If Twitter is to be believed, Jason Horne is the silver bullet that accelerates Adelaide’s so-called rebuild and delivers them a premiership. Almost single-handedly. The majority of Crows fans have willingly partaken in the Horne Kool-Aid and will gladly die on the hill of his certainty as saviour. Several have argued that simply drafting him and then playing him will deliver more wins.
Yet, there are few things in this world to which the phrase ‘expectation versus reality’ are more applicable than the AFL Draft. The draft field has been assessed by the experts as one which has a promising top three and then a steep drop-off to four. Interestingly, not one of these experts would have had Lachie Neale in their top 10 the year he was drafted. I’ll have to check, but I’m reasonably certain he won a Brownlow last year.
Anyway, assuming Daicos and Darcy have any bids on them matched as expected, that leaves Horne as the sole shining light in the draft according to those in the know.
We’ve All Been Deceived
A couple of things worth noting at this point. First, at this stage of the year we’d normally be a little better informed because the Under 18 Championships would have been run and done. With their new position at the end of the AFL season, we wait with baited breath to see who might become a ‘bolter’. Secondly, and more relevant to the essence of this article, to assume that Horne, Daicos and Darcy are the only three likely to play in flags or win Brownlows in the future is naïve and counterproductive.
The AFL Draft is now something of a farcical circus, ever since professionalisation of the league in the late 1990s. The time and effort put into trying to decide who will be the best and who doesn’t rate a mention keeps numerous people in employment. That’s no bad thing in and of itself. But if you really take a step back and look at the track record of any club’s recruitment staff over the years, the simple fact of the matter is that they get more wrong than they get right. All recruiters have absolutely terrible track records on numbers alone. But that isn’t their fault. It is, in fact, an unavoidable symptom of the system.
In the past twenty years, one Pick 1 has won a Brownlow Medal (Adam Cooney) and two have won premierships (Luke Hodge and Tom Boyd). Let that sink in for a moment. For all of the carry on around the number one pick on draft night, only two teams in twenty years have had it contribute directly to a premiership.
Whether or not you find those statistics meaningful has a lot to do with how you see the game of Australian Rules. If you’re a math head who simply loves getting lost in the numbers and trying to figure out who should go at one, those facts are likely unimpressive to you. But if you’re a fan who believes, as many do, that the only thing that matters is flags, you’ll probably see the meaning behind them.
The Numbers Don’t Add Up
The cold hard facts are that any premiership side will be made up of way more picks after ten than under. Some sides go years without even getting a top ten pick. For reference, the 2017 Richmond side had five. The current Adelaide squad has three, plus two number 11 picks.
All of this assembles into one unavoidable conclusion: the draft guarantees nothing. Therefore, putting all your eggs in the Horne basket is unwise. At best, you add one more top ten pick to the squad. At worst, you give away future first round picks to secure a seemingly talented player who might turn out to be injury prone or take years to develop into an AFL level player.
AFL premierships are as much about the intangibles as they are the stats. Terms like ‘rebuild’ and ‘premiership window’ have been created by the media to give themselves something to fill the 24/7 broadcasting requirements in the modern age. They aren’t meaningful. Anyone can collate a premiership team on paper. Few of those would ever win actual premierships.
Which is why, in the last six rounds of the 2021 season, Adelaide must prioritise wins, not picks. It seems likely they’re guaranteed a top 5 pick at this point. If it’s lower than that, it means they’ve beat some quality competition along the way. And those wins will be of immeasurably greater value to the young players in the team than Jason Horne will be.