THERE was improvement at Bomberland with a finals appearance and an increase in Fantasy numbers for quite a few players.

One of the most impressive 2021 campaigns came from Darcy Parish (MID, $885,000) who took his 2020 average of 82 to a career-high 106. He relished his added responsibility in the midfield and became a key player for the Dons and Fantasy coaches alike.

New recruit Nick Hind (DEF, $709,000) enjoyed his role off half-back taking his 54 average at the Saints to 85 in his new colours. Similarly, skipper Dyson Heppell (DEF, $795,000) also found himself as an important cog in the Bombers’ back-six, returning an average of 95.

Will Sam Draper (RUC, $481,000) be one of the improvers we’re singing praises of in 2022? A score of 121 in the Elimination Final could be the start of the 23-year-old’s relevance in Fantasy circles as coaches look to him as a ruck of the future for their keeper league.

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Lock them in

If you’re looking for a durable and consistent Fantasy performer, don’t look any further than Zach Merrett (MID, $925,000). Missing just two games since 2015, the ball-magnet had the best ‘third-year breakout’ of all-time as he averaged a career-high 118 points. He backed it up with 117 the following season and has been triple-figures since. Merrett was back to his best in 2020 when he produced an average of 116. Last year he was going at 115 points per game for the first 17 rounds before some uncustomary low scores due to attention brought his season average to 110. A safe first-round Fantasy Draft selection and a lock to be one of the must-have premium midfielders in Fantasy Classic.

Track their pre-season

Despite losing forward status, coaches who were bullish on Jye Caldwell (MID, $488,000) last season should still consider him in 2022. Priced equivalent to an average of 58, Caldwell showed he has plenty of Fantasy chops after scoring 104 in round one last year, his first in the red-and-black. He was injured in his second match and wasn’t seen again until finals where he started in a blaze of glory, collecting 41 Fantasy points in the first quarter of the elimination final against the Bulldogs.

Jye Caldwell in action against Hawthorn in round one, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Dual-position tempter

Jake Stringer (MID/FWD, $675,000) often gets thrown into Essendon’s midfield mix and when he does, his Fantasy numbers increase. The 27-year-old attended 85 per cent of centre bounces in the second half of the season which saw a huge differential in his pre-bye average of 63 to his post-bye average of 93.

Bargain basement

It might be a tough midfield to crack, but Ben Hobbs (MID, $266,000) could slot in and make a Fantasy impact. The first round pick in the 2021 NAB AFL Draft was a prolific ball-winner as a junior where he averaged 29 disposals in full NAB League games last season. Hobbs collected 37 and 26 disposals in his two trial games prior to the draft. In the 22 games he’s played that were covered by Champion Data, Hobbs averages 22 disposals, 10 contested possessions, six tackles and 97 Fantasy points.

Essendon draftee Ben Hobbs at Marvel Stadium on November 25, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Draft sleeper

The 85 average next to Andrew McGrath (MID, $709,000) doesn’t entirely reflect his output in 2021. While his numbers were up and down, he was injured early in round 12 on just 15 points. Prior to the PCL injury that kept him out for 10 weeks, McGrath averaged 95, matching his 2020 numbers. If he’s playing in the middle, a 100-plus average isn’t out of the question.

Custom stat star

There’s a lot to like about in all forms of Fantasy Jordan Ridley (DEF, $671,000) in 2022. He averaged 80 last season which is a long way from how he started the year. Scores of 90, 109, 123 and 110 in the first four rounds before concussion ended his game in the first quarter on 15 weren’t replicated when he returned. In fact, Ridley only managed one ton for the rest of the season . There’s some natural upside if he can be the go-to guys again for kick-ins plus the inclusion of Jake Kelly should free him up to be the intercept defender that helps him build his score. What will be handy is adding points for rebound 50s in your custom scoring Fantasy Draft league where Ridley was top 10 in the league, averaging 6.3 per game last season.

Essendon's Jordan Ridley kicks the ball during round 22, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Buyer beware

There is no denying Darcy Parish (MID, $885,000) is a gun! When opportunity knocked, DP3 showed himself to be one of the game’s best midfielders averaging 133 between rounds six-to-12. This included scores of 150 on Anzac Day and 160 in the Dreamtime game; both resulting in best-on-ground medals hanging around his neck. While he proved that he can rack up big numbers with a season average of 106 next to his name, he averaged 96 post-bye when tags became a concern, Dylan Shiel returned to the side and Jake Stringer was a regular at the Bombers’ centre bounces.

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