A NUMBER of personnel changes could mean Essendon's best 22 may look a little different in 2021.

The loss of Adam Saad and Conor McKenna from the back six will see some other names float through the vacant half-back role. Maybe Devon Smith (MID, $676,000) will continue there after spending some time in defence in the latter stages of 2020. Could Dyson Heppell (MID, $566,000) go back to where he started, or does new recruit Nick Hind (FWD, $409,000) do what he did back when he played in the club's VFL side?

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There will be plenty of questions to be answered over the pre-season, including which of the Dons' three first-round selections at this year's NAB AFL Draft get early games.

Lock them in

Essendon's best Fantasy prospect is Zach Merrett (MID, $884,000). He enjoyed an almighty third-year breakout in 2016 when he averaged 118, backing that up with 117 the following season. Since then he's been a premium performer and one of the most durable in the game. Merrett was the fifth highest scoring Fantasy player in 2020, going at 92.6 (115.8 adjusted) per game. From round eight, the 25-year-old averaged 101 (126 adjusted) and should continue to be the biggest accumulator at the Dons.

Track their pre-season

Dyson Heppell (MID, $566,000) managed just three games in 2020 and therefore qualified for a discount on his Fantasy Classic starting price. During his 10-year career, Heppell has averaged 95 points but will go into 2021 with a price equivalent to 74. For context, between 2013 and 2019, his lowest season average was 94. Heppell didn't have a great run at it in 2020. First he battled a foot injury in the pre-season before fracturing his ankle at training prior to round three. A potential move to the backline may see him gain DPP during the season.

Dual-position tempter

After playing 11 games in two seasons at the Giants, Jye Caldwell (MID/FWD, $502,000) looks set to get the midfield role he craves at the Bombers. Likely to play as an inside midfielder, the 20-year-old carries dual-position status making him a mid-priced option with upside to pick in the forward line. Caldwell's numbers at AFL level have been modest. In his nine NEAFL games, Caldwell averaged 83.2 points which included an injury-affected score of 11. His opportunity looks to have arrived, and there will almost certainly be an uptick in scoring output.

Jye Caldwell and Nick Hind in action at Essendon training. Picture: AFL Photos

New stripes, right price?

In his two years at the Saints, Nick Hind (FWD, $409,000) was predominantly used as a small forward. The loss of Saad, in particular, may see Hind assume a role across half-back as a running defender as he did when he was drafted from Essendon's VFL side in 2018. Hind averaged 22 disposals, four marks, three tackles and 79 Fantasy points as a half-back in the VFL, compared to the 46 he averaged in his 21 games for St Kilda.

Bargain basement

A good pre-season could see well-rounded draftee Archie Perkins (MID/FWD, $254,000) make an early debut. In his six NAB League games in 2019, Perkins averaged 14 disposals, four marks and 64 Fantasy points. Essendon's general manager of list and recruiting, Adrian Dodoro, said that his elite endurance, speed and agility would see him play as a midfielder with the ability to go forward. Perkins averaged 1.7 goals in his previous NAB League season.

Essendon draftee Archie Perkins and Bombers midfielder Andrew McGrath. Picture: AFL Photos

Draft sleeper

A strategy some Fantasy Draft coaches employ is punting their rucks. That is, if they miss out on one of the big guys in the first couple of rounds, they will hold off and get some value from a lower tier of rucks. As we saw last season, Sam Draper made a big impact not only as a profitable cash cow in Fantasy Classic, but he showed the ability to hold down the responsibility of being the club's solo ruck. Draper may end up as a top-12 ruck, but his true value will be in keeper leagues. Stash him on your bench if you get the opportunity when participating in your initial draft. He's going to be a gun!

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Debutant Draper's brilliant hanger

Essendon ruckman Sam Draper excites on debut through a great mark

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Custom stat star

One of the breakout players of last season was Andrew McGrath. For the first three years of his careers he averaged 71, 71 and 75 before he posted an average of 91 in the COVID-19 affected season. While his ADP will most certainly change in 2021 as he goes into the new season as a top-30 midfielder, it could be a custom stat league that may see some added value for McGrath. The former No. 1 NAB AFL Draft pick rates elite for clearances, averaging 4.9 per game last year. If your draft league chooses to include points for clearances, the inside midfielder should be a player to target.

Buyer beware

Jake Stringer (FWD, $394,000) has a bit of a run in the midfield from time-to-time, but it seems to help his Fantasy scoring. There is an argument that Stringer offers value as he posted his poorest numbers since his debut season in 2013 making him as cheap as he's been for eight years or a sneaky draft sleeper. Unacceptable scores of 12, 5 and 19 were next to his name during 2020, all coming from 'full games' of 83, 77 and 77 per cent time on ground. While he may put those behind him in the upcoming season, scores like that are season wreckers in whichever format you play.

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