In this week's Things we learned, we discover that Essendon's young ruckman will be giving Maxy, Nic Nat and Brodie a shake sooner rather than later, Richmond's leadership future is in good hands, and the Giants have the depth to do some finals damage. 

1. Sam Draper will be in the All-Australian conversation next year

This year we have seen Fremantle big man Sean Darcy emerge as a contender for the Therabody AFL All-Australian Team in the ruck, and next year we might have another member of the young ruck brigade pushing up. Draper is big, strong, athletic and physical, and on Sunday he put all of those characteristics together to have a dominant game in Essendon's shock win over the Western Bulldogs. The 22-year-old, in only his 18th career game, had 39 hitouts, four clearances, 11 disposals and a goal, but his influence on the result was through his aggression, competitiveness and dominant tap work. Injuries have curtailed his development so far in his career but if Draper can have a good run at it next season expect him to rise very quickly into the discussion about the best ruckmen in the game. - Callum Twomey

2. Graham could be Richmond's next skipper

This isn't a "time's up for Trent Cotchin" bit, rather a look to Richmond's future once the three-time premiership skipper decides the time has come. For all the hope that came with the 53-point turnaround against North Melbourne, Richmond's first half was ordinary to say the least – with the exception of 23-year-old Graham, whose hard running, disposal and decisions kept the Tigers in touch at half-time. One of four Tigers to have played all 20 games this year, he is mature, well-spoken and leads by example on the field with his attack on the footy - Sarah Black

3. The Giants can make a September impact

If they make it as far as the finals, Greater Western Sydney can be a serious threat. Its victory over Geelong on Friday night, which came despite losing eight players to injury – and Brent Daniels mid-game to a hamstring issue – proved as much. Playing off a five-day break, it was young talent like Sam Taylor, Isaac Cumming and Callum Brown who proved the difference. Taylor had 17 intercepts and thwarted Tom Hawkins, Cumming had 984m gained and provided drive from half-back, while Brown kicked his first two AFL goals. Add in some star dust from Tim Taranto, Lachie Whitfield and Toby Greene, plus the impending return of guns like Josh Kelly and Jacob Hopper, and this side has quality. Combine that with the fight it showed at GMHBA Stadium, and you shouldn't be ruling them out in September. Now, they just need to make it that far. - Riley Beveridge

4. Aliir might be the recruit of the year

Sydney's Tom Hickey has strong claims, as does Isaac Smith for his year at Geelong, but Aliir Aliir put forward another compelling case for being the best recruit of 2021 on Saturday night. The Port Adelaide defender was at his intercepting best, thwarting Adelaide's forward surges by not only leaving his own man to impact other contests, but also beating his direct opponent one-on-one. He finished with 16 intercepts and was again the perfect complement to Trent McKenzie and Tom Jonas. Port gave up just a second-round pick to acquire him, which is now looking like a steal. - Michael Whiting

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Last two mins: Rock-solid Aliir holds off Crows charge

A thrilling finish between the Crows and Power in round 21 at Adelaide Oval

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5. Lions discover blueprint for finals success

Brisbane had been ruled out in some quarters as a genuine premiership threat after a poor month that had lacked energy and missed the hallmarks of a top-four team. But a dominant second term against Fremantle on Sunday saw the Lions re-stake their claim as a contender and remind themselves of what's required at this stage of the season. Having relied heavily on stoppages as a score source this season, the Lions brought a suffocating level of pressure to Optus Stadium and feasted on turnovers in the manner of a successful finals team. They out-tackled the Dockers 27-7 in the second quarter, despite winning significantly more of the ball (103-72), and led the indicator 41-17 at half time. The result was a four-goal run, with all of their majors resulting from pressure and turnovers up the ground. It was a warning to the rest of the competition that the Lions have adapted and are making the right tweaks ahead of finals. - Nathan Schmook

6. Touk Miller should be an All-Australian lock 

As with any year, midfield positions for the Therabody AFL All-Australian team are hotly contested and there have been several standouts this season including Marcus Bontempelli, Clayton Oliver, Ollie Wines and Sam Walsh. But unsung Suns hero Touk Miller is also right up there, and pressed his claims for All-Australian honours with 35 disposals, seven clearances and two goals in a best-on-ground performance against Carlton on Saturday. That made it 14 straight matches with 30-plus disposals for Miller, who is averaging 31.6 touches a game along with 429 metres gained and almost six clearances. Amid another difficult season for Gold Coast, Miller has been a shining light and deserves to be rewarded with All-Australian honours for the first time. - Luke Michael

7. Slow starts could cost the Swans

Sydney’s rapid rise means it has quickly gone from being the hunters to the hunted and opposition teams are setting themselves up for the tough task by bringing increased intensity and pressure. The match against St Kilda was the fourth consecutive week the Swans have been seriously challenged in the first half and they are now a combined -43 at the main break in that time. The Swans were able to flick a switch at half-time and overrun their previous three opponents as they scored +98 in second halves, but this time they couldn’t push past the Saints, who maintained their rage with more contested disposals (68-59) and tackles (29-17) in the second half. With finals on the horizon, the Swans will want to address their slow starts in the remaining rounds rather than continuing to rely on second-half surges. - Martin Pegan

8. Clinical Clarko still at the top of his game

Alastair Clarkson might be finishing up at Hawthorn at the end of the year, but the four-time premiership winning coach is still the best in the business and can make an immediate impact if he lands at a new club in the off-season. Clarkson produced another vintage coaching performance against Collingwood on Sunday and it might not be the last we see this year as the veteran coach seemingly has a point to prove in his final weeks with the Hawks, who have two wins and a draw from their past four games. - Jonathan Healy

9. Melbourne's secondary ruck is becoming a primary strength

Young Melbourne star Luke Jackson was playing in his home state for the first time against the player he idolised, and he didn't disappoint, playing a major role in the Demons' nine-point win. Jackson had 21 disposals – the second highest of his short career – and took six marks in an influential game. He lifted in the third quarter when the Demons made their move and is now shaping as a September weapon as Max Gawn's sidekick. Considering both his output right now and his potential, the 19-year-old deserves to be grouped with the game's most exciting young talls. – Nathan Schmook