The views in this article are those of the author and not the Essendon Football Club. The Bombers will take picks Nos. 11, 51, 56, 83, 88 and 91 into next week's NAB AFL Draft, which will be held on Wednesday night (first round) and Thursday night (remaining rounds).

It HAS been another challenging season to rank the NAB AFL Draft pool, with a second year hit by COVID-19 disruptions and cancelled fixtures.

In a lot of cases the best players haven't played against the best, meaning assessing players against each other has been made difficult for recruiters as they edge towards next week's draft. 

But here is the final Phantom Form Guide of 2021 as we rank the best 35 players in the draft pool and where they might land when names are called next Wednesday and Thursday. 

Remember, this is not a mock draft and not does take into account where bids on father-son or Academy players could come – our Phantom Draft will drop next week ahead of the draft and be based on where players could be getting drafted. 

This is a pure ranking of the best 35 players in the draft, which is likely to account for more than half of the draft pool with around 60 selections expected.

35. Angus Sheldrick

Midfielder
179cm/86kg
Claremont/Western Australia
7/11/03

Sheldrick became a late-season bolter up the draft boards after amassing plenty of the ball in the WAFL colts competition. He averaged 26 disposals for the season with Claremont, with Sheldrick's attack on the ball and contest a key feature of his game. An inside midfielder ball-magnet who just keeps finding the ball through a dogged work ethic and ferocity when it's up for grabs.

Where does he go? Sheldrick's fan club has grown as the season has worn on. Geelong has been linked to him as a possibility in the 30s, while other clubs will consider in the second round. 

34. Jake Soligo

Midfielder
179cm/80kg
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro
25/1/03

Soligo has been on the radar for a number of years as he progressed through the under-16s program to be a busy midfielder for the Ranges this season. He averaged 23 disposals this year, including lifting that to 27 touches across his last three games of the campaign in the NAB League. Although smaller, Soligo works hard and is adept at accumulating the ball and feeding it out. He played in Richmond's VFL side as well this year.

Where does he go? Will the Tigers take a look at Soligo after their brief watch of him in the yellow and black this season? Greater Western Sydney has also been linked to the midfielder. 

33. Judson Clarke

Forward
180cm/70kg
Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country
17/10/01

A crafty half-forward who can push into the midfield, Clarke went bang mid-season with a five-goal haul playing for Vic Country against Vic Metro that showed his class around goal and finishing skills. He also had a strong game for the Stingrays against the Ranges in the NAB League which highlighted his qualities up the ground when he had 27 disposals and 1.2. A left-footer with sharp skills.

Where does he go? The Blues have been linked as a possible landing spot if they're to add to their small forward ranks, with clubs in the second round expected to consider Clarke.

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32. Rhett Bazzo   

Key defender/forward
195cm/81kg
Swan Districts/Western Australia
17/10/03

Bazzo's marking capacity makes him a key position prospect who will be considered by clubs. He started his season mainly in the forward line, including a period where he booted eight goals over three colts games, before he really hit his straps as a key defender, including a standout game for Western Australia against South Australia in the under-19 championships. He finished his campaign with a premiership for Swan Districts' colts side in the WAFL. 

Where does he go? Looks a likely pick between 25-40 on the second night of the draft. 

31. Mitch Knevitt

Midfielder
193cm/81kg
Geelong Falcons/Vic Country
8/1/03

Knevitt's height and explosiveness makes him a talent that has very obvious translatable qualities for the top level. For a midfielder Knevitt used his bigger frame well this season in the NAB League, including his final game of the season for the Falcons where he picked up 36 disposals, 10 marks, eight inside-50s and a goal in a best-afield display. He averaged 24 disposals for the season and will appeal to clubs searching for an inside prospect. 

Where does he go? With the Cats currently holding three picks in the 30s, Knevitt may well be a local option for them to consider.

30. Connor MacDonald

Midfielder
184cm/77kg
Dandeong Stingrays/Vic Country
13/1/03

A reliable midfield option for clubs to look at, MacDonald made the most of a disrupted season. He averaged 30 disposals in the NAB League for the Stingrays in four games, including a 37-disposal effort against the Eastern Ranges in round 11 and 24 possessions and 2.3 against Gippsland. He has some power when the ball is up for grabs and fights his way to get his hands on it.

Where does he go? Carlton interviewed MacDonald again recently and he will be in their mix for pick 25. Other clubs in the 30s will also consider MacDonald should he get through. 

29. Mitchito Owens

Midfielder
190cm/85kg
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro
24/9/03

Owens' traits as a hard-running, tall midfielder were on show early in the season with the Dragons, including a standout game against Dandenong, but it was his performance for Vic Metro mid-year against Vic Country that really boosted his stocks. The left-footer was a late call-up but had 29 disposals and seven marks and pushed himself into top-25 considerations. The St Kilda Next Generation Academy player averaged 23 disposals in his final three games for the Dragons and is a proven ball-getter at under-18 level due to his running prowess. 

Where does he go? There has been interest in Owens inside the top 20, which would mean the Saints couldn’t match a bid in the protected NGA zone. The Giants have been the club most linked, but most believe it is more likely he gets through the top 20.  

28. Marcus Windhager

Midfielder
183cm/82kg
16/5/03
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro

Windhager's power is his leading attribute and he uses it well. He can bust out of a stoppage or through a tackle and is also capable of playing in attacking or defensive roles across the field. A recent back injury while training in the off-season means he could go back a few spots on the draft board, but the St Kilda Next Generation Academy player has some good AFL qualities. 

Where does he go? A bid for Windhager inside the top-20 is not expected, meaning whenever it comes the Saints will be able to match having stocked up on more draft points in a deal with Collingwood last week. 

27. Josh Fahey

Defender
186cm/76kg
GWS Academy
11/11/03

A half-back with take-me-on tendencies and a booming left-foot kick. Fahey was named the NAB AFL Academy's best player in its VFL clash against Geelong earlier this year when he gathered 23 disposals. He breaks the lines with his kicking and has a strong attack on the ball. He also showed those traits playing for the Giants' VFL side, with the Giants having first call on him as an Academy player. His running power was on show with his 2km time trial (which was submitted via running app Strava due to the Combine being cancelled) seeing him with the second-best time (5:59 minutes). 

Where does he go? The Giants are expected to match a bid for Fahey when it comes. Richmond has been linked as possible bidders but it might not come until late in the 20s.

26. Zac Taylor

Midfielder
180cm/74kg
31/1/03
Calder Cannons/Vic Metro

When Taylor has the ball in his hands he makes something good of it. The Calder Cannons prospect has proven himself to be one of the better users of the ball in the draft, with his precision kicking a standout. He averaged 26 disposals in the NAB League this year, including a standout 37-disposal and 11-clearance game. 

Where does he go? Carlton could take a look at Taylor with pick 25, while Sydney has also been linked around that mark. He could also be there a little deeper into the second round.  

25. Toby Conway

Ruckman
205cm/97kg
24/4/03
Geelong Falcons/Vic Country

The leading pure ruckman in the draft had a strong season playing for the Geelong Falcons, Vic Country and his school side Geelong College. Conway is a hard-working big man who moves around the ground, creates an option in attack and also pushes into defence to get in front of opposition forwards. He plays with good nous and can also collect the footy. Conway is a cousin of Sydney's Tom McCartin and former Saint Paddy. 

Where does he go? The local lad will be of interest to the Cats, who lost a ruckman during the trade period and could view this as the chance to grab a quality long-term option at a young age. Would Richmond or West Coast consider with picks in the late 20s or could he get through to the Cats' 30s selections?

24. Blake Howes

Forward/midfielder
190cm/79kg
7/4/03
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro

Howes carries an athleticism that makes him an impressive talent and will give him appeal to clubs. He's versatile – he can play half-back, half-forward or on the wing – and his running is top-end, having completed the 2km time trial in 6:08 minutes. He started the season playing as a third tall forward, where he hit the scoreboard on occasions, and his flexibility and growth will be of interest to scouts.

Where does he go? Could be one of the late risers into top-20 calculations. Brisbane and Melbourne have been linked, as have the Hawks with their early second-round selections. 

23. Tom Brown

Defender
186cm/74kg
30/7/03
Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country

Brown had his challenges this year, including a syndesmosis ankle injury that ruled him out for nearly three months, but he was able to show his stuff as a smart, poised and talented half-back. There's still so much growth left in him, too, with Brown athletic, tough and composed out of defence with a healthy dose of dash. The son of former Cat Paul Brown finished second in the Vic Country 20-metre sprint test with a time of 2.983 seconds and best in the standing vertical jump (72cm). 

Where does he go? Although the Cats don't have priority access to Brown as a father-son, he is likely to be in their mix with pick 22 when their run of second-round picks starts if he's still on the board. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Hawthorn could also be a chance. 

22. Jesse Motlop

Forward
177cm/77kg
23/11/03
South Fremantle/Western Australia

The small forward had good experience at senior level this year with South Fremantle, including playing in its WAFL Grand Final loss. He booted nine goals from eight league games and showed his spark as a creative finisher. Motlop is a bubbly, bright personality who is a member of Fremantle's Next Generation Academy, but the Dockers will only get priority access on him after pick 40 under the metropolitan NGA rules. Motlop is the son of former Kangaroo and Power forward Daniel.

Where does he go? The Giants have spent time on him and Motlop could be an option for them at No.15 if they don't go with Josh Rachele at pick No.2. Fremantle could look at No.19 to remove any doubt and North Melbourne has been linked at No.20 as the Roos look for a small forward, but there is also a chance he gets through the next batch of picks and is available in the 30s.

21. Campbell Chesser

Midfielder/defender
186cm/83kg
27/4/03
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Country

An attacking prospect who had a frustrating season hit by a nagging knee injury. Chesser, who comes from an athletics background, plays in a positive mindset trying to take the game on from half-back or through the middle and has some penetration with his kicking. 

Where does he go? Chesser could be a shot late in the first round, with Melbourne, Brisbane and Richmond all linked. Otherwise, he shapes as an early second-round option.   

20. Jacob van Rooyen

Forward/defender
193cm/91kg
16/4/03
Claremont/Western Australia

van Rooyen is perhaps the leading swingman of the draft – he has shown genuinely good traits at both ends of the ground in different periods of the season. The Claremont youngster got going in the second half of the season with some time as a key defender, before again switching forward at colts level and booting 24 goals in the final six games of the season, and then booted the match-winning goal for Western Australia against South Australia at Optus Stadium. 

Where does he go? Looks likely to fit into the draft from somewhere late in the first round and early in the second. 

19. Sam Butler

Midfielder/forward
184cm/76kg
10/2/03
Greater Western Victoria Rebels/Vic Country

Butler impacts games. The half-forward/midfielder had some very strong ones for the Rebels earlier in the year, showing his poise around the ball and smarts when he had it in his hands. He works hard, has a turn of speed (he ran 2.97 seconds in the 20-metre sprint at the Draft Combine) and is an impressive character as well. His vision is good when in possession and he creates with the ball. Butler's older brother is St Kilda forward Dan.

Where does he go? Shapes as a late teens or early second round selection. Melbourne and Brisbane could look, as would Carlton at pick 25 should the Blues hold that pick. 

18. Josh Goater

Midfielder
190cm/79kg
2/6/03
Calder Cannons/Vic Metro

An athletically very gifted talent, Goater is seen by different clubs as different things. Some like him as a tall midfield option or wingman, others view him as a rebounding half-back, where his jump, speed and run can be an asset. He was consistent for the Cannons throughout the NAB League season and had a good game for Vic Metro mid-year winning 23 disposals and eight clearances for Vic Metro against Vic Country.

Where does he go? Essendon and St Kilda have been linked to Goater with their first choices, while Greater Western Sydney, Port Adelaide and Sydney are other possibilities within the opening round if things fall a certain way. 

17. Darcy Wilmot

Defender
183cm/75kg
31/12/03
Northern Knights/Vic Metro

An attacking, hard-running half-back with a physical edge. Wilmot enjoys tucking the ball under his arm and going for it, and he's capable of chopping into oncoming traffic and grabbing an intercept ball. He can play on a range of options and has a competitive streak that gives him some flair. The son of former Collingwood player Grant. 

Where does he go? Brisbane, Port Adelaide, Melbourne and Richmond have all been linked to Wilmot within the first round. The Lions, with two first-round choices, appear well placed if they want him. 

16. Tyler Sonsie

Midfielder
181cm/77kg
27/1/03
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro

Sonsie is capable of some rare things; a spin out of a pack, a mark in attack, a shimmy out of a stoppage. The midfielder/forward had his season halted by bone bruising in his knee mid-year that saw him sit out Vic Metro's trial and championships game. Sonsie, whose under-16s form put him on the map ahead of this season, is an intriguing player in this year's pool as clubs weigh his talent. 

Where does he go? A hard question to answer. Richmond and Hawthorn, where he played for its VFL side this year, loom as possible landing spots with late first and early second-round selections. 

15. Arlo Draper

Midfielder/forward
186cm/75kg
20/1/03
South Adelaide/South Australia

After injuring his AC joint at the end of his season and requiring surgery, Draper is back to moving around without a sling and on track for a relatively unhindered start to his first AFL pre-season. The South Adelaide talent is a versatile player – he was used in the midfield and across half-forward mainly this year as well as a stint in defence for South Australia – and he makes good decisions with the ball in his hands. Capable of some spark.

Where does he go? Appears more likely to feature in the second round than the first. 

14. Matthew Johnson

Midfielder
192cm/81kg
16/3/03
Subiaco/Western Australia

Johnson capped a particularly impressive second half of the season by being named best afield in the Grand Final day curtain-raiser at Optus Stadium for Western Australia. The tall and mobile midfielder backed it up with a strong Draft Combine, finishing third overall in the agility run (8.061 seconds) and top-10 for the vertical and running jump tests. It's an athletic frame that he puts to use in games, with Johnson having plenty of upside as a prospect. 

Where does he go? Hawthorn has put work into Johnson, while he has also been linked with the Dockers if they're to turn local. St Kilda and Essendon are among the other clubs who could consider. 

13. Josh Sinn

Half-back/midfielder
186cm/73kg
7/1/03
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro

Sinn slingshots out of the backline to break the lines with his speed and long left-foot kicking. This year was a frustrating one for him with hamstring and ankle injuries limiting him to only a handful of games, meaning he has barely played since under-16s level. But there's no denying his capacity to break off half-back and be a damaging player, with Sinn touted as a potential top-three pick at the start of the season.

Where does he go? Adelaide is considering Sinn for their pick, while St Kilda and Port Adelaide have also been linked with their first-round choices. 

12. Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera

Midfielder
187cm/71kg
22/2/03
Glenelg/South Australia

Wanganeen-Milera's wow factor came to the fore late in the year as he really started to zoom up draft boards. The silky-skilled wingman is perhaps the best kick in the draft pool and he featured in Glenelg's reserves premiership at the end of the season. Wanganeen-Milera can be used off half-back and half-forward and is a good size for the modern game. A quiet but resolute character, he is the nephew of former Essendon and Port Adelaide great Gavin.

Where does he go? He could well follow his uncle at the Bombers or Power, with both clubs in the mix for him. But he could also be gone by then, with St Kilda and West Coast also likely to consider.  

11. Jye Amiss

Key forward
196cm/83kg
31/7/03
East Perth/Western Australia

Amiss was prolific in the WAFL colts competition for East Perth, booting 51.15 this season, including 38.12 from set shots. His accuracy is a hallmark of his game – he converts his chances and makes plenty of them inside the forward-50 – having studied the set shot routine of West Coast champion Josh Kennedy. Amiss ended his season with a knee injury on Grand Final day in the under-19s curtain-raiser at Optus Stadium but he pieced together an impressive campaign.

Where does he go? Fremantle has long been linked with one of its top-10 picks, the same for West Coast at pick No.10. Richmond could have a look too, as may Essendon at pick 11 having done their work on him. The Giants, too, could be a chance if he is still available at their second choice.   

10. Neil Erasmus

Midfielder/forward
190cm/82kg
2/12/03
Subiaco/Western Australia

A hard-working effort-driven midfielder who powers his way across the ground, is adept at the stoppages and also strong overhead in marking battles. Although not an inside bull yet, Erasmus' size and strength as a midfielder makes him an appealing talent and he was able to dominate WAFL colts games for Subiaco earlier this year before a leg injury saw him miss the back-end of the season. Erasmus played as a half-forward last year, starring in the Grand Final with four goals, and is a prospect who means business. 

Where does he go? Seems most likely to come into contention from West Coast's pick (No.10) onwards. Port Adelaide could have a look, as may Richmond at No.15, while Fremantle later in the top-20 would be a shot in the chance he got through. 

9. Mac Andrew

Ruckman
200cm/70kg
12/4/03
Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country

It's been a heck of a rise for the impressive Andrew, who hadn't been a part of any of Vic Country's programs before this season and now shapes as an early pick at the draft. The Egyptian-born South Sudanese talent is ultra athletic for his size, leaping and bounding over players in the ruck and taking marks in the air but then also being a threat when the ball is on the ground, and he appears likely to start his career in a key position at either end. His skills are good and competitiveness high, and he will work on building his strength as he settles into an AFL club. Melbourne's NGA loss is set to be another club's gain. 

Where does he go? Greater Western Sydney has put the most time into him and has considered strongly at No.2. But if it doesn't grab him, the Suns are well placed to swoop on 'Big Mac' at No.3. Hawthorn, Fremantle and Richmond are others in the top-10 who would look if Andrew gets through. 

8. Josh Gibcus   

Key defender
196cm/87kg
4/4/03
Greater Western Victoria Rebels/Vic Country

The best key defender in the draft group, Gibcus is the Jake Lever of this year's pool. Like the Melbourne premiership backman, Gibcus leaps for the ball, marks strongly overhead and is an intercept weapon in the back half. At the Vic Country testing day Gibcus won the running vertical jump test with a leap of 89cm, although it was set to be more but the equipment couldn't lift any higher. Gibcus is understated but a competitor on the field who grew up spending parts of his life in Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria so is comfortable with a potential move.

Where does he go? The Giants have looked at Gibcus for their first pick. Gold Coast would also consider if Finn Callaghan was gone, while Fremantle, Richmond and St Kilda are all in the mix too. 

7. Josh Rachele

Forward/midfielder
180cm/78kg
11/4/03
Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country

Rachele is the most entertaining player in the draft crop: a high-energy small forward who kicks goals from any situation, is good above his head for his size, has a penetrating right-foot kick and is in the thick of the action. Rachele will annoy opponents and do some brilliant things, but he has also shown he is good when the push comes to shove and he performed well in the midfield for Vic Country mid-year. His highlights tape is must-watch. 

Where does he go? Has been in the mix for the Giants at pick No.2 as well as Adelaide at No.4. Hawthorn and Fremantle also interested, and he met with Richmond recently again. 

6. Josh Ward

Midfielder
181cm/79kg
15/8/03
Northern Knights/Vic Metro

The hard-working midfielder put his stamp on proceedings at the mid-year under-19 championships game for Vic Metro when he had a dominant performance. Ward's running capacity – he completed the 2km time trial via Strava in 5:57 minutes – puts him in the upper echelon of midfielders and he just continues to find the ball, averaging 30 disposals in the NAB League this season. Is busy on the inside and damaging on the outside, and is known as a high-achieving, studious teenager. 

Where does he go? Ward is a Hawthorn fan and the Hawks have long been linked as fans of his with their first pick. Could Adelaide jump in first and take him off the board? Richmond and St Kilda also among the clubs with top-10 picks who would likely swoop on Ward.

5. Ben Hobbs

Midfielder
183cm/80kg
16/9/03
Greater Western Victoria Rebels/Vic Country

As tough and steady as any midfielder in the top group, Hobbs carries reliability as a prospect: clubs will know what they're looking at in the inside ball-winner and he should be able to do it for a long time. Hobbs averaged nearly 30 disposals in his five completed NAB League games after an ankle injury to start his season and is ready to play at the top level. Scouts recognise his leadership qualities and have seen him captain at junior level.

Where does he go? Gold Coast has interest, while Adelaide has also been linked as have the Tigers. Hard to see him getting outside of the top 10. 

4. Finn Callaghan

Midfielder
189cm/82kg
26/4/03
Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro

As silky as they come in this year's draft, Callaghan burst onto the scene with a strong start to the season to really push his case as an early draft pick. The left-footed wingman showed he could dominate games and penetrate with his kicking and movement before moving into a more midfield role before the season was cut short. He could also start his AFL career off half-back or half-forward, such is his versatility and running power. The son of former Commonwealth Games runner Brett is also a relative of Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge.

Where does he go? He's the leading contender for the Giants with pick No.2, with the club expected to hold its spot there. Gold Coast, Adelaide, Hawthorn and Richmond have all been keen to trade up to that pick with Callaghan in their sights if successful. If the Giants surprised and overlooked him, the Suns would swoop but it is hard to see. 

3. Sam Darcy

Forward/defender
204cm/75kg
19/7/03
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro

Darcy is the best tall prospect in the draft by virtue of his overhead marking, agility at ground level for a player his size and his versatility. The son of former Western Bulldogs ruckman Luke rocketed up draft boards early in the season with a string of exciting performances in attack, and then roared into top-three contention with a standout six-goal haul for Vic Metro against Vic Country mid-year. Can also play in the ruck and as a defender and will be given time to develop at the Dogs, where he will be a third-generation father-son selection following Luke and his grandfather David. Darcy has nursed a hot spot stress reaction in his foot over the past two months so will likely start his AFL career in modified training.

Where does he go? The Giants will consider a bid at No.2, but that comes with a quirk. His godfather is Giants coach Leon Cameron. It will be a boost for the Bulldogs if he gets through a couple more spots before they match a bid. 

2. Jason Horne-Francis

Midfielder
185cm/81kg
21/6/03
South Adelaide/South Australia

There's a fierce edge to Horne-Francis, which has been on show throughout the past two seasons in his form at senior level in the SANFL. His outstanding preliminary final, where he kicked 3.3 from 24 disposals in a losing side, iced his season and made him a clear choice for North Melbourne as the best player in the open draft. Horne-Francis' aggressive, robust approach as a half-forward and midfield, combined with his class in the air, make him a well-rounded prospect whose quiet exterior belies an inner determination.

Where does he go? Headed to Arden Street as the Roos' first No.1 pick. The club knocked back huge offers for the choice and are set to call his name. 

1. Nick Daicos

Midfielder
183cm/72kg
3/1/03
Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro

It has felt like a long time coming but Daicos is headed to Collingwood and the father-son prospect goes with plenty of hype. It has been an unnatural level of attention this year but it has come via performance: the midfielder was just about best afield in every game he played be it for Oakleigh Chargers, Vic Metro, the NAB AFL Academy or even Collingwood's VFL side. Daicos is a bright, confident personality but just as driven with big ambitions to be as successful as he can. 

Where does he go? The Pies are committed to matching a bid, but where will it come? North isn't expected to pull the trigger at No.1 and GWS is weighing it up at No.2, but it might be left to Gold Coast to bid on Daicos at No.3.

The views in this article are those of the author and not the Essendon Football Club.