THE mid-season draft returns on Wednesday night, with a whopping 602 players throwing their hats in the ring for one of a dozen or so opportunities to live their AFL dream.

Among those 602 are a variety of players plying their trade at a high level, some of whom are in career-best form.

VFL.com.au’s Brendan Rhodes asked the eight VFL standalone clubs to nominate those players who they feel deserve a crack at the big time, either for the first time or a second shot at it after their first crack didn’t go to plan.

ASPLEY

MATTHEW HAMMELMANN
Age: 25; Height: 198cm; Weight: 88kg; Position: Key Forward
NEAFL/VFL Career:
80 matches, 204 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 9.2ds, 8.6ki, 0.6hb, 6.4mk, 0.8tk, score: 20.10

Key forward who kicked 66 and 60 goals for Redland to win the last two NEAFL leading goalkicker awards and has started the 2021 season with a bang. Spent three years with the Brisbane Lions as a 2014 Academy graduate and played 12 AFL matches for two goals in 2016-17. Looks ready for another crack at the big time.

COREY LYONS
Age: 23 today; Height: 183cm; Weight: 83kg; Position: Outside Midfield
NEAFL/VFL Career:
61 matches, 41 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 27.2ds, 17.0ki, 10.2hb, 4.4mk, 4.2tk, score: 2.2

The younger brother of Brisbane Lions star Jarryd, Lyons spent 2017-20 at the Gabba without playing an AFL game after being drafted from Sandringham Dragons. A high disposal getter, he uses his footy IQ to find space around the contest and is winning plenty of the ball. Dominated the midfield to help the Lions reserves go undefeated in 2019.

Also nominated: Ryan Bastinac, Liam Dawson, Matt Eagles, Kobe Tozer

Corey Lyons handpasses against Port Melbourne in round one VFL action, 2021: Picture: AFL Photos

COBURG

MARCUS LENTINI
Age: 21 (22 this Saturday); Height: 184cm; Weight: 80kg; Position: Inside Midfield
VFL Career:
41 matches, 18 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 38.0ds, 16.2ki, 21.8hb, 1.0mk, 4.4tk, score: 1.5

The hard-working midfielder has started 2021 in the form that earned him VFL Team Of The Year selections in 2018 and 2019 as the competition’s No.1 disposal winner. Won Coburg’s best-and-fairest in his first year at just 19yo and is still eligible for the Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal for the VFL Rising Star. Is deserving of a chance.

SAM LOWSON
Age: 25; Height: 183cm; Weight: 83kg; Position: Small Forward
VFL Career:
39 matches, 54 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 11.4ds, 8.4ki, 3.0hb, 3.6mk, 2.0tk, score: 9.9

Small forward who has never been more ready for an AFL opportunity. When in full flight there hasn't been a VFL or AFL-listed player able to lay a glove on him. One of the VFL’s most dynamic small forwards, he can also go into the midfield and provide pace around the stoppages. The East Ringwood product has a strong pair of hands and a long kick for goal.

Teammates help Sam Lowson celebrate a Coburg goal, round one, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

JACK MAIBAUM
Age: 23; Height: 194cm; Weight: 96kg; Position: Key Defender
VFL/NEAFL Career:
42 matches, 2 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 11.6ds, 8.4ki, 3.2hb, 5.8mk, 1.8tk, 0.2ho, score: 0.0

Had no luck with injuries in his three seasons on the Sydney Swans’ list after being drafted from Eastern Ranges in 2016. Has given the Lions another strong bodied key defender to support Harry Nolan. Has attracted AFL interest and at only 23 would be a handy pickup for any team looking to bolster their key back stocks.

LUKE NELSON
Age: 23; Height: 175cm; Weight: 74kg; Position: Small Forward
VFL Career:
12 matches, 18 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 15.6ds, 10.0ki, 5.6hb, 2.8mk, 2.8tk, score: 6.5

Started with a bang with Richmond in 2019, kicking seven goals in his first two games before spending last season with Lauderdale in Tasmania, where he made the State League Team Of The Year. Joined Coburg this season as a crafty and clever small forward with good speed and strong hands for his size. Has hit the scoreboard at all levels in the past four years.

Luke Nelson gathers the ball in round one of the VFL, 2021: Picture: AFL Photos

CHARLIE THOMPSON
Age: 22; Height: 183cm; Weight: 81kg; Position: Inside Midfield
VFL Career:
20 matches, 13 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 24.2ds, 12.2ki, 12.0hb, 2.8mk, 6.0tk, 0.2ho, score: 4.3

Another who crossed to the Lions from Richmond VFL, and the move has been a great one for him and Coburg. A bull-at-a-gate midfielder who loves the contest and provides great grunt and drive around the contest, while having the ability to hit the scoreboard. Coburg people have been blown away by his professionalism and selfless attitude. 

Also nominated: Jacob Ballard, Nathan Boucher, Aaron Clarke, Josh D’Intinosante, Lochlan Dickson, Kyle Galloway, Braedyn Gillard, Josh Guthrie, Nathan Howard, Ben Jepson, Nelson Lane, Tom McKenzie, Nathan Mullenger-McHugh, Harry Nolan, Ben Overman, Mitch Podhajski, Ryan Sturgess, Adam Swierzbiolek, Liam Whelan

FRANKSTON

WILL FORDHAM
Age: 25; Height: 191cm; Weight: 90kg; Position: Outside Midfield
VFL Career:
92 matches, 41 goals
2021 averages:
6 matches, 23.0ds, 13.2ki, 9.8hb, 4.8mk, 3.2tk, score: 4.3

A silky mover in the midfield or on the wing, he has been a star since being delisted by North Melbourne in 2017 after three seasons without an AFL debut. Won the Dolphins’ best-and-fairest in 2019 and used 2020 to improve his fitness and strength. Fordham has flourished in the midfield with clean ball use and inside traffic work with his big frame.

Will Fordham in action for Frankston, round four, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

NATHAN FREEMAN
Age: 25; Height: 183cm; Weight: 86kg; Position: Outside Midfield
VFL Career:
50 matches, 9 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 41.0ds, 25.6ki, 15.4hb, 5.6mk, 2.2tk, score: 0.0

His hamstring troubles were well documented at AFL level after being the 2013 No.10 pick, but his body is now sound and he has set the competition alight with his inside/outside midfield play and manoeuvring skills through traffic to average an unthinkable 41 disposals this season. Has amazing inside mid knowledge and gets to the right spot on most occasions.

Also nominated: Will Arthurson, Josh Begley, Joel Crocker, Brodie McLaughlin, Jack Mentha. (Bailey Lambert, Josh Newman, Liam Reidy and Connor Riley have attracted interest but are not nominated for the mid-season draft).

NORTHERN BULLANTS 

PAUL AHERN
Age: 24; Height: 182cm; Weight: 84kg; Position: Outside Midfield
VFL/NEAFL Career:
32 matches, 13 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 17.0ds, 12.4ki, 4.6hb, 3.8mk, 3.0tk, score: 3.3

The 2014 No.7 draft pick at GWS arrived at Preston City Oval this season after 24 matches at North Melbourne and has proven an elite and composed ball-user. Leading the Bullants in clearances with 26 in five games, Ahern has shown an ability to play outside and at half back, and can hit the scoreboard. Ready to step straight back into an AFL 22.

MUTAZ EL NOUR
Age: 19; Height: 192cm; Weight: 83kg; Position: Medium Defender
VFL Career:
1 matches, 0 goals
2021 averages:
1 match, 12ds, 10ki, 2hb, 6mk, 2tk, score: 0.0

A medium-sized defender from the Western Jets, El Nour made his debut against Werribee in Round 6 and impressed against a flood of forward entries, with his intercept marking a feature. He is strong overhead, a nice kick, agile and has shown rapid improvement since pre-season. Has huge upside in his development.

Mutaz El Nour in action for Vic Country in the 2021 Colgate Young Guns match. Picture: AFL Photos

LIAM MACKIE
Age: 22; Height: 186cm; Weight: 80kg; Position: Medium Defender
VFL Career:
29 matches, 4 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 14.0ds, 10.6ki, 3.4hb, 2.8mk, 3.0tk, score: 1.4

A versatile utility type, Mackie can play in multiple roles, having started this season as a mobile forward before rolling into the midfield, onto the wing and across half back. Reads the ball exceptionally well and uses it by foot as well as any Bullant. A Collingwood rookie in 2017, he has shown a lot of growth with the added responsibility of leading a young squad.

TYNAN SMITH
Age: 22; Height: 188cm; Weight: 97kg; Position: Medium Forward
VFL Career:
10 matches, 14 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 12.8ds, 7.6ki, 5.2hb, 3.6mk, 2.4tk, score: 6.3

A powerfully built forward who can rotate through the midfield and have an impact, he is strong over the ball and overhead and has a penetrating kick. Having crossed from Essendon VFL, he has an outstanding work rate and tackles with intent, while also hitting the scoreboard with six goals this season – second at the club.

Also nominated: Doug Lawrence, Oskar Manton, Liam Podhajski, Ben Silvagni, Jean-Luc Velissaris

PORT MELBOURNE

ANGUS HANRAHAN
Age: 20; Height: 185cm; Weight: 76kg; Position: Medium Defender
VFL Career:
7 matches, 0 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 18.0ds, 12.2ki, 5.8hb, 4.6mk, 1.8tk, score: 0.0

The brother of Hawthorn’s Oliver, Hanrahan crossed from Sandringham and has played every game for the Borough this season, predominantly in defence. Is becoming more comfortable at the level with every game. He is prepared to back himself and uses the ball well by hand and foot. Would flourish in a full-time environment if given the chance.

HARVEY HOOPER
Age: 23; Height: 185cm; Weight: 85kg; Position: Outside Midfield
VFL Career:
50 matches, 13 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 24.4ds, 17.6ki, 6.8hb, 3.8mk, 2.6tk, score: 3.0

Will never take a backward step and gives his all every game. Has taken his game to the next level and has been a shining light this season, moving from defence into the midfield. Adapts well and plays any role required to a high standard. A member of the leadership group, Hooper has grown in to a consistent VFL footballer and would relish an AFL chance.

Harvey Hooper in action for Port Melbourne against Richmond's VFL side, round two, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

ELI TEMPLETON
Age: 25; Height: 183cm; Weight: 78kg; Position: Outside Midfield
VFL Career:
98 matches, 65 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 32.0ds, 20.0ki, 12.0hb, 8.2mk, 5.0tk, score: 6.2

Played 14 matches for St Kilda from 2014-16, but since crossing to the Borough has been a consistently high performer in the midfield, winning multiple VFL Team Of The Year selections and claiming a best-and-fairest in 2019. Rarely has a bad game and if anything has taken his football to another level in 2021. Closing in on 100 quality VFL matches.

Also nominated: Liam Delahunty, Jake Gasper, Josh Hotchkin, Patrick Kerr, Dirk Koenen, Josh May, Mitch McCarthy, Harry Minton-Connell, Jeremy O’Sullivan, Ethan Phillips, Kyle Reid, Fletcher Roberts, Callum Searle, Matt Signorello 

01:42 Mins
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SOUTHPORT

KWABE BOAKYE
Age: 22; Height: 188cm; Weight: 86kg; Position: Medium Defender
NEAFL/VFL Career:
39 matches, 10 goals
2021 averages:
6 matches, 15.5ds, 8.2ki, 7.3hb, 1.2mk, 2.7tk, score: 2.1

An exciting half-back flanker who has been likened to Carlton’s Adam Saad. The North Queenslander is a Gold Coast Suns Academy graduate, who reads the game well and has extreme speed. His biggest asset is his ability to break lines and take the game on. A creative player with plenty of scope for improvement.

FRASER THURLOW
Age: 28; Height: 200cm; Weight: 105kg; Position: Ruck/Forward
NEAFL/VFL Career:
46 matches, 33 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 14.6ds, 8.6ki, 6.0hb, 6.6mk, 1.6tk, 31.4ho, score: 8.4

A ruckman who offers plenty of versatility, Thurlow has proven to be extremely dangerous while resting forward. He is outstanding in the air and is strong with his contested marking. No.1 in the VFL for hitouts and has the experience and footy smarts to step straight into a team desperate for ruck support.

MACKENZIE WILLIS
Age: 25; Height: 182cm; Weight: 82kg; Position: Small Defender
NEAFL/VFL Career:
59 matches, 8 goals
2021 averages:
6 matches, 23.0ds, 14.2ki, 8.8hb, 7.2mk, 1.0tk, score: 1.0

A great leader in the Sharks’ backline, but also more than capable of playing through the midfield. Reads the play well and cuts off plenty of opposition attacks with his intercept marking. Played five AFL matches for the Suns in 2016-17 but was delisted after missing 2018 with a knee injury. Ready for a second chance.

Also nominated: Nathan Colenso, Brayden Crossley, Jacob Dawson, Ryan Gilmore, Billy Gowers, Riley Greene, Mitchell Johnson, Jesse Joyce, Brad Lynch, Michael Manteit, Connor Nutting, Lukas Webb

Mackenzie Willis training at Gold Coast in 2017. Picture: Getty Images

WERRIBEE

WYLIE BUZZA
Age: 25; Height: 199cm; Weight: 100kg; Position: Key Forward
VFL/NEAFL Career:
63 matches, 84 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 16.4ds, 10.0ki, 6.4hb, 6.2mk, 2.8tk, 9.4 ho, score: 12.5

The Lions Academy graduate arrived at Werribee after nine AFL games at Geelong and a stint at Port Adelaide and has great around the club with his leadership for his younger teammates. A tall marking forward with really good hands, he has kicked goals and rotated in the ruck, providing a great education as he adds another string to his bow. 

NATHAN COOPER
Age: 23; Height: 195cm; Weight: 93kg; Position: Key Defen
VFL/NEAFL Career:
49 matches, 0 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 8.6ds, 4.0ki, 4.6hb, 2.0mk, 1.2tk, score: 0.1

Crossed from Richmond’s VFL program having previously played in the NEAFL for all of Sydney, GWS and Sydney University, as well as rugby league in Sydney. A big full back with a strong body, Cooper is a monster in the gym and takes the biggest key forward each week. Probably the club’s most diligent worker, he has a big scope to play at the next level.

Nathan Cooper of Werribee in round three, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

KYE DECLASE
Age: 24; Height: 195cm; Weight: 87kg; Position: Wing/Forward
VFL Career:
46 matches, 46 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 22.2ds, 16.0ki, 6.2hb, 7.4mk, 1.8tk, score: 6.3

A versatile type who can play outside or as a forward, he has a big, strong body and runs well with good skills on both sides. Has attracted some interest and spent a week at Melbourne in the pre-season. Declase has the ambition and the drive to play AFL and is doing everything right and ticking all the boxes necessary.

HUDSON GARONI
Age: 20; Height: 195cm; Weight: 97kg; Position: Key Forward
VFL Career:
7 matches, 12 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 13.8ds, 7.0ki, 6.8hb, 6.6mk, 2.4tk, 1.6ho, score: 11.6

A young key forward from Wodonga and the Murray Bushrangers, he had a monster pre-season and has taken his game to another level. A strong marking forward who can kick goals – including nine in two weeks against Box Hill and Richmond, he combines well with Wylie Buzza in the forward half. The Tigers couldn’t praise his development highly enough.

Hudson Garoni in action in round three of the VFL, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

JACK HENDERSON
Age: 21; Height: 177cm; Weight: 73kg; Position: Inside Midfield
VFL Career:
43 matches, 24 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 18.8ds, 9.0ki, 9.8hb, 4.0mk, 5.0tk, score: 1.2

Still only 21, what he has been able to do has been remarkable. Played last year at Sturt in the SANFL and went to the next level as an inside midfielder who can rotate forward. Relentless with his tackling pressure and aggression at the contest, he is the youngest member of the Tigers’ leadership group and a fine young man who could step up easily.

Also nominated: Emmanuel Ajang, Dom Brew, Jesse Clark, Matt Hanson, Joe Maishman, Bior Malual, Shaun Mannagh, Archi Manton, Daniel Nielson, Lucas Rocci, Max Spencer, Harry Stubbings, Tylar Watts

WILLIAMSTOWN

CHARLIE DEAN
Age: 19; Height: 195cm; Weight: 86kg; Position: Key Defender
VFL Career:
5 matches, 0 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 14.2ds, 10.6ki, 3.6hb, 7.0mk, 1.6tk, score: 0.0

Played for Vic Metro and Sandringham Dragons in 2019 and has developed well in his first five VFL games. Has the ability to play at both ends of the ground but has spent 2021 has a key defender, generally taking the third tall forward. His game is continuing to evolve at VFL level and he is very mature at just 19, averaging an impressive seven marks per game.

Charlie Dean of Williamstown in round four, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

JORDAN GALLUCCI
Age: 23; Height: 182cm; Weight: 76kg; Position: Small Forward
VFL Career:
5 matches, 7 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 15.0ds, 13.2ki, 1.8hb, 5.0mk, 3.4tk, score: 7.5

The midfielder-forward has shown what he can do at VFL level since moving back to Melbourne at the start of the year. Played 27 matches for 19 goals at Adelaide after being the No.15 draft pick in 2016 and is averaging five marks and six inside-50s for the Seagulls, while hitting the scoreboard with seven goals of his own.

MITCH HIBBERD
Age: 24; Height: 192cm; Weight: 87kg; Position: Inside Midfield
VFL Career:
62 matches, 17 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 29.2ds, 13.8ki, 15.4hb, 4.2mk, 7.4tk, score: 3.2

A big-bodied midfielder who has picked up where he left off in 2019, when he made the VFL Team Of The Year and was drafted by Essendon. Didn’t get the chances at the Bombers (five games) or North Melbourne (four in 2017) but still has plenty to give at AFL level due to his size, engine and professionalism. Averaging six clearances and five inside-50s this season.

JACK TONER
Age: 21; Height: 176cm; Weight: 72kg; Position: Small Defender
VFL Career:
2 matches, 2 goals
2021 averages:
5 matches, 15.8ds, 12.2ki, 3.6hb, 6.4mk, 0.8tk, score: 0.1

The small defender from Dandenong Stingrays headed to Central District in the SANFL last year and averaged 17 disposals, including one game of 27 disposals, nine marks, four insider-50s and four rebound-50s, Returned to Melbourne this year and is establishing himself at Williamstown, averaging six marks and developing nicely.

Also nominated: Daly Andrews, Tom Downie, Nick Ebinger, Noah Gown, Jack Leslie, Harrison Macreadie, Luke Meadows, Mitch Mellis, Teia Miles, Joel Ottavi, Cam Polson, Lachlan Stapleton

Jack Toner of Williamstown in round five of the VFL, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos