WEST Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui could be building towards more individual honours at the end of the season after an underrated 2021 that has seen him take the No.1 mantle in the Official AFL Player Ratings.
Naitanui rose above Western Bulldogs star Marcus Bontempelli after round 19, becoming the eighth player to hold the title since the complex system was introduced ahead of the 2012 season.
It reflects the ruckman's continued excellence over the past two seasons, having climbed the ranking since returning from a second knee reconstruction in 2019.
The official AFL Player Ratings, compiled by Champion Data, take into account a player's last 40 games within a two-season block, with Naitanui shooting up the table this year now that he has a full body of work to be judged across two seasons.
PLAYER RATINGS Check out where your club's players rank
Brownlow medallist Gerard Healy this week made the case for Naitanui as the 2021 Therabody AFL All Australian ruckman on Fox Footy, highlighting his No.1 ranking this season in almost all key stats for the position.
His climb from No.128 overall at the start of the season to No.1 is the biggest relative rise this season, ahead of Fremantle big man Sean Darcy, who has climbed to No.32 overall.
Bontempelli sat at No.1 for nine weeks, having taken the mantle from Richmond superstar Dustin Martin, who has been the game's No.1 ranked player for a total of 30 weeks at different stages through his brilliant career.
Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn (43 weeks), Geelong superstar Patrick Dangerfield (55), Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe (22), Collingwood skipper Scott Pendlebury (12) and Geelong champion Gary Ablett (85) are others to hold the No.1 ranking across the past 10 seasons.
Nic Naitanui has moved to No.1 in the overall standings.— AFL Player Ratings (@AFLPlayerRating) July 25, 2021
He is the eighth player to hold the title.
Rounds as #1:
85 - G.Ablett
55 - P.Dangerfield
43 - M.Gawn
30 - D.Martin
22 - N.Fyfe
12 - S.Pendlebury
9 - M.Bontempelli
1* - N.Naitanui pic.twitter.com/y5IH76L52p
There has been a trend downward, however, in the overall points accrued by the game's No.1 player since Ablett set the high mark in round 14, 2013 (776.0).
Dangerfield spent the entire 2017 season with a points rating above 700 before handing the mantle to Martin in 2018, with the rating of the game's No.1 player in decline since.
When adjusted to reflect the shortened games of 2020, Naitanui's current rating of 634.0 is the lowest on record for a No.1 player.
The key to his rise to No.1 has been hardball gets (7.2. game) and hitouts to advantage (11.8) – both categories in which he ranks No.1 in the competition.
He wins 61 per cent of his rating points from ball winning and 33 per cent from his hitouts, with his best three games this season coming against the Western Bulldogs in round two (26.8), Essendon in round 11 (26.4) and Hawthorn in round eight (24.4).
Bontempelli, by comparison, wins 58 per cent of his rating points from ball winning, and 37 per cent from ball use.
The key to the Bulldog skipper's high ranking under the Player Ratings system is that he not only wins the ball, he hits the scoreboard, averaging 7.9 score involvements (No.4 in the AFL) and kicking 23 goals (No.1 among midfielders).
His top three games this season have been against St Kilda in round 10 (30.3), West Coast in round two (27.3) and Greater Western Sydney in round six (23.7).
Naitanui has until recently been overlooked in All-Australian discussions but appears a strong chance to win back-to-back club champion awards after taking out the John Worsfold Medal in 2020.
He sits equal-11th in the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year award on 59 votes, with Melbourne captain Max Gawn (55) the closest ruckman to him. The 31-year-old is the highest-ranked Eagle.
Bontempelli leads the AFLCA Award on 94 votes.
COACHES' VOTES Who's leading the race with four rounds to go?
By judging a player's last 40 games within a two-season block, the official AFL Player Ratings aim to give a long-term view of a player's standing in the game.
Points are either accrued or lost every time a player is involved in a passage of play, with consideration to obvious acts such as goals and disposals, as well as less obvious involvements such as intercepts, corralling and other 'one-percenters'.
The ratings system accounts for where and when these involvements occurred to give the most accurate rating possible of a player's impact on a game.
Official AFL Player Ratings standings after R19, 2021
1. Nic Naitanui (WC) - 586.2 points
2. Marcus Bontempelli (WB) - 573.2
3. Dustin Martin (Rich) - 554
4. Christian Petracca (Melb) - 547
5. Clayton Oliver (Melb) - 531.6
6. Max Gawn (Melb) - 528.4
7. Lachie Neale (BL) - 511.9
8. Patrick Dangerfield (Geel) - 505.3
9. Jarryd Lyons (BL) - 491.1
10. Jack Steele (StK) - 487.7