The AFL Draft picture is a great deal clearer upon the conclusion of the U18 National Championships, with a breakaway group of 12 prospects -- headlined by Tongala's Harley Reid -- staking their claims. The talent pool evens out thereon, with recruiter evaluations divided on a host of prospects.
This is ESPN's AFL Draft Power Rankings for August, with National Championship numbers provided to show off some of the best performances on the biggest junior stage.
1. Harley Reid (previous 1)
Bendigo Pioneers/Vic Country
MID, 185cm, 82kg
National Champs: 4 games, 19.5 disposals, 1.3 goals, 112 ranking points
Reid remains the premier prospect in 2023, as he was anointed 12 months ago. He's combative and dynamic, fending off at every opportunity and bursting goalward with incredible power. Reid claimed Vic Country's MVP after a champs where he kicked opportunistic goals playing out of goal square and averaged 12.5 contested possessions in his midfield stints. The ready-made onballer had one final appearance for the Tongala Blues and enjoyed 30 disposals and three goals. He's set to forgo VFL opportunities to fight for a finals berth with the Bendigo Pioneers in the Talent League for the remainder of his top-age campaign.
Plays like: Dustin Martin
2. Jed Walter (2)
FWD, 197cm, 91kg
National Champs: 4 games, 13.0 disposals, 2.8 goals, 104 ranking points
Walter consolidates his spot just behind Reid, with the standout key forward set to join Ben King in the Suns' forward line next year. Walter's straight-line speed is rare for his size; he uses it to create separation on searching leads but also to provide remarkable pressure. His highlight reel features pack-splitting contested marks, booming goals from outside 50 and chase down tackles across the ground.
Plays like: Tom Hawkins
3. Colby McKercher (5)
MID, 181cm, 73kg
National Champs: 4 games, 32.8 disposals, 9.3 contested, 150 ranking points
The leading pure midfielder is speedy Tasmanian Colby McKercher who week in, week out has produced uber-consistent performances. He links play together with crafty ball use and can explode away from stoppage with great acceleration. McKercher's two third-quarter goals for the Allies against Vic Country helped them claim the national championships, and he backed it up with 41 touches and two goals for the Devils the following weekend.
Plays like: Zach Merrett
4. Dan Curtin (4)
Claremont, Western Australia
DEF, 195cm, 93kg
National Champs: 4 games, 23.5 disposals, 6.5 marks, 137 ranking points
Curtin has suitors even higher than four, such is his aerial dominance and eye-catching stints in the engine room. He's the premier intercepting defender of the class, reading the ball beautifully and then kickstarting transition with a powerful left foot. He used his big frame to collect contested ball for WA (nine contested possessions per game) and nearly delivered a famous win against Vic Country off his own boot when he was swung forward late in the piece.
Plays like: James Sicily
5. Nate Caddy (3)
Northern Knights/Vic Metro
FWD/MID, 192cm, 91kg
National Champs: 4 games, 11.7 disposals, 2.0 goals, 78 ranking points
Caddy clunks pack marks, hits the scoreboard in a variety of ways and has shown off an appetite for the ground level contest as well. It's a brilliant package for a 192-centimetre key forward, being able to hit the ball full-chested and butter up when the ball hits the deck. Caddy isn't the finished product with his set shot routine an aspect that needs more consistency, but he's a supreme athlete with real star-factor.
Plays like: Charlie Curnow
6. Nick Watson (7)
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro
FWD, 170cm, 66kg
National Champs: 4 games, 12.3 disposals, 3.5 goals, 97 ranking points
Watson is a pure footballer with his goal nous the best in the draft. He plays a high-octane style of frenetic pressure and speed, taking the game on at all costs and hitting the scoreboard with regularity. He plays above his size and can kick goals in a variety of ways. Despite kicking three majors on the weekend, Watson couldn't get Caulfield over the line against Haileybury in the APS decider.
Plays like: Toby Greene
7. Zane Duursma (6)
Gippsland Power/Vic Country
FWD/MID, 189cm, 79kg
National Champs: 4 games, 15.3 disposals, 1.8 goals, 115 ranking points
A smooth-moving forward-half midfielder that can slice defences apart with his speed and dare, Duursma brings excitement to games with his dynamism. He can fly through packs and come out the other side with ball in hand, and his skills at full speed are sublime. Duursma hasn't proved his full-time midfield capabilities this year, but he's in his element as a forward 50 target. He kicked four goals against Vic Metro in a match-winning performance to solidify his standing in the top 10.
Plays like: Connor Rozee
8. Ryley Sanders (9)
MID, 186cm, 85kg
National Champs: 4 games, 35.8 disposals, 14.5 contested, 170 ranking points
Sanders ended the national champs as the Larke medallist, averaging the second-most ranking points since 2002, when Champion Data began recording the statistic (Caleb Daniel's 172 average in 2014 holds top spot). Sanders is this socks up, old-school operator that continuously gets the job done despite the attention opponents throw at him.
Plays like: Tim Taranto
Ryley Sanders averaged 170 ranking points in the National Champs, the second-highest Div 1 average since Champion Data began recording the stat in 2002.— Jasper Chellappah (@Jasperc53) July 27, 2023
It would be a huge coup if North gained priority access to the Larke Medallist & AA captain#AFLDraft @ESPNAusNZ
9. Ethan Read (8)
RUC, 202cm, 87kg
National Champs: 4 games, 21.5 disposals, 7.5 marks, 119 ranking points
Read can do things other ruckmen only dream of at ground level, acting as another midfielder with his clean hands and ball use. He flicks no-look handballs in congestion, is quick from hand to boot and can link play together with his athleticism. He could play in the ruck, off a wing or as an intercepting defender in his career, but his ability in the contest lends himself to potentially becoming a six-foot-seven midfielder.
Plays like: Luke Jackson
10. Connor O'Sullivan (12)
Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country
DEF/FWD, 198cm, 92kg
National Champs: 4 games, 17.8 disposals, 8.3 marks, 99 ranking points
O'Sullivan is a resolute key defender with some brilliant AFL traits that recruiters love. He racks up intercept marks and spoils, can close the distance quickly on leads and is reliable with ball in hand under pressure in defensive 50. With stars littered across the Allies side, O'Sullivan was named their MVP, showing the high regard he was held in by Mark McVeigh's coaching staff.
Plays like: Tom Barrass
11. Jake Rogers (10)
MID, 171cm, 68kg
National Champs: 4 games, 22.5 disposals, 8.5 contested, 108 ranking points
A livewire midfielder that hardly ever fumbles, Rogers rounds out a Gold Coast academy haul that could see three prospects taken within the first 10 picks. At his diminutive stature, he brings burst from contest and a defensive mindset to put in three, four, and five efforts each play. Rogers is a wonderful kick inside 50 and plays an unselfish game in the engine room.
Plays like: Touk Miller
12. Darcy Wilson (13)
Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country
MID, 185cm, 73kg
National Champs: 4 games, 16.0 disposals, 1.0 goals, 79 ranking points
Wilson is an outside accumulator that feasts on loose balls and executes well in space. He's also an elite aerobic athlete and has the speed to make up ground and pressure opponents, leading to a highlights package of chase down tackles. He played as a third tall in a Vic Country forward line that lacked height, but his aerobic capacity and competitiveness is well-suited to the wing.
Plays like: Max Holmes
13. Ollie Murphy (new entry)
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro
DEF, 200cm, 85kg
National Champs: 4 games, 11.3 disposals, 5.3 intercepts, 74 ranking points
Murphy's competitiveness and reading of the ball has been a revelation after spending time forward and on a wing in previous seasons. The East Brighton Vampire is composed and has neat skills to go with defensive intent, and he joins a long list of elite footballers to claim Vic Metro MVP honours. A good showing at the draft combine could see Murphy rocket into top-10 calculations.
Plays like: Sam Taylor
14. George Stevens (16)
GWV Rebels/Vic Country
MID/DEF, 189cm, 84kg
National Champs: 4 games, 19.3 disposals, 9.0 contested, 115 ranking points
There's conjecture on Stevens' standing this year, but his performances cannot be questioned. He has great size and is a developed body in the engine room, using his frame to advantage in the contest and feeding outside runners with quick hands. Stevens captained the Academy off a serious knee injury - and is praised for his leadership and professionalism. His draft range remains as wide as any prospect because he doesn't offer the athletic upside of others, but if the Rebel continues his red-hot form (36 disposals, 12 clearances and a goal on the weekend) he will cement his first-round credentials.
Plays like: Luke Parker
15. Arie Schoenmaker (new entry)
DEF/MID, 194cm, 89kg
National Champs: 2 games, 16.0 disposals, 1.0 goals, 77 ranking points
Schoenmaker has had an up-and-down campaign, copping a hefty suspension due to an off-field indiscretion but then making a name for himself with excellent performances for the Allies. He plays as a defender for the Devils where he intercepts and kickstarts transition, but a move to the wing under Mark McVeigh allowed his penetrating left foot to come to the fore. He is possibly the best kick in the draft, comfortably driving the ball 60 metres but also picking out leading forwards with precision when he lowers his eyes. Schoenmaker suits the modern game to a tee, but needs his professionalism to catch up to his talent.
Plays like: Jordan Dawson
16. Caiden Cleary (15)
MID, 180cm, 78kg
National Champs: 4 games, 29.3 disposals, 6.8 tackles, 129 ranking points
Cleary is an in-and-under midfielder with an appetite to get to as many contests as possible. He pressures at the coalface and it's reflected in his best-in-class tackling numbers, and consistently gets the ball to outside runners. Cleary is part of the Swans Academy who have first dibs on him.
Plays like: James Rowbottom
17. Jordan Croft (19)
Calder Cannons/Vic Metro
FWD, 200cm, 80kg
National Champs: 4 games, 9.3 disposals, 1.3 goals, 68 ranking points
Croft has real athletic tools at a key position height - he can jump over packs and possesses speed at ground level to burn his defender. Vic Metro struggled to move the ball quickly and Croft suffered as a result, but he still had patches of dominance including three goals against SA.
Plays like: Joe Daniher
18. Mitch Edwards (11)
Peel Thunder/Western Australia
RUCK, 207cm, 90kg
National Champs: 4 games, 10 disposals, 3.7 tackles, 94 ranking points
Edwards does a lot of things really well for a developing ruckman - he has strong hands in the air, the best ruck craft in the pool and is a quick decision-maker with ball in hand. That -- coupled with his blonde hair -- draws the Tim English comparisons, but he still needs to build his aerobic capacity and demonstrate forward craft to generate early first-round hype.
Plays like: Tim English
19. Will McCabe (14)
Central District/South Australia
DEF/FWD, 197cm, 81kg
National Champs: 3 games, 11.3 disposals, 4.3 intercepts, 95 ranking points
It wasn't a successful champs for South Australia, but McCabe did his first-round chances no harm with a solid carnival down back. His incredible athleticism was on display with a number of eye-catching intercept marks, and he has the propensity to kickstart transition with a bounding gait. The Hawks -- who are crying out for key position talent -- have first dibs on McCabe after his father Luke played 138 games in the brown and gold.
Plays like: Harry Himmelberg
20. Riley Hardeman (new entry)
Swan Districts/Western Australia
DEF, 188cm, 80kg
National Champs: 4 games, 18.5 disposals, 5.8 marks, 90 ranking points
Hardeman has a bunch of AFL-calibre traits with his courage as an intercepting defender and reliable ball use. He positions himself well and has strong hands in the air, plus uses his penetrating left foot to effect out of defence. Hardeman was a standout for WA through the championships, averaging 4.5 intercepts per outing.
Plays like: Nick Vlastuin