Introducing the 2015 HPN Consensus Phantom Draft #AFL

At Hurling People Now we do not watch a lot of under-18 football. While we love a good bit of local footy, we have neither the time, the money, or the interest to travel 600km to see the nations’ best juniors.

What we do have is a spreadsheet. Several in fact.

In different US sports we have seen the idea of the “Consensus Mock Draft” crop up now and then. It’s a format that combines multiple mock/phantom drafts to produce a result based on players’ average draft positions across the included drafts. The Consensus Mock Draft eliminates some of the biases and knowledge differences involved in assessing talent by assembling a wider pool of views, and attempts to mitigate for outliers caused by such biases.

A Consensus Mock Draft, being an average of predicted draft positions, doesn’t subjectively adjust the dataset for club needs, or for protection against the “go-home” factor. If most mock drafters think a club will reach for a defender or a Western Australian, it might be captured but the player still may not be shown as going to that club.

Put simply, the Consensus Phantom Draft is an objective analysis of relatively subjective data; and it pretends to be nothing else.

We will publish several versions of this Consensus Phantom Draft as more are published and get updated closer to draft day. Last year we ended up with over a dozen, and we anticipate closer to fifteeen this time.

The eight drafts so far included are:

And here are the first set of results:

Hurling People Now Consensus Phantom Draft Version 1

A note on method: Different drafts published go to different picks. To insert a value for undrafted players we’ve assigned the pick halfway between the first unpublished pick and the pick after highest number of drafted players in any draft (currently 64). For example, a draft that goes to pick 25 sees all undrafted players assigned pick 46 (halfway between 26 and 65). Undrafted players in the 64-player published draft are given pick 65.

Strong consensus at the top

Everyone seems certain that the defender Jacob Weitering is the best player in the draft, and that Carlton will take him. The same is true of Brisbane at pick 2 with Joshua Schache, whose surname we look forward to learning to pronounce.

The consensus here seems overwhelming but at this stage last year everyone was convinced Christian Petracca was going to St Kilda at pick 1 before the late revelation that they wanted Patrick McCartin. At this stage, there is probably an element of groupthink among observers and perhaps less clear information about what clubs are thinking.

Most mock drafters think Callum Mills will be bid on by Melbourne and go to the Swans at pick 3 and that Melbourne will then take Darcy Parish.

Curnow, Weideman and Francis: Essendon likely to pick two

Essendon are currently the club most tipped to take Sam Weideman and Aaron Francis, and equally favoured with Melbourne to take Charlie Curnow. Consensus among our draft observers suggests that Weideman and Curnow are the better players of the three, and Essendon would be safer taking them. Aaron Francis looms as a bit of a wildcard, rated as high as 5 and as low as 14 by different observers.

Will Josh Dunkley go to the Swans?

Josh Dunkley is a father-son candidate for the Swans but has not yet nominated for them, with the deadline being November 20. For the moment we have given him to the Swans as the plurality selection by mock drafters although several clearly believe he will not nominate for them.

Our consensus has Dunkley going at pick 26, with the highest selection being pick 21. This range means that the Swans will be able to match a bid for him with the points left over from getting Callum Mills at pick 3, with only a slight impact on 2016. Matching pick 20 or later only reduces the value of Sydney’s second-rounder in 2016. With the movement of late picks, pick 26 itself is within Sydney’s likely 2015 points budget alone.

However, this only matters if Dunkley decides he does want to go to the Swans.

Wildcards and known quantities

Along with Aaron Francis, some other players picked to go at a range of positions are Clayton Oliver (14th by consensus), Harley Balic (16th), and Ryan Burton (18th). Each have their champions rating them highly (8th, 8th, and 12th respecitvely) but others who see them sliding into the 20s.

On the other hand, everyone seems sure Wayne Milera is going near his consensus ranking of 11th (likely to Adelaide), and  6 out of 8 have Kieran Collins going to Hawthorn , probably at pick 19, where the Consensus Draft also puts him. Deeper into the draft, our mock drafters are pretty much in agreement on Brayden Fiorini going to the Bulldogs, but not on when, which leaves him ranked at pick 32 nowhere near a Bulldogs pick.

How will clubs approach academy bidding?

One of the biggest unknowns in this draft is how much clubs will try to use the bidding system for three highly rated NSW players to their advantage. We at HPN feel that perhaps clubs will be more aggressive in making claims on these players than the phantom drafters are predicting.

We suspect Melbourne stand a good chance of throwing successive bids at Mills, Hopper and Kennedy in some order with picks 3, 4 and 5, in order to maximise the price those clubs pay for these players. If not, we think Essendon will go for both GWS players with picks 5 and 6.

Our reasoning is that GWS, Brisbane, and Sydney have shown their hand with their trading strategy and by ditching their early picks have shown their intent to pay nearly any price. It would be impractical for GWS to leave Kennedy to go to Melbourne – after matching for Hopper they’ll have a bunch of late picks left that they’ll need to use or just lose.

In a similar vein, we’re not even sure Carlton won’t bid on Callum Mills at 1 – Sydney have to take him, their draft position is useless if they don’t. Brisbane also look quite exposed, having five consecutive picks in the late 30s and two players rated 10th and 15th by consensus but with a degree of variation. An early bid for one of Hipwood and Keays could allow a club to secure the other one later on, or at least to put Brisbane into an uncomfortable position in order to get both.

Sydney will pay pick 1 for Mills if they have to, and will clearly match pick 3, but what if GWS are forced to pay 3 and 4 for Hopper and Kennedy? How does their drafting strategy then look? Will they, for example, have to let Himmelberg go later on? That would leave him for a club like Melbourne or Essendon to take, or for another club to take leaving someone else on the table. Alternatively, they could force GWS into points debt and reduce their draft position the following year.

Such a move would also encourage academy clubs to strongly seek points via trades for bid matching in future years, which can also benefit southern clubs seeking to improve their draft position.

The risk to Melbourne of a very aggressive bidding strategy is that they end up with, say, Kennedy rather than Parish. This seems only a modest downside and only a low risk of happening anyway. For Essendon the risk is even lower – if Parish goes to Melbourne, the gap between Kennedy and other options is even smaller for them. Plus, they have two picks so even if they end up with Kennedy they still have a second pick to get their most preferred player.

We have no way of knowing how this will work out, but we hope some clubs have a game theorist on retainer.

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