Aaron Cadman, Will Ashcroft and Reuben Ginbey. Picture: AFL Digital

THIS year's draft class entered the season as perhaps the most unknown group of prospects the game had seen – or not seen. 

After wipe-outs for much of the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to COVID-19, many potential draftees had barely been sighted by clubs heading into their under-18 campaigns. Whereas the previous two years had either been uninterrupted in their under-16 or under-17 campaigns, the 2022 crop had hit significant roadblocks. What would it mean for them when they finally got out there?

DRAFT HUB Click here for the latest draft news

This season has seen a top group of around a dozen prospects emerge and then an even grading of the next batch of players that will see clubs differ in how they assess the group.

We have been assessing them through the year as well, with this the fifth and final Phantom Form Guide for 2022. It is AFL.com.au's ranking of the top 30 players in this year's pool and doesn't take into account where they will be selected nor where bids will come – it is purely a ranking of them as players based on what they have produced and what they project.

In this November edition, just over a week out from the NAB AFL Draft, see also the clubs who could be in the mix for each prospect. 

6/5/04
181cm/78kg
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro
Midfielder
October ranking: 1

The best performed and most productive player in the draft this year ends the season where he has been throughout the previous four Phantom Form Guides – at No.1. Ashcroft was the definition of ball-magnet throughout his draft year, averaging 34 disposals in a dominant NAB League season as well as winning nearly every award available. Ashcroft has been nearly a full-time footballer this year who takes his footy seriously and is seriously good and will make an impact for Brisbane as a father-son selection straight away. 

Where does he go? He's off to the Lions under the father-son rule, but where will the bid come? Greater Western Sydney is weighing it up at pick No.1, but if the Giants don't do it then North Melbourne with pick two or three seem certain. 

01:41

18/7/04
182cm/80kg
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro
Midfielder
October ranking: 2

The run of hamstring injuries is one thing for Wardlaw, but the thing that sits most in the mind of recruiters is his first half of the year and how strong, damaging and powerful a midfielder he can be. Wardlaw's top games this year came against some of the best opposition he faced – against the Sandringham Dragons and Collingwood's VFL side – and he is a ball-getter who can be penetrating with his ball use and create some big moments. Has a hard edge to the way he takes the game on. 

Where does he go? North Melbourne is favoured to take Wardlaw with one of its two picks at the top of the draft. Essendon would likely snap up if he got to pick No.4.  

'IT'S A PRIVILEGE' Gun mid still in No.1 race despite luckless year

01:26

18/10/04
186cm/79kg
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro
Midfielder
October ranking: 3

Tsatas' foot injury in the middle of the season wiped him out of playing in the bulk of the under-18 championships but either side of that he showed his class with a number of commanding midfield performances. He won the Oakleigh Chargers' best and fairest from six games. A taller midfield option, Tsatas can also move with the ball on the outside with some exciting run while also being a ball-winner on the inside too. Capable of kicking goals and hitting the scoreboard, he is an ambitious prospect who has a strong blend to his game. 

Where does he go? Had been in North Melbourne's mix but is set to be available to the Bombers at pick No.4, with Essendon weighing him up closely as one of the frontrunners for the selection. Hawthorn, Geelong and St Kilda are the other big possibilities inside the top 10. 

01:50

13/10/04
185cm/80kg
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro
Forward/midfielder
October ranking: 4

It can be around the corner, along the ground, via a mark or a snap or a set shot or any other way – Sheezel just continues to find ways to hit the scoreboard and create scoring chances. He is polished and poised and booted 49 goals in all competitions this year as well as also spending some time in the midfield at stages. Sheezel has a quiet confidence to him that comes through in how he plays and has the hallmarks of being a fan favourite. 

Where does he go? Clubs are strongly expecting Sheezel to join North Melbourne with one of its two top picks at the draft. Essendon and Hawthorn also loomed as possible homes before the Roos secured their two early selections, giving them a very strong draft hand.  

01:50

195cm/91kg
3/3/04
Greater Western Victoria Rebels/Vic Country
Key forward
October ranking: 5

It has been a year of serious improvement and growth for Cadman, who entered the season having not played as a key forward before and ended it as the best in the draft. The left-footer is athletic and smart and is capable at ground level as well as in the air. He competes strongly and courageously and lifted his side when it was required on many occasions this season. Cadman finished the NAB League season with 34 goals and was an All-Australian at under-18 level and is a likeable, friendly youngster who has a healthy competitive streak. 

Where does he go? The Giants moved up the board and used their suite of draft picks to trade for the No.1 pick for a reason – Cadman. He's set to join Greater Western Sydney, with the youngster open to moving states and the Giants looking for a tall forward. The only question really is whether the Giants take him at pick No.1 or bid on Will Ashcroft and then use the No.2 pick on Cadman. 

02:44

186cm/86kg
11/9/04
Gippsland Power/Vic Country
Forward/midfielder
October ranking: 6

Humphrey is what all clubs look for: a gamechanger. The midfielder/forward can play in both spots effectively and make an impact. He's tough and hard at the player, he's strong over the ball, he can jump and take a grab and he amasses plenty of shots on goal via footy smarts. He has the Toby Greene tendency inside 50 and was able to show either side of his mid-season knee injury that he was a serious talent. Captain of Gippsland this year, Humphrey's teammates love him and his genuine approach. 

Where does he go? Has plenty of interest inside the top 10. Essendon did more work on him recently, while the Hawks have interviewed him multiple times. The Suns, Saints, Cats and Carlton are also among the clubs to have shown interest. 

02:30

23/7/04
181cm/77kg
Geelong Falcons/Vic Country
Midfielder
October ranking: 7

Clark doesn't leave anything out there. He's the midfielder who tries no matter what – to win the ball, to help a teammate, to lay a shepherd or tackle and to do the team thing. He was captain of Vic Country and the Geelong Falcons this season and was also named his state side's most valuable player for a championships where he averaged 23 disposals. Clark is no fuss and plays in a similar manner where clubs will know the full package of what he offers. 

Where does he go? From the moment Geelong was linked to Gold Coast's pick No.7, Clark's name almost came attached. But will he still be there? The Hawks are looking at him and weighing him up for their No.6 pick before the Cats could get a crack at him, while he's also been in Gold Coast's mix with pick No.5. 

01:44

189cm/82kg
10/9/04
East Perth/Western Australia
Midfielder/defender
October ranking: 8

It's been a steady rise for Ginbey, who started the year as a rebounding third tall in defence for East Perth's senior WAFL side before becoming Western Australia's leading midfield prospect. He then topped it off by dominating at the NAB AFL Draft Combine, where he showed his brilliant running capacity by completing the 2km time trial in 6:15 minutes and the 20-metre sprint in 2.92 seconds. Has a lot of tools to be playing AFL football. 

Where does he go? The Suns have been linked, while Geelong has also shown interest recently. West Coast would be considered likely to snap up if he got through to pick No.8, while Hawthorn is also a chance at its top-10 spot. 

FROM UNKNOWN TO 'BONA FIDE GUN' The Fyfe-esque draft bolter's meteoric rise

01:33

190cm/89kg
27/12/04
Woodville West Torrens/South Australia
Midfielder/forward
October ranking: 11

Has some 'could be anything' about him. There's a lot to be excited about when watching Phillipou play, be it his dual position capacity – through the midfield and as a forward – his overhead marking, his goalkicking and high impact. The son of former Bulldogs player Sam Phillipou, the Woodville-West Torrens product had a strong season before an ankle injury late in the campaign saw him miss some games. He's motivated to be the best and believes in himself and as one of the youngest in the draft crop – he's only five days off being eligible for the 2023 draft – clubs will also look for his upside. 

Where does he go? Is right in the mix for Essendon's first pick, while he will meet with the Hawks again. West Coast, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs are also considered to be in the frame for him, as would be the Blues if he got that far.  

02:02

188cm/83kg
21/4/04
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro
Midfielder
October ranking: 10

There was barely a bad game from Mackenzie throughout the year. He started strongly in Sandringham's pre-season games, continued to gather momentum and was quickly established among the handful of best midfielders available. Mackenzie's NAB League Grand Final was terrific, with the taller, bigger-bodied ball-getter collecting 26 disposals and two goals in Sandringham's win. He impressed when he trained with the Saints through their Next Generation Academy through the season and shapes as a ready-to-go prospect in the AFL. 

Where does he go? Has been heavily linked to St Kilda at pick No.9. The Saints don't have first call on him as an NGA player until pick 40 so if they want him, they'll have to get him there. West Coast, too, has been interested, while the Cats and Hawks will also weigh him up. 

01:33

183cm/71kg
16/1/04
Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country
Midfielder
October ranking: 11

An Ed Langdon-style of midfielder who can run and run and keep running. Hollands is likely to start his career as a wingman but he could also play off a back flank as well as through the midfield, having won his fair share of the ball in the second half of this season. A hard-working player, Hollands was the joint winner of the 2km time trial at the Draft Combine and will be strong on the training track from day one at his AFL club.

Where does he go? Is invited to attend the opening night of the draft and has been linked to Carlton at pick No.10 and the Western Bulldogs at No.11. His strong running capacity could interest the Saints at No.9, while Sydney would look closely if he got through to its pick.

01:31

195cm/84kg
8/3/04
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro
Key forward
October ranking: 12

Jefferson is a key forward who hits the scoreboard regularly and finds ways to tally shots on goal. He was named an All-Australian in the under-18 championships, with his seven-goal haul against Western Australia a memorable day out for Vic Metro, and he converts his opportunities with a minimum of fuss and reliable goalkicking routine.  

Where does he go? Melbourne has been linked to Jefferson at pick No.13. Sydney and the Giants could consider him given they have multiple picks but he could also be available deeper into the top 20. 

185cm/85kg
27/5/04
Swan Districts/Western Australia
Midfielder
October ranking: 13

Hewett has big aspirations to quickly make an impact at AFL level and he has the power and strength to step into the top level. He played in Swan Districts' senior side this season and also had a big day out against Vic Metro at the mid-year championships. He plays with force and tested well in the agility and jumps events at the NAB AFL Draft Combine last month. 

Where does he go? A very interesting one to track. Essendon has done its work on him but most likely would be if the Bombers moved back from No.4. St Kilda has also been looking at Hewett, while Carlton and West Coast could be a chance. Greater Western Sydney would likely consider if available in the teens and he could get through to deeper into the first round.

01:27

194cm/83kg
26/5/04
Claremont/Western Australia
Midfielder
October ranking: 18

It is impossible to ignore Allan's back half of the season and just as hard not to wonder where he would be ranked if he didn't miss the first half of the season through injury. The 194cm midfielder is a very unique draft option for clubs – he's played on the wing and in the midfield and that's where he seems himself, and he dominated the Draft Combine testing. Could he be a Mark Blicavs-play-anywhere type of prospect?  

Where does he go? Geelong has shown interest in him, with the Western Bulldogs and West Coast also considered chances in the opening dozen selections. Melbourne has been linked, while the Giants could also consider in the teens. It's hard to see him being available at the Eagles' third pick (No.20). 

MAKING MOVES Unique son of a gun shapes as draft's late riser

01:40

196cm/82kg
11/3/04
East Perth/Western Australia
Key defender
October ranking: 14

Has been somewhat out of sight out of mind given he hasn't played since mid-year after undergoing shoulder surgery. But clubs haven't forgotten his aerial capacity to be a chop-off defender and get the game back on his side's terms. He can be a regular ball-getter in the back half, too, having averaged 24 disposals at Colts level this season. A proactive backman with sure hands. 

Where does he go? Will be in the Eagles' thoughts with their two first-round selections, while the Western Bulldogs could also look at pick No.11. Sydney, should Busslinger be available at No.14, shapes as a chance too.

01:22

183cm/76kg
24/2/04
Brisbane Lions Academy/Allies
Midfielder
October ranking: 15

The classy midfielder is likely to step into Brisbane's senior mix relatively quickly. The son of former player Adrian, Fletcher is eligible only as a father-son to the Lions. But he can technically join as a northern Academy player. Either way, he's headed to the Lions, where he was a member of their Academy side this season as well as having a strong campaign for the Allies. Kicks the ball nicely, sets up the play and can accumulate touches as well as be damaging. 

Where does he go? Fletcher is invited to the opening night of the draft, showing where a father-son bid could come for Fletcher. Carlton, the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood loom as possible bidders. Brisbane has prepared itself for early bids and will be able to match to secure Fletcher. 

READY TO MAKE HIS OWN MARK Lions' father-son prospect prepared to follow in dad's footsteps

01:49

186cm/87kg
13/4/04
Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country
Forward
October ranking: 22

It's one of the real shames of this year's draft that we didn't get to see more of George throughout his injury-hit draft season. And for the club that picks him, they are unlikely to see him for much of 2023 as well after his late-season knee reconstruction. Powerful gets thrown around a lot to describe players but it's appropriate for George, who booted five goals in round one and showed he can dominate inside 50. He was due to play more midfield time before his two separate knee injuries. 

Where does he go? Has interest in the teens, including from Sydney, Melbourne and Greater Western Sydney. Hard to see George slipping far into the second round despite the knee. 

GONE, NOT FORGOTTEN Clubs eye explosive draft prospect despite knee reco

01:24

199cm/82kg
17/12/04
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro
Key defender
October ranking: 16

Hayes is tall, reads the ball well in the air and goes for his grabs. He enjoys sliding off and being an active defender in the air, a little like Melbourne's Jake Lever. The younger brother of Port Adelaide ruckman Sam, Hayes enjoyed a strong carnival for Vic Metro and back end to the year with the Eastern Ranges, where he averaged 21 disposals a game. In a draft that isn't flushed with key defensive options, Hayes has the height to take on the tall key forwards and doesn't turn 18 until next month.  

Where does he go? The Giants could look at Hayes in the teens, while Collingwood could also be a chance in the second round. Carlton has also been interested through the year. 

01:09

181cm/77kg
26/2/04
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro
Midfielder/forward
October ranking: 17

Davey's best games will stand out in the minds of recruiters – he was terrific for Vic Metro against Western Australia in the championships with 25 disposals and again excellent for the Oakleigh Chargers up against the Sandringham Dragons late in the NAB League season. Davey will have to start his career as a small forward but some of his best games came with midfield time, where his smarts, speed and craft helped create the play. Also played for Essendon's VFL side late in the year, when he kicked a clever goal. 

Where does he go? Has nominated to Essendon as a father-son where he will follow his father Alwyn snr in the red and black. But where does the bid come? The Giants and Swans could consider, as could the Bulldogs at No.21. Otherwise, he's likely to get past the Bombers' pick 22. 

02:04

192cm/91kg
25/5/04
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro
Key defender
October ranking: 19

A defender who can line up on most forwards given his selection of athletic traits. He's quick (over 20 metres at the Combine he tested at 2.93 seconds) and in the 2km time trial he completed it in 6:03 minutes. He can also jump – he was in the top 10 for the standing and running vertical jumps tests – and showed that flexibility through the season.  

Where does he go? Sydney is likely to have a look at Weddle with its dual later first-round picks, as might the Giants given their selections in that zone. If he got to North Melbourne at No.23, it would likely consider. 

01:19

182cm/80kg
6/9/04
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro
Midfielder/forward
October ranking: 20

A really consistent season from Hotton puts him inside the top 25 on our draft rankings. He finished his season strongly with 25 disposals and a goal for Sandringham in the NAB League Grand Final, and then showed his explosive streak and power at the Combine (2.924 seconds in the 20-metre sprint and a 70cm vertical jump). Has strength and stamina to his game and is adept at finding the footy. 

Where does he go? Could he follow his dad Trent (who also played at Carlton) and land at Collingwood with one of its three top-27 picks? The Pies are in the mix. As are the Western Bulldogs at No.21 and Greater Western Sydney. West Coast could also have a look with its two second-rounders. 

DAD'S ADVICE Famous father's inside knowledge has draft bolter vying for top 20

02:25

177cm/73kg
9/11/04
Gippsland Power/Vic Country
Small forward
October ranking: 21

Konstanty likes the niggle in the game and prides himself on his tackling and defensive efforts. When he's doing that, the former junior soccer gun gets most involved in an attacking way, too, by hustling opponents and getting on the end of some attacking forays. He has good speed and averaged 15 disposals, six tackles and more than a goal a game at NAB League level this year for Gippsland. 

Where does he go? Has been long linked to the Giants as a small forward option who can give them forward pressure, while Sydney and Collingwood could look. If not, the Bulldogs, North Melbourne and Fremantle could be options in the second round. 

CONSTANT PRESSURE Tackling machine's COVID-inspired code switch

02:00

187cm/81kg
1/12/04
Tasmania Devils/Allies
Defender/midfielder
October ranking: 23

Cowan has a fair bit going for him. He's versatile and can play off half-back and through the midfield. He has a long raking kick that can break the lines and also tests well for a player his size (he ran the 20-metre sprint in three seconds flat and was top 10 in the running vertical jump) and his consistency this season with Tasmania saw him be a joint winner of the Morrish Medal in the NAB League after averaging 26 disposals and eight rebound 50s. 

Where does he go? Collingwood has been linked to Cowan within the first round, while North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs early in the second round shape as possible destinations as well. 

'WHAT'S THE MORRISH?' The Tasmanian quiet achiever with 'elite' numbers

01:32

202cm/97kg
22/1/04
West Adelaide/South Australia
Ruckman
October ranking: 28

The best ruckman in the draft impresses with his athleticism, ability to get around the ground and provide a presence in the air. This season he played for West Adelaide's under-18s, reserves and league teams as well as for South Australia in the under-18 carnival. Is of genuine ruckman size for the AFL and can also find the ball, as seen with his 29-disposal and two-goal game earlier in the year. Ran the 20-metre sprint in three seconds and the 2km time trial in 6:32 minutes, which is great going for a player his size. 

Where does he go? Has been linked to Sydney, Collingwood and Melbourne within the first round. As always with the best ruck prospects, it will take the right club to want the player and to fill that type. 

02:18

190cm/78kg
26/2/04
Norwood/South Australia
Defender
October ranking: 24

Michalanney isn't the type of player whose strengths will blow up on a highlights tape. Instead, he's the valuable prospect who can genuinely defend a range of forwards and who just gets his job done quietly. Last year he developed well at under-18 level and was among the leading intercept backmen in the SANFL competition, and this season he rose to get a call-up at senior level for Norwood. Is a consistent prospect who can be thrown a number of tasks. 

Where does he go? Adelaide has nominated Michalanney, the son of Norwood great Jim, under father-son rules and he will get to the Crows. It's likely a bid comes around the pick No.20-25 range. 

01:42

193cm/84kg
21/7/04
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro
Key defender/forward
October ranking: 25

A knee injury in the middle part of the year disrupted some of the momentum Gruzewski was building to then, but he returned for the end of the NAB League season and also played for Vic Metro against Vic Country in the carnival decider, where he took a big hanger. The Oakleigh Charger can play as a defender and forward where his major asset is his overhead marking. 

Where does he go? He could be in the mix for one of the Giants' late teens selections, but otherwise may be a chance deeper into the second round, with St Kilda, Hawthorn and Melbourne shaping as possibilities.

195cm/82kg
20/7/04
Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country
Midfielder
October ranking: 26

Hustwaite began the year being viewed as a defensive option but moved into the midfield, where his height was of great use around the ball. He had a growth spurt in the past two years that has meant he's still working out how to use his bigger frame but he's a nice user of the ball and found plenty of it this year – he averaged 21 disposals for Vic Country and 23 disposals for the Dandenong Stingrays as well as five clearances a game.  

Where does he go? Another player who could be in the mix for the Giants' suite of selections in the latter part of the first round. If not there, the Western Bulldogs are another possible suitor. 

01:28

183cm/80kg
9/9/04
Gippsland Power/Vic Country
Midfielder/forward
October ranking: 27

Burgiel has genuine pace – that was on show at the Draft Combine when he registered a time of 2.88 seconds and placed third overall. Earlier in the season he went even quicker with a time of 2.85 seconds in the NAB League testing day. It was on show during his season with Gippsland and Vic Country, where he averaged nearly 22 disposals and also kicked 12 goals from nine games. Can play in a number of spots, including on the flanks and wing. 

Where does he go? With two picks in the 20s, the Eagles look a chance for Burgiel. Hawthorn, too, could be in the mix with its pick No.24. Looks a likely top-40 selection. 

01:46

189cm/79kg
29/4/04
Glenelg/South Australia
Defender
October ranking: -

An athletic defender who can kick the ball well and play in multiple positions. Ryan has spent time on the wing as well as across half-back and in the midfield, where he is a penetrating player with the ability to mark overhead and find the ball. The South Australian's size gives him a point of difference as a taller running back. At the Draft Combine he finished sixth overall in the 2km time trial with a time of 6:16 minutes. 

Where does he go? Could be in the mix with the Magpies' three picks inside the top 30, while the Western Bulldogs, Hawthorn and West Coast could also look in the second round. 

01:48

182cm/81kg
12/8/04
GWS Academy/Calder Cannons
Midfielder
October ranking: 29

A competitive midfielder who enjoyed a consistent season at all levels. The ball-getter was the Allies' most valuable player at the championships, where he averaged 23 disposals and five clearances, and he was also strong for the Giants' Academy and for the Calder Cannons, who he played for while boarding in Victoria, in the NAB League. Rowston can find his own disposals and feed the ball out and is also able to get on the end of them and kick a goal. 

Where does he go? Set to get to the Giants as an Academy player but they'll be interested where the bid comes. It is most likely to fall after GWS' pick No.19, possibly from Collingwood, Essendon or Hawthorn in the 20s.

01:57

Don't miss AFL.com.au's huge line-up of draft coverage. NAB AFL Draft Night Countdown is back from Thursday, November 24 with four massive shows in the lead-up to the main event, featuring interviews with draft prospects, coaches, recruiters, list managers and player agents.

Then on November 28-29, catch AFL.com.au's comprehensive coverage of the draft with NAB AFL Draft Night Live with all the picks, expert analysis and highlights.