BY NATHAN Buckley's own admission this week, Collingwood's "list profile is forcing our hands" at selection.

Salary cap pressures – a product of several years of contending – meant big names on big contracts had to depart last year, with the Pies dressing up the fire sale as a targeted approach for youth at the draft.

South Australian midfielder Caleb Poulter will become the 1-5 Pies' fifth debutant this weekend (the second-most of any club this season) after what Buckley described as "aggressive" moves in the Trade Period.

But even after Adam Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson and Tom Phillips were tipped out and the narrative shifted to youth, it's easy to forget 23 of their teammates from the 2018 Grand Final list remain in 2021.

And you could argue only three players from that group have truly improved since.

Darcy Moore has taken his game to All-Australian level, Josh Daicos has burst through to be a star and Taylor Adams has soared to win a best and fairest.

Then there's the rest.

Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom remain as important as ever, but given their ages at 33 and 30 respectively, haven't jumped any higher. Chris Mayne continues as a role player and, while Jeremy Howe was as integral as any defender in 2018, injuries following another strong season in 2019 have curtailed his output.

Jack Crisp has become one of the Pies' most consistent players but was rated as an 'elite' defender by Champion Data in 2018 and is now classified as an 'average' midfielder in 2021. And while Brayden Maynard jumped up in the best and fairest counts across 2019-2020, he admits he's lacked aggression this year with his 2021 on par with 2018 according to the number crunchers.

Brodie Grundy has maintained his spot on the podium among the best ruckmen in the competition, but after setting such lofty standards in 2018, it's hard to make a case that he's risen since. The dual All-Australian had a quiet 2020, and six games into a seven-year multi-million-dollar contract, read last week that the club would've preferred he'd signed a "four or five-year contract" via his new president Mark Korda speaking to Fairfax Media.

And Brody Mihocek, who has become a bigger focal point in attack, won himself a new three-year deal in late 2020 but has still averaged the same goals per game across 2019-2021 that he did in his impressive 2018 debut campaign.

Jamie Elliott didn't play a game in 2018 and injuries since make for a hard reading on the forward, while back-up ruckman Max Lynch and 21-year-old Nathan Murphy have played just one game in the period.

COLLINGWOOD BEST AND FAIREST TOP 10

 

2018

2019

2020

1.

Steele Sidebottom

Brodie Grundy

Taylor Adams

2.

Brodie Grundy (joint winner)

Scott Pendlebury

Scott Pendlebury

3.

Scott Pendlebury

Jack Crisp

Jack Crisp

4.

Jack Crisp

Adam Treloar

Darcy Moore

5.

Taylor Adams

Brayden Maynard

Brayden Maynard

6.

Tom Phillips

Steele Sidebottom

Josh Daicos

7.

Jeremy Howe

Tom Phillips

Jamie Elliott

8.

Jordan De Goey

Jeremy Howe

Brodie Grundy (eq 7th)

9.

Josh Thomas

Brody Mihocek

Brody Mihocek

10.

Brayden Maynard

Jordan Roughead

John Noble (eq 9th)

Jordan De Goey's form has taken the biggest nosedive of any Pies teammate after a career-best 48 goals from 21 games in 2018. Injuries have impacted his ability to find consistency, and while his brilliance remains, De Goey has regressed on the player who had kicked four goals in a preliminary final and had 30 disposals in an eye-popping Queen's Birthday outing against Melbourne in 2018 before turning down $5million over five seasons from North Melbourne a month later.

The 25-year-old, who last year re-signed for two more seasons, has dropped from an 'above average' mid-forward in 2018 to a 'below average' forward in 2021.

Josh Thomas (ninth in the in 2018 best and fairest) and Will Hoskin-Elliott (42 goals in 2018) have gone backwards, while fellow forward Mason Cox finds himself out of the team. And the remaining players – Jack Madgen, Callum Brown, Tyler Brown, Levi Greenwood and Brayden Sier – have all been overlooked or dropped from the Pies' best 22 across the first seven weeks of 2021.

Of the other mainstays, Jordan Roughead was a shrewd pick-up, John Noble has exceeded expectations as a Mid-Season draftee and Next Generation Academy product Isaac Quaynor is rapidly finding his feet at the level. But it could've been more.

Mason Cox after the 2018 Grand Final loss to West Coast. Picture: AFL Photos

The Pies got roughly the value of roughly a second-round pick for Treloar's move last season – a player who cost them two first-round picks in 2015.

And they gave up a further two first-round picks for Dayne Beams at the end of 2018. Yes, one pick would've been consumed in the matching of a bid for Quaynor, but Sydney got creative in the same draft to cut a deal for Nick Blakey and live trading could've lent the Pies to something similar.

While Buckley's coaching credentials will be debated until two-thirds of the way through the season (a timeline he pointed to this week), some of the scrutiny needs to move to his senior players. The youth policy will give the Pies a breath of fresh air, but it's time the others lifted for the ride with 14 from the 2018 list to face Gold Coast on Saturday at the MCG.

RATES OF IMPROVEMENT BETWEEN 2018-2021

*Player Ratings are by position
*Jamie Elliott and Tyler Brown didn't play in 2021 and Max Lynch & Nathan Murphy have played one game since

THE REST FROM THE 2018 LIST…

Retired: Alex Fasolo, Daniel Wells, Tom Langdon, Lynden Dunn, Travis Varcoe, Ben Reid

Delisted: Sam Murray, Jarryd Blair, Matt Scharenberg, Sam McLarty, Kayle Kirby, Tim Broomhead, Flynn Appleby, Rupert Wills, Ben Crocker, Josh Smith, Adam Oxley

Elsewhere: Tyson Goldsack (Port Adelaide), Adam Treloar (Western Bulldogs), James Aish (Fremantle), Tom Phillips (Hawthorn), Jaidyn Stephenson (North Melbourne)