year-old the third-worst kick of the top 100 kick-getters, while he had the sixth-worst retention rate of the top 50 ball winners.

Flat track bullies: West Coast finished ninth on the ladder at the end of last season, with 11 wins - just one victory shy of finals. But even if the Eagles had made the final eight, it's fair to say they wouldn't have had an impact. In 2014, the Eagles were the only team in the competition to not record a win against a top eight side. While in stark contrast of their 13 games against bottom sides, they won 11, losing only to Carlton and Collingwood. – Nat Edwards

Pup off the leash: Jack Macrae announced himself as a future star of the competition in 2015, with the ball magnet averaging 26.8 possessions (up from 17.9) a game in just his second season of senior footy. A result of this form was the 19-year-old recorded the Leagues' biggest rise in Champion Data points from 2013 to 2014, jumping from 64 to 104. He was also fourth for effective kicks and uncontested possessions, two categories the Dogs aren’t strong in. 

Lack of elite company: For a team containing an All Australian ruckman in Will Minson and a midfielder the calibre of Tom Liberatore, it's surprising that new skipper Bob Murphy is the only Bulldog considered elite by Champion Data heading in to the season. The 32-year-old's consistency is the key to his lofty ranking, with the running defender recording the AFL's 17th most defensive half disposals since 2011, at League-leading 85 per cent efficiency. He's also ranked 33rd for metres gained per game, while recording the third-highest retention rate of the top 50.

Doggie daycare: With the departure of seasoned veterans Ryan Griffen, Adam Cooney, Shaun Higgins and the retirement of Daniel Giansiracusa, new coach Luke Beveridge now has the second least experienced list to work with. The Bulldogs now average just 46.7 games of experience, dropping below Gold Coast (51.1) and sitting just above GWS (43.8). The Dogs aren’t far off being the youngest list either (average age 23.2), with expansion clubs the Suns (22.9) and Giants (22.4) only younger. – Ryan Davidson