2016 AFL Squad Analysis: Elite Talent vs Depth

Elite talent or terrific depth - what is the secret for premiership success? The answer of course is both - but for the first time since TipBetPro commenced back in 2012, there does not appear to be a stand out side that boasts both supreme elite talent and terrific depth.

Unsurprisingly, Hawthorn remains dominant in terms of elite talent with the highest ranked Top 10 players in the AFL (although if we reduced it to Top 5 the recruitment of Patrick Dangerfield would push Geelong to the top) and a strong remaining starting 22 such that they remain a clear number 1 when it comes to best 22. However, the loss of three Hawk premiership players plus talented youngster Jed Anderson has stretched their depth such that their strongest back-ups (players rated 23-30 on their list) are ranked by TipBetPro 17th in the AFL, ahead of only Sydney. So the Hawks best still looks like it has the competition covered if TipBetPro rankings are to be believed - but more so than recent years, the Hawks are vulnerable to injury and suspension in 2016.

In 2015 we predicted that Sydney would be the big slider due to a lack of depth and although they didn't slide as far as we expected, the Swans certainly struggled late in the season when injuries took hold. In 2016 we expect the trend to continue for Sydney. The Swans elite talent is as good as any in the competition - with their top 10 players only ranked narrowly behind the Hawks. However, the Swans fall away rapidly towards the back end of their starting 22 and without significant improvement in 2016, TipBetPro sees too many weaknesses in the Swans list to be a premiership threat.

Geelong and North Melbourne round out the best of the elite talent. Geelong have similar issues to the Hawks and Swans in that their superior elite talent is traded off against a lack of depth. North Melbourne doesn't have the same issues with depth but the Roos older list means that they are expected to decline (or at least not improve like other teams) over the course of 2016. The Kangaroos start 2016 rated by TipBetPro as the 4th best squad in the AFL, however by season end we project the Roos declining player list will see them slide to the lower rungs of the top 8.

At the other end of the spectrum is West Coast who clearly have the best squad depth in the AFL with the highest ranked 15-22 squad members and 2nd only to Collingwood in the 23rd to 30th ranked players on 2016 lists. However, as was so brutally exposed in the 2015 Grand Final, the Eagles elite talent doesn't stack up well when compared to Hawthorn (think of the Grand Final performances of the Eagles top 3 ranked players - Matt Priddis, Nic Naitanui and Josh Kennedy) and one suspects the Eagles need their stars to turn into superstars if they are to claim the 2016 flag.

They don't have the best elite talent nor the best squad depth but perhaps the best side in terms of balance belongs to Port Adelaide. The Power boast the 5th best elite talent and the 3rd best squad depth giving them a nice balance of star power and quality foot soldiers which are so often key ingredients for premiership success.


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