We all have a player we think is on the brink of taking the next step.

It could be a second-year youngster ready to put his debut season experience to the test or a fifth-year player who is on the verge of finding a niche.

We’ve run the rule over each of the 18 clubs to try and distinguish who is set to Break Out in 2018.

Adelaide

Wayne Milera
Entering his third year in the AFL system, Milera must now be prepared to become a more important contributor for the Crows.

The departure of Charlie Cameron to Brisbane opens up a perfect hole for the 20-year-old to fill, juggling small forward duties while alleviating the pressure on the prime movers in midfield.

The experience of 16 games in 2017 in which he averaged more than 15 possessions, plus a strong pre-season, should have Milera primed to force his way into Don Pyke’s best 22 early in 2018.

From there the onus is on him to up his work rate from a pressure viewpoint so he can have a similar output to Cameron, who was 4th in tackles and 5th in goals for this year’s runners-up.

The chance is there for Milera. He needs to grab it with both hands.

Brisbane

Hugh McCluggage
The highly-rated number 3 draft pick of 2016, McCluggage experienced the highs and lows of AFL football in his debut season.

On a positive note, he managed 18 games for the Lions, which is a mean feat in itself, and was nominated for the Rising Star.

However, he was part of just four wins as Chris Fagan’s young side struggled to the wooden spoon.

An average of 15 possessions per game put McCluggage 12th overall on Brisbane’s disposals list and he displayed his nous forward of centre by producing the most score involvements of any first-year player.

2018 promises to be a big year for McCluggage who is set to spend more time in midfield now Tom Rockliff has departed.

Carlton

Ciaran Byrne
Although a nightmare for the Blues, the knee injury sustained by Sam Docherty opens up an enormous opportunity for Irishman Byrne.

It is expected that the 23-year-old will step straight into Docherty’s free-wheeling role across half-back having impressed in 11 games in 2016.

Struck down by a knee issue of his own in Round 15 of that year, the Louth native returned to the Blues line-up late last season and should now be ready to make the full transition after experiencing 15 AFL games.


Sam Petrevski-Seton

In horse racing parlance, he’ll be ‘better for the run’ following a promising debut season.

‘Samo’ played 20 of Carlton’s 22 games in 2017 which included a Rising Star performance in a big win over the old enemy Collingwood in Round 7.

Excited Blues fans will get the chance to see the 19-year-old for many years to come after he signed a new deal until 2021, which highlights exactly what the club hierarchy think of him.

The signs Petrevski-Seton showed in 2017 will only be improved in 2018 and beyond as he continues to demonstrate the poise, balance and aggression at the ball that made his first season so impressive.

Collingwood

Jordan De Goey
You could argue that De Goey has already broken out given he has played 50 matches over three seasons.

But we feel at 21, and with what he has shown so far, only the sky is the limit.

Following his pre-season broken hand/dog-gate saga, De Goey won back the respect of his peers and more importantly coach Nathan Buckley with some strong footy in the second half of the season.

Averaging a shade under 19 disposals as well as a goal per game, De Goey set the scene for what promises to be an enormous 2018.

Essendon

Darcy Parish
After two impressive seasons, Parish is ready to become a bona fide Bombers star.

He's already amassed 40 games with an average of more than 20 touches, suggesting he could quite easily be in the ‘break out’ category already.

But he can comfortably take the next step by lifting his possession rate to 25+ and adding scoring power to his game.

With some weights work over the summer, 20-year-old Parish can set himself up for the rigours of midfield footy in his third season and make himself a vital member of this improving Dons outfit.


James Stewart

Essendon’s structure could well rely on how Stewart comes on in 2018.

He'll turn 24 next year and with 34 games of AFL experience, the time is right for him to bust out of his current fringe status.

If Stewart can hold down a key forward slot, it allows Cale Hooker to return to defence where there is an obvious need for his presence.

With a firing Stewart, the Essendon forward line made up of Jake Stringer, Orazio Fantasia and Joe Daniher becomes near-unstoppable.

38 shots at goal in 16 matches in 2017 is some foundation to build on having now fully settled at the Dons after arriving from GWS around 12 months ago.

Fremantle

Sean Darcy
Stepped into the enormous shoes of the injured Aaron Sandilands with surety.

The 201cm Darcy averaged 34 hit outs, just over 12 possessions and 4.5 tackles in his first eight AFL games which is simply outstanding.

At 19, you’d be confident that he will only improve further in 2018, especially if the Dockers look to the future as Sandilands enters his 16th season.

Darcy has already shown he knows how to mix it at the top level, schooling some seasoned ruckmen, so the coming year could be the year when he takes the competition by storm having learnt what he did this year.

Geelong

Nakia Cockatoo
It’s a fairly simple proposition…if Cockatoo can stay on the park with an injury-free season, the Cats WILL benefit.

When Hawthorn unlocked the Cyril Rioli hamstring mystery, he became a key piece of the premiership dynasty puzzle.

Cockatoo possesses the same explosiveness and genuine X-factor that saw Rioli make a name for himself on the big stage.

With a penchant to tackle ferociously and harass without the ball, his importance will only become more apparent if he can stay out of the physio’s room.

The 21-year-old now has 32 games to his name and with a vacancy available due to the exit of Steven Motlop, there is a golden opportunity for Cockatoo to become a serious commodity in the blue and white hoops.

Gold Coast Suns

Ben Ainsworth
In his debut season, the 19-year-old set the foundation for what promises to be an exciting career as a small forward/midfielder.

Ainsworth played 13 games which would have been many more if it not for a quad injury that sidelined him for more than two months.

Kicking 14 goals and averaging just under 12 touches a game, it was a solid first hit out for the number 4 draft pick who will hone his craft as a small forward while being afforded more time in midfield in 2018.

Gary Ablett and Brandon Matera are now departed so Ainsworth has the opportunity to really cement his spot in Stuart Dew’s 22 and make a position his very own.

GWS Giants

Tim Taranto
Showed glimpses of brilliance in his debut season which yielded 14 games with the Giants.

The 2016 number 2 draft selection was thrown straight into the mix in Round 1 and immediately impressed with toughness at the contest and poise with ball in hand.

GWS showed how highly they rate him when picking him for the Semi-Final win over West Coast despite having not played for almost three months with ankle issues. He was also one of few Giants who held their own in the disappointing Preliminary Final defeat to Richmond.

Taranto has been burning up the track in pre-season as he goes about increasing his tank for a more prominent midfield role in 2018.

Hawthorn

Blake Hardwick
Hardwick featured in 19 of Hawthorn’s 22 games in 2017 as Alastair Clarkson threw the keys to a younger Hawks line-up than what we’ve seen in recent history.

The 20-year-old was mainly used as a small lockdown defender but wasn’t shy of winning his own ball before using it efficiently, going at 85% from his average of just under 15 touches per game.

The biggest indicator that Hardwick will take another step forward is the fact he’s been handed Luke Hodge’s famous number 15.

If ever there was a vote of confidence, donning Hodge’s digits is one of significance, but now it is up to Hardwick to vindicate the club’s decision and truly break out from mere squad player status.

Melbourne

Angus Brayshaw
If this kid can avoid concussion, he will become a star!

At 21 years of age and with 36 AFL games in the bank, Brayshaw is now primed to move into the top echelon of Dees midfielders.

His three games late in the 2017 season were impressive and there will be much more like this if the head can stay intact.

Brayshaw might just be the best of the talented young Demons as he possesses more consistency than a Christian Petracca and is a more polished operator than a Clayton Oliver.

He will also be determined to ensure brothers Andrew (Fremantle) and Hamish (West Coast) don’t upstage him in their respective debut seasons.

North Melbourne

Mason Wood
Now 24, the 2012 draftee is embarking on his fifth season as an AFL player after debuting late in 2014.

Rated extremely highly by many, Wood simply needs to stay injury free so he can gain some continuity and string more than six or seven games together.

He has shown glimpses of brilliance as a clever goalkicking forward but knee, hamstring and calf injuries have majorly restricted his output.

26 games in four years is not good enough so the onus must be on him to get his body right this pre-season.

Wood signed a four-year deal in 2016 so really needs to repay the faith by having a break out season where he plays 18+ matches and kicks more than 30 goals.

Port Adelaide

Riley Bonner
Port fans are excited to see Bonner included in the 22 more frequently in 2018.

The rebounding defender with a raking left boot played the last three matches of 2017, adding to his solitary outing in 2016, further increasing his gradually building reputation.

He is no stranger to gathering the ball as evidenced by his four AFL outputs of 22, 19, 18 and 17 possessions and has a great deal of upside with his clever ball use and strong work ethic.

Took the chance given to him in the Elimination Final and as he continues to model his game on Jasper Pittard, should be awarded more opportunities under Ken Hinkley which could see him break through as a regular senior contributor.

Richmond

Jack Graham
What a first five senior games this 19-year-old produced.

Graham debuted in Round 22 and just over a month later was a premiership player with the Tigers.

He may have already broken out with his influential 3-goal performance in the Grand Final triumph but with a full pre-season under his belt, expect Graham to really take the next step in 2018.

Some suggest he will be a 200-game player who may well one day captain the club but for that to be a distinct possibility, he HAS to build on his brilliant start with a strong 2018 season.

Possesses the poise, balance, confidence and hardness at the ball required to be a star.

St Kilda

Jade Gresham
You could argue that 2017 was the break out season for Gresham. Or even 2016 for that matter.

An 8th-placed finish in the St Kilda B&F, 22 games and 30 goals is some sort of return for a small forward.

His disposal average was down on the season previous but he basically trebled his goal output, increased scoreboard impact and improved his marking ability, making him a serious weapon inside forward 50 for the Saints.

Gresham has the footy smarts, raw ability and hard-working nature to become a genuine star for the Saints.

Coach Alan Richardson says there is an enormous gap between Gresham’s best and worst so he must learn how to keep things ticking over from a point of consistency.

He will get chances to operate more in midfield in 2018 which gives him the opportunity to take a huge stride forward, similarly as Jack Billings has done before him.

Sydney

Will Hayward
The baby-faced 19-year-old looked comfortable at senior level in his 17 games for the Swans in 2017.

22 goals is a fabulous return for a first-year player and taking that confidence into the pre-season may see him return next year as an even more exciting asset in the Swans forward line.

If he can add a little bit more ball-winning ability to his game then Sydney could have a very special player on their hands.

The likes of Isaac Heeney, Callum Mills, George Hewett, Tom Papley, Nic Newman, and Lewis Melican to a lesser extent, have already broken out so the challenge is there for Hayward to keep up with or go past these more ‘established’ young guns.

West Coast Eagles

Liam Duggan
The gauntlet is laid down for Duggan to become a crucial midfield resource for the Eagles.

The exit of veterans Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell have opened up endless opportunities for the 21-year-old who HAS to step up after an improved 2017.

Spent some time across half-back where he picked up more of the footy, taking his average disposals from 12.5 to 16.6, and winning West Coast’s Rookie of the Year award.

The classy Victorian must now really break out by making the move into midfield and increasing his possession game so the Eagles can give themselves every hope of returning to finals football in 2018.

Western Bulldogs

Bailey Dale
Dale has slowly worked his way to 30 games after three years in the system.

And if his 2017 latter-season form is anything to go by, Doggies fans should be getting excited about the lightly framed 21-year-old.

Was awarded with the Most Improved Player prize this year which should only spur him further to continue taking giant strides and putting his name forward for an automatic spot in Luke Beveridge’s 22.

Has been impressing greatly in the early stages of pre-season training which will give him every possible chance of making 2018 a year in which he truly asserts himself on the Bulldogs’ playing group.

Played his best footy off a wing last season and vastly increased his possession and goal output to breathe new life into a career which may have appeared to stall at the end of 2016.


Bailey Williams

Entering his third year, the South Australian could be primed to become a regular starter for the Bulldogs.

The retirements of Bob Murphy and Matt Boyd have left a gaping hole across half-back and Williams appears the perfect player to help fill the void.

Played 12 times in 2017 to take his tally to 18 AFL games and stepped up his production by averaging more than 16 disposals and increasing his rebound 50 qualities.

20-year-old Williams can stake his claim in pre-season before cementing a spot off the half-back flank for 2018 and beyond.