WHO will walk in and assume the vacant roles at your club in 2021?

As clubs prepare to return for pre-season, various positions remain up for grabs via positional changes or players departing through retirements or trades.

Mitch Cleary identifies one at each club ahead of next season.


Replacing: Brad Crouch (12 games in 2020)
Other contenders: Jackson Hately, Ronin O'Connor, Sam Berry

The fifth midfielder taken in the 2020 NAB AFL Draft, Pedlar arrives readymade after playing senior football from the age of 15. Despite a series of knee and groin issues in recent times, the 18-year-old South Australian will be eyeing a key role in 2021. Pedlar is regarded for his competitiveness and inside grunt at stoppages and looks a super option to fill the void left by Crouch's St Kilda departure, along with former Giant Hately.


Replacing: Stefan Martin (eight games in 2020)
Other contenders: Archie Smith, Henry Smith, Tom Fullarton

McInerney was one of eight Lions to play every game this year but begins this pre-season with a different outlook compared to his last. After previously holding the forward-ruck role, the 205cm big man will enter 2021 as the Lions' No.1 ruckman. It's a role he carried for 11 games in Martin's absence through injury in 2020, with the Lions declining the opportunity to go and find another ruckman from elsewhere during the Trade Period. Aside from Martin (traded to the Western Bulldogs), the Lions lost no other players from their best side this off-season.

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Replacing: Kade Simpson (17 games in 2020)
Other contenders: Nic Newman, Brodie Kemp, Liam Stocker

Saad is an absolute no-brainer here and will make Carlton instantly a better side with his dash from half-back. After back-to-back podium finishes in Essendon's best and fairest, Saad moves across town with the brief to excite. While Zac Williams will be deployed in the midfield, the returning Newman is an option who can't be forgotten, while 2019 first-round pick Kemp will start his career at half-back after missing his entire first year with an ACL.

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Replacing: Jaidyn Stephenson (14 games in 2020)
Other contenders: Oliver Henry, Trey Ruscoe, Jack Ginnivan

If the Pies are looking for a like-for-like to replace Stephenson's speed in the front half, then McCreery could be their man. The 186cm forward arrives ready for senior football after 15 games for South Adelaide in the SANFL in 2020. Taken as a 19-year-old, he booted 19 goals and was the No.1-ranked player for forward 50 tackles in the SANFL. While Stephenson was dropped at various stages throughout the season, replacing his leg speed will be high on Nathan Buckley's priority list this pre-season.

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Replacing: Adam Saad (17 games in 2020)
Other contenders: Nick Hind, Devon Smith, Lachie Johnson

New coach Ben Rutten has already flagged a potential positional switch for the captain who will be returning from season-ending ankle surgery. And there might be no better time to do it, now that the Bombers have extra midfield depth with the addition of Jye Caldwell and Archie Perkins. Following Saad's departure and Conor McKenna's retirement, Heppell could provide a calm head across half-back. Former Essendon VFL player Hind has also been earmarked to play in defence, while 2018 best and fairest Smith moved back in the latter stages of 2020.


Replacing: Jesse Hogan (seven games in 2020)
Other contenders: Brennan Cox, Josh Treacy

Dockers fans only saw a glimpse of Sturt's potential in the early stages of 2020 before the exciting forward succumbed to a nasty ankle injury. Now there's a forward slot available to make his own. While Hogan only played seven games this year, coach Justin Longmuir indicated in the last month of the season he was enjoying the look of the three-pronged attack which also included Matt Taberner and Rory Lobb. Cox, who enjoyed a breakout year in defence, could be used more in attack next season with Joel Hamling, Alex Pearce and Griffin Logue to return from injury.

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Replacing: Harry Taylor (19 games in 2020)
Other contenders: Sam De Koning, Nathan Kreuger, Nick Stevens

Blicavs had another strong year, finishing third in the Cats' best and fairest after a permanent switch to the wing/ruck. However, he'll likely be needed back in defence next season following Taylor's retirement. The Cats have high hopes for first-round pick Sam De Koning, but he remains a little while off regular senior football. With Lachie Henderson penning a one-year extension, he and Blicavs could take the key talls with assistance from Jake Kolodjashnij, Jack Henry and Tom Stewart. Nathan Kreuger, who trained as a forward in 2020, could be a left-field consideration in defence in the final year of his contract with the key roles in attack now jam-packed.

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Replacing: Pearce Hanley (eight games in 2020)
Other contenders: Jeremy Sharp, Joel Jeffrey, Jez McLennan

After six games for Richmond in the 2020 premiership campaign, Markov is itching for more AFL action. The Suns targeted his run and dash off half-back to replace Pearce Hanley immediately, but also with an eye to the future with Jarrod Harbrow extending for one more season in 2021. At 24, Markov also fills a gap in the age profile of the Suns. Coach Stuart Dew will also have exciting second-year prospect Jeremy Sharp at his disposal, while Academy graduate Joel Jeffrey could walk straight in. 



Replacing: Zac Williams and Heath Shaw (28 games combined in 2020)
Other contenders: Jacob Wehr, Matt Buntine, Callum Brown

There are two spots waiting for Cumming to grab hold of in 2021. With Zac Williams off to Carlton and Heath Shaw informed his career was over, the 22-year-old Academy product looms as the ideal man to fill one of them with his size and dash. Cumming played three games in 2020 to take his career tally to 10 and inked a two-year extension at season's end. Buntine didn't play a game in 2020, while Wehr, a mature-age draftee out of the SANFL, could make an instant impact. Lachie Ash wasn't considered given he played 12 of a possible 17 games in 2020. 


Replacing: Ben Stratton and James Sicily (25 games combined in 2020)
Other contenders: Kyle Hartigan, Jacob Koschitzke, Michael Hartley

Hartigan is the obvious option for James Frawley's vacated role as the lockdown full-back to take on the opposition's power forward. But Grainger-Barras is readymade as an intercepting defender who can fill the void left by Sicily (ACL) and also Stratton following retirement. At 195cm, the West Australian was the clear standout defender of the 2020 draft pool and at least four clubs rated him the best player behind Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. Koschitzke will be hoping for a clean run of injuries to put himself in the conversation, while Hartley provided insurance in 2020 playing two matches.

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Replacing: Adam Tomlinson (13 games in 2020)
Other contenders: Jayden Hunt, Trent Rivers, Fraser Rosman

Tomlinson remains at the Demons but it's his role that's been vacated into 2021. Targeted as a wingman on a four-year deal, Tomlinson finished his debut season in red and blue in defence before the Demons eyed Isaac Smith in the Trade Period. Unsuccessful in luring the triple-premiership Hawk, the Demons refused to chase another wingman such as Collingwood's Tom Phillips and insisted they'll back their existing talent. Now-departed football boss Josh Mahoney identified 22-year-old Baker as one option to partner Ed Langdon on the outside and add to his 12 AFL games next season.


Replacing: Ben Brown (nine games in 2020)
Other contenders: Tristan Xerri, Josh Walker

The 199cm Comben is yet to play an AFL game after one year on the Roos' list but already the club is bullish on his makings as a key forward. The 19-year-old possesses a strong contested mark and recently inked an extension at Arden Street until the end of 2023. Comben suffered a stress fracture in his back in the early part of 2020, and despite being ready at season's end, was put on ice with an eye to this pre-season. The Roos overlooked tall Logan McDonald at the 2020 NAB AFL Draft and apart from Xerri and Walker (who was used mostly in defence), the Roos lack any other key forward depth behind Nick Larkey.


Replacing: Justin Westhoff (12 games in 2020)
Other contenders: Jarrod Lienert

It was as if Aliir's game was built to replace Westhoff. With the Power farewelling their veteran to retirement, they quickly set about filling his role with the ex-Swans tall on a four-year deal. The Power even spoke candidly about Aliir being Westhoff's clone. Aliir's 13-disposal outing against Port Adelaide in round 14 earlier in the season, which included 19 hitouts in the second half, was all Ken Hinkley needed to see in the defender/ruckman.

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Replacing: Jack Higgins (10 games in 2020)
Other contenders: Hugo Ralphsmith, Will Martyn, Maurice Rioli jnr

The entire Richmond premiership team remains at Punt Road next season vying for history so there's no obvious roles immediately up for grabs. However, Higgins' departure for St Kilda will open up a midfield/forward role that contributed 10 games in 2020. Dow split his time between midfield and attack as a junior and the first-round pick will be looking to add to his two games from his debut season. Second-year forward Noah Cumberland will be another option but won't be seen until at least May after rupturing his ACL earlier in 2020.


Replacing: Nick Hind (10 games in 2020)
Other contenders: Leo Connolly

The Saints are fully stocked for a premiership tilt, keeping every player from their best side into 2021. While Hind often found himself outside of the best 22, he still managed 10 of the Saints' 19 games before departing for Essendon and Higgins will be an upgrade on the midfield/forward role the speedster assumed. While Higgins ultimately became restless for opportunities at Punt Road, he still managed 10 matches himself in 2020. Connolly was unable to break into the Saints' side in his first year but will be looking to put himself in the frame next season with his run and carry. The other options in attack, including Dean Kent, Jack Sinclair and Jack Lonie, are all established.

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Replacing: Aliir Aliir (14 games in 2020)
Other contenders: Kaiden Brand, Lewis Melican

The Swans have found a 10-year key back. McCartin developed as a defender in the second half of 2020 and now it looks like it's going to be a permanent shift. His standout game in the role came in round 14, holding his own against Charlie Dixon after half-time as Aliir went into the ruck. McCartin then continued there with Dane Rampe sidelined for the final six weeks. His move to defence, which opens up a role in attack long-term, may also have come into the Swans' thinking as they selected exciting forward Logan McDonald over defender Denver Grainger-Barras at pick No.4.


Replacing: Lewis Jetta (six games in 2020)
Other contenders: Ben Johnson

The Eagles discovered more half-back options in 2020 with Jackson Nelson's rise forcing Jetta out of the side to end the year, while Josh Rotham featured 10 times as a hybrid playing small or tall. Jetta's delisting doesn't leave a major gap in a team that retained its entire best 22, but Witherden's arrival provides instant depth in the back half. The elite ball user has signed a two-year deal with the Eagles after just six games in 2020 off 23 in 2019 for Brisbane. 

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Replacing: Toby McLean, Tory Dickson and Sam Lloyd (22 games combined in 2020)
Other contenders: Cody Weightman, Ben Cavarra, Will Hayes

It's going to be a new-look forward line for the Dogs in 2021 with Jamarra Ugle-Hagan landing as the No.1 pick and Hannan crossing from Melbourne on a three-year deal. While Ugle-Hagan will contend with Josh Bruce, Aaron Naughton and Tim English for the tall spots, Hannan should assume a mid-sized role now open off McLean's ACL. With Dickson and Lloyd (who played 10 games combined) also retiring, 2019 first-round pick Weightman will be hoping to grasp more opportunities available. 

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