Essendon endured the most tumultuous season in VFL/AFL history, which was clouded by the season-long AFL-ASADA investigation into the club's supplement use from 2011-12. The Bombers started the season in terrific form and used the situation to galvanise them on the field, but as a conclusion to the saga drew closer, they fell away again at the back end of the season. But Essendon did win the most games in a single year since 2004, and showed signs it was developing from a good to very good side. Being kicked out of the finals by the AFL ended a horrible year.
Jake Carlisle and Michael Hibberd had excellent seasons in the back half and seemed set to hold down the club's defence for many seasons. As Essendon started the year in terrific form, the pair was crucial. Hibberd's aerial exploits and precision kicking combined with Carlisle's ability to hold down the big power forwards meant the Bombers had some real stability in the backline.
It was a disappointing season for Leroy Jetta. The small forward, into his seventh year at the Bombers, struggled whenever he was in the side and was never able to cement his spot. The Bombers had hopes to move Jetta into the midfield and perhaps across half-back but whenever he came into the side he was used in the forward line, and didn't fire.
Jackson Merrett only played one game in his debut season of 2012, but did some really good things in his second year. He added pace, skill and poise to Essendon’s forward line and made the position his own. Merrett also superseded the club's other small forwards – Jetta and Alwyn Davey – to be the best of the lot alongside the tenacious Nick Kommer.
It was a big year for Scott Gumbleton, who backed himself in last year to win a place at Essendon when other clubs were circling. But Gumbleton only managed seven games and 12 goals, and spent the majority of the season in the VFL. His future at the club remains unclear with a number of tall targets ahead of him in the pecking order.
Best rookie/first year player Nick Kommer
Best win: Carlton, round 11, MCG
Being disqualified from the finals, fined $2 million, stripped of draft picks and coach James Hird suspended was the lowest point. The resolution to the AFL investigation came before the AFL finals, and left the Bombers in a position to attack 2014 without the investigation hanging over their heads.
What needs to improve
On the field, the role of the key forwards needs to be better organised. For two years the Bombers have had a group of tall forwards who are talented and which most clubs are envious. But they have not maintained any fluency or continuity and questions remain about the best mix. Is Michael Hurley a better defender? Should Carlisle forever be switched forward when required? How do you fit in Tom Bellchambers, Stewart Crameri, Joe Daniher and Paddy Ryder?
David Hille (retired), Nathan Lovett-Murray (retired), Luke Davis(delisted) and Hal Hunter (delisted)
What they need
The Bombers recruited Brendon Goddard through free agency last year but still need another quality midfielder to compete with the best sides. Out-of-contract Greater Western Sydney midfielder Taylor Adams would fit the bill, but the Bombers could find it hard to get the deal done having lost their first two picks at the NAB AFL Draft. The Dons will also need to recruit another ruckman after David Hille retired, and could look to a mature-aged player to fill this role.