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Stewart's place on breakout list

Tom Stewart comes in at number three on the AFL Media list. - Geelong Cats,Tom Stewart
Tom Stewart comes in at number three on the AFL Media list.

FROM role players to genuine stars of the competition. 

From inconsistent performers to first-choice players. 

These are the 10 players who took the biggest leap from their 2017 campaigns to rise through the ranks in season 2018.

10. Jed Anderson (North Melbourne)

Entering the final year of a healthy three-year contract in 2018, Anderson's career was on the ropes. A combination of form and injury setbacks had reduced the former Hawk to 15 games across his first two seasons at Arden Street before a shift to a more inside role allowed him to average 20 disposals a game. He was rewarded with a new contract.

9. Paul Seedsman (Adelaide)

Remember when Seedsman won the Anzac Medal for Collingwood in 2015, only to be traded nine games later? His first two seasons at the Crows had been flakey at best, set back by injury and form, only to find himself in a Grand Final at the end of 2017. Approaching year three out of contract, Seedsman started the season on fire, averaging 26 disposals in the first seven matches. In a side desperately craving speed, his outside ball movement earned him a fresh three-year deal.

8. James Sicily (Hawthorn) 

Suspended twice in the first five rounds, Sicily looked set for another season of frustration. A wake-up call from the Hawks' hierarchy kicked him into action, and he was named best on the ground in his return against the Bombers in round seven. From there he became a threat across half-back with his reading of the play and ball use, and was on track for a maiden All Australian blazer before he injured his hand.

7. Jack Darling (West Coast)

Could be in this list on his third quarter of the Grand Final alone. Fearing a repeat of his disaster in the 2015 decider, Darling took six marks and kicked a goal in a blistering term after just three disposals to the main break. While he kicked 48 goals for the season, down from 53 in 2012, it was his presence and leadership that shone in 2018. Forced to play the No.1 role in attack in eight matches without Josh Kennedy, Darling booted 17 majors.

6. Ed Langdon (Fremantle) 

Instantly became a threat on the wing for the Dockers after three seasons stuck in the WAFL and delayed by injury. Jumping from 17.9 disposals from 10 games in 2017, the 22-year-old averaged 22.4 in his 21 matches to finish fourth in the club's best and fairest behind Lachie Neale, David Mundy and Nat Fyfe. With Neale out the door, Langdon's speed on the outside is a dangerous weapon for the Dockers, making him one of the club's most important midfielders.

5. Tom Phillips (Collingwood) 

Dropped to the VFL late in 2017, Phillips' magnet didn't move from the wing on Nathan Buckley's whiteboard in 2018. Always armed with the tank to play AFL, Phillips put it into action, averaging 25.5 disposals a game compared to his 21.1 in the previous season. Finishing sixth in Collingwood's best and fairest, there were just two matches where he collected fewer than 20 disposals.

4. Devon Smith (Essendon)

Once considered a selfish small forward at Greater Western Sydney, Smith's arrival at Tullamarine was arguably the biggest positive for the Bombers in 2018. Broke the record for the most tackles in a single season with 186 – at 8.5 per game it was almost double on his output at the Giants in 2017. Collecting the Bombers' best and fairest, Smith was also named in the All Australian squad of 40.

3. Tom Stewart (Geelong)

Just two matches into his second season, Stewart found himself starring in a backline missing injured pair Lachie Henderson and Harry Taylor and the retired Tom Lonergan and Andrew Mackie. Turning into one of the competition's best intercept defenders, he also added offensive flair to his game, jumping from 14.7 disposals per game to 20 in 2018. The only Cats defender rewarded with an All Australian blazer in a year where they conceded the fewest points in the League.

2. Jayden Short (Richmond) 

One of the hard-luck stories of Richmond's premiership season in 2017, Short became the Tigers' go-to user off half-back. Playing 16 consecutive games in a variety of roles before he was dumped after round 18, Short was unlucky not to be named in the All Australian squad of 40 in 2018. His disposal count rose from 14.8 to 20 per match, his booming kick taking him from 366 metres gained to 527 per match, the most in the competition.

1. Angus Brayshaw (Melbourne)

From VFL player in April, to starting midfielder in June and third place in a Brownlow Medal in September, no player enjoyed a rise like Brayshaw in 2018. Overlooked to start the season, the 22-year-old found himself leading a Melbourne midfield minus Jack Viney with Clayton Oliver and Max Gawn. With his concussion troubles quickly forgotten, he went on to average 26 disposals, including six matches with 30-plus. Not enough for a Brownlow invite, Brayshaw rocketed home to collect 15 votes in the final nine rounds to almost cause a boilover. Also one of few Demons to stand up in their preliminary final horror show.


*First-year players in 2018 have not been included on this list

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