When considering the most improved players in the competition, it’s worth looking at the teams they play in and whether they’ve jumped up the ladder.
This year, there appears to be a link between teams with a number of players who’ve improved and that club exceeding expectations.
Collingwood is the clear example of this, with a handful of players who’ve gone to the next level.
Jordan De Goey stands out immediately as someone who has become a match-winning forward this year, and his form drew big-money offers from other clubs.
Underneath him, no one would’ve expected Mason Cox to become a consistent role player who can take big contested marks, but he’s quickly gone from experiment to rising star.
The likes of Tom Phillips, Matt Scharenberg and Josh Thomas have found the next level, while Chris Mayne has found his spot in the team.
It’s clear Collingwood has climbed the ladder in part because they’ve been able get the best out of players who struggled last year.
North Melbourne is a team in a similar boat, climbing the ladder when many expected them to hover around the bottom.
Likes the Pies, they’ve gotten the most out of their players, unlocking Jed Anderson’s potential and swinging Majak Daw into the backline, where he’s found a home.
Daw in particular looked lost at AFL level, but has found a role that works for him in defence and now has a consistent spot in the team.
Shaun Higgins was always a quality midfielder, but has become elite this year as well and given North a match-winner through there.
Port Adelaide has always had star power, but it’s their backline where the sharp improvement has come from.
Tom Jonas was always consistent, but would be in All-Australian contention down back, while Riley Bonner, Dougal Howard and Tom Clurey are all better than they were in 2017.
In terms of players who’ve quickly risen out of nowhere, Geelong defender Tom Stewart becoming an All-Australian-level defender certainly was unexpected.
You could argue teammate Mark Blicavs is only just behind him.
Angus Brayshaw has had set backs, but always had the ability to become a ball-winning midfielder who can hit the scoreboard and he’s reaching those levels now.
Melbourne has serious midfield depth and Brayshaw is quickly becoming their most dangerous player through the middle.
Before his injury, West Coast forward Jack Darling was among the competition’s most dangerous players.
He had back-to-back seasons kicking 40+ goals and has been around for a while, but there’s no doubt he’s been on another planet this season.