Uncharted Territory – Round 17

Written by The Salamander on July 9 2021

In the first edition of this column, back in Round 2, one of the things I visualized was the way players’ output tends to change as they go from young and inexperienced footballers to experienced but slightly hobbled veterans.

As a reminder, I reasoned that most players get better as they approach their physical prime (generally 25 through 30 for rucks and KPPs, and 23 through 28 for everyone else), and then get worse as they move past that:

In addition to age affecting how good someone is at football, there is also experience, which is subject to somewhat diminishing returns (there’s a far bigger difference between a 10 gamer and a 100 gamer than there is between a 200 gamer and a 300 gamer, all other things being equal):

Putting them together, you get a shape that looks like this:

Of course, age and experience aren’t the only things that affect output – just ask Jack Ziebell:

Open in a new tab to view full-size.

Injuries, role change, change of team (or teammates), a change in the team’s on-field fortunes, and a whole host of other factors can affect SuperCoach scores (which themselves are a far from perfect measure of player output from a pure footballing perspective), but the general principle does tend to hold.

Some players, of course, simply defy age:

But they’re the exception, rather than the rule. And even then, it’s only a matter of time before they too start to drop off.

Speaking of dropping off, much has been made Patrick Cripps’ form this year. It’s been obvious to many that he has been playing very injured this season (far more so than the Carlton Football Club has been publicly letting on), but some coaches will no doubt have him firmly penciled into their ‘never again’ lists after what he’s dished up this season. But is that wise?

Looking at the above, he’s in what should be his physical prime, and will be for another couple of years. Now, it’s quite possible for a player to be good while they’re young, and then drop off early, especially when the back half of their career is crippled by injuries:

But is Patrick Cripps really Dale Thomas? The latter, for one thing, only had one really great season from a SuperCoach standpoint, while Cripps rocketed his way to SC-stardom from a very early age. Perhaps a better comparison is Nat Fyfe:

He had a similar early breakout, and has similarly been injury-prone in the back-half of his career, but he certainly never permanently fell out of SuperCoach-relevance.

Moving on, Max Gawn’s scoring was clearly helped by the shorter quarters last year, but should still have another year left before he starts to drop off in physical terms:

That said, the development of Luke Jackson may somewhat accelerate that decline from a SuperCoach standpoint, so watch this space.

Brodie Grundy, on the other hand, should have a good few years left:

But there are some young guys coming through who could very well take the top-ruck mantle off the aforementioned duo, possibly as early as next year:

Finally, Brownlow medalists have had a habit of dropping off the year after winning in recent times, but the current bookmakers’ favourite for this year’s award is right in the part of his career where he should be a safe enough pick for next season:


Now, the above is probably not all that helpful in the short term to those who are still primarily focused on doing as well as possible this season. But for those who have started thinking about next year, hopefully it gives you something to think about. In particular: if you’re thinking of starting a player, or not starting them, or even throwing them on your ‘never again’ list, take a moment and have a think about where they sit along the standard age/experience trajectory. Some players will break out early, some will keep playing well despite being old, some will benefit (or suffer from) a significant change of role, etc., but most players, assuming they stay on an AFL list long enough for this pattern to be relevant, will follow a pretty standard trajectory. We can, and should, use that knowledge to our advantage.


Leave a comment / Scroll to bottom

2 thoughts on “Uncharted Territory – Round 17”

  1. Really enjoyed this article sal, always a super fascinating read and the graphs make things easier to understand.

    Curious point you raise about gawn and his age, do you think he could be an exception to the rule or Father Time will soon get the best of him?


    1. I’m not sure, to be honest. Rucks can sometimes go on a bit longer than others since, as they sometimes say, they don’t get any shorter as they get older. Then again, with Luke Jackson taking more and more responsibility in the ruck, Max might keep on losing a few extra points here and there. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

      Sorry if that’s not overly helpful!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *