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Who's top of the 2016 draft class?

Player of the Round: Hugh McCluggage Hugh McCluggage gets the fan votes for Hyundai's player of the round after his 3 goal performance against North Melbourne.

It's the comparison we'll debate for years: Essendon's Andrew McGrath vs Brisbane Lions' Hugh McCluggage.

McGrath was the top pick in the 2016 draft, two spots ahead of McCluggage, with another brilliant young footballer in Tim Taranto going to the Giants in between them.

We're honing in on the Bomber and the Lion, who were considered the main contenders to be dux of that football class.

It's a fascinating discussion, given the Lions' National Recruiting Manager Steve Conole told AFL.com.au he would have selected McCluggage at No.1 – but he was a big McGrath fan, too.

The Lions traded down from two to three in a pre-draft deal with Greater Western Sydney that included them gaining what was pick 16 at the time and giving up selections 31, 51 and 60.

"We had Hugh at one, so we were really happy to get him where we got him," Conole said.

"We took a bit of a risk in the trade period and we heard he might be there at three, but you're never sure and we ended up with Jarrod (Berry) as well with that second pick.

"But I don't think Essendon would change their pick. They'd be more than happy with what Andrew's done and what he's going to give them for a long time."

McGrath was the clubhouse leader at the end of last year, by virtue of the performances that saw him capture the NAB AFL Rising Star award, whereas McCluggage didn't receive a single vote.

Fast-forward to now and it's a different story – with little separating them either way – particularly off the back of McCluggage's most spectacular AFL game to date.

The 20-year-old amassed 26 disposals (11 contested), eight score involvements, three goals and 508 metres gained to nearly inspire Brisbane to an upset victory over North Melbourne on Saturday.

He had 10 disposals (six contested), four inside 50s, two intercept possessions, 283 metres gained, two clearances and three groundball gets in the fourth quarter alone.

McGrath and McCluggage spent their rookie seasons predominantly playing in defence and up forward, respectively, but they now both spend most of their time on a wing.

PERCENTAGE TIME BY POSITION

Def

Mid

Wing

Fwd

A. McGrath 2018

32%

3%

57%

8%

H. McCluggage 2018

3%

3%

69%

25%

A. McGrath 2017

86%

0%

12%

2%

H. McCluggage 2017

0%

6%

42%

52%

HOW THEY RATE AS WINGMEN

 

McGrath

McCluggage

Rating Points

8.4

8.8

Disposals

19.5

19.2

Kicking Eff %

62.1%

60.2%

Metres Gained

237

313

Inside 50s

1.2

2.7

Contested Poss

6.4

7.0

Uncontested Poss

12.9

12.3

Groundballs

5.4

5.2

Marks

3.8

4.3

Goals

0.3

0.5

Score Assists

0.2

1.2

Score Involvements

3.0

4.8

Tackles

2.4

2.9

Intercept Poss

3.2

3.2

Conole rated both as "outstanding kids" off their character, but saw greater on-field upside in McCluggage, who played in the TAC Cup for the North Ballarat Rebels.

His suspicion was McCluggage was, perhaps, not exposed to the same training load – because of the tyranny of distance in the wider Rebels playing group – as McGrath's Sandringham Dragons.

The theory was he would thrive in an AFL environment.

McCluggage's knack for impacting the game in multiple ways was also enticing, highlighted by him following Patrick Dangerfield in averaging at least 20 disposals and two goals in their top-age TAC Cup seasons.

Conole even sees similarities to Scott Pendlebury in McCluggage's decision-making and with Daniel Wells in his movement through congestion.

"We thought Hugh's ability to make elite decisions in traffic was something that's rare in a young player," he said.

"So hopefully that can keep developing and follow through to his AFL footy."

McGrath joined a club far more advanced for immediate success and has comfortably slotted in, while McCluggage is a key element of the Lions' Generation Next.

That 2016 draft has fast-tracked Brisbane's rebuild, with McCluggage and Berry – who live together with promising defender Harris Andrews – and Alex Witherden already major contributors.

"Thus far we couldn't be happier with those boys and, touch wood, they're only going to get better," Conole said.

"They're terrific young men and showing some leadership signs already and we think those boys will be pivotal to any future successes we might have as a team."

RELATIVE RATINGS FOR SELECT 2016 DRAFT MEMBERS

PLAYER

DRAFT NUMBER

POSITION

RELATIVE RATING

Andrew McGrath (Ess)

1

Wing

+3%

Tim Taranto (GWS)

2

Mid

+9%

Hugh McCluggage (Bris)

3

Wing

-2%

Oliver Florent (Syd)

11

Wing

+10%

Jarrod Berry (Bris)

17

Mid

+4%

Sam Powell-Pepper (Port)

18

Mid

-3%

Will Hayward (Syd)

21

Gen Fwd

-8%

Alex Witherden (Bris)

23

Gen Def

+13%

Brandan Parfitt (Geel)

26

Gen Fwd

+19%

Zac Fisher (Carl)

27

Mid-Fwd

+12%

Tom Stewart (Geel)

40

Gen Def

+1%

  • Relative ratings are a measure of how a player performs relative to players of the same age and position, based on AFL Player Rating points

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs