The 2017 season for the Eagles took a setback before its 2016 campaign had even finished, with one of the premier ruckmen in the AFL, Nic Naitanui going down with an ACL injury. Barring some sort of German blood transfusion, we won’t be seeing any quality football from Nic-Nat until he’s playing at the new Perth stadium next season. Therefore, I have left him out of the best 22 for 2017.
The below may not be the current best 22 if you wanted to win one game right now. As always, spots in the side will come down to form. But also potentially matchup based. With the 2017 season under their belt, come finals time I believe these players give the Eagles the best chance for success.
B: Will Schofield, Brad Sheppard, Eric MacKenzie
Schofield and Sheppard are a lock here. Love watching Sheppard play. The type of player that doesn't look like a player. Undersized in height and weight but hard as nails and reads the play with the best of them.
Schofield now a 28-year-old 10-year veteran, takes the opposition's key forward week in week out.
I really wanted to put Tom Barrass in this position. I liked what I saw from Barrass last season. Playing in the WAFL for East Perth last week, he moved up forward in the second half and kicked 2 4th quarter goals in a low-scoring affair with efficient disposal. I can envision him with an Adam Hunter type roll. Most likely he will replace Hurn full time in 2-3 years. Depending on matchups and form we may see this spot split between Barrass and MacKenzie, who also has seemed to return to form with his recent WAFL play. Unfortunately for Barrass, he has a very similar game to McGovern. Which will not work in his favour come selection time.
HB: Mitch McGoven, Shannon Hurn, Elliot Yeo
Much like the backs, McGoven and Hurn are locks here. McGoven has put his hand up to pinch hit in the ruck also which may make Petrie expendable. Hurns kicking out from goal is head and shoulders above anyone else on this list.
Perhaps the team's most versatile player. With his ability to swing between forward and back, take a contested mark and kick a goal. Yeo doesn't need a lot of possessions to impact a game. His high ceiling will be a vital piece to the Eagles success.
C: Andrew Gaff, Matthew Priddis, Dom Sheed
Gaff was slightly down on form last season after being knock out mid year but still clearly in the best 22.
Priddis, Brownlow medalist, enough said.
At only 21-years-old, Sheed has shown great skill to compete at an AFL level in his young career. Enough so to be a permanent fixture in the Eagles side. Sheed has clearly shown a high floor with consistent play. Yet is still young enough with a lot of up-side to improve his game.
HF: Jamie Cripps, Jack Darling, Chris Masten
We all know Cripps loves a goal. He can now be interchanged with LeCras as required. Now much closer in the goal kicking department due to LeCras recent accuracy issues and pushing more into the midfield.
This could be a make or break season for Darling, although still young (24), he really needs to be in good form to cement his spot over Petrie and Vardy. Along with McGovern and Barrass' ability to go forward. It’s possible Darling could be expendable if he does not step up.
Masten does not win the hard ball. We all know that. I liken him to Chad Fletcher in that regard. What he does provide is efficient disposal. Although his numbers were down from his previous season. I was impressed with Masten's much-improved effective disposal last season from his 2015 campaign. If we see more of the same I don't see any reason why he isn't in the best 22.
F: Nathan Vardy, Josh Kennedy, Marc LeCras
Injuries are going to give Vardy a solid 12 weeks of burn to win his place in the side. Eventually backing up Lycett after being stuck behind the likes of Stanley, Smith, and Blicavs at Geelong. Sensational pre-season form and his ability to go forward and kick a goal. I think Vardy is ready to take the next step in his AFL career.
JK - Coleman winner, premier forward in the comp. Not going anywhere.
Although LeCras' goal kicking has declined he is still dangerous up forward and has the ability to play in the midfield also.
R: Scott Lycett, Sam Mitchell, Luke Shuey
Although missing the first half of the season due to injury. Lycett is clearly the best ruckman in this side without Nic-Nat. He should get enough games to be in form come finals time.
Shuey, love him or hate him he is in the best 22. Of course, we all love him here at the Eagles.
Sam Mitchell. His leadership is an unquestionable positive for the club. I fear his 34-year-old legs may be leant on too heavily. I would like to see him work his way into the centre from half back. Even rested during the season or come off the interchange to preserve his 34-year-old legs on occasions.
INT: Sharrod Wellingham, Liam Duggan, Jack Redden, Drew Petrie
Sharrod's 2016 campaign was very disappointing off the back of his sensational 2015 outing. Wellingham may not get as much opportunity with the arrival of Mitchell eating into his usage off the backline. He should see some opportunity when Yeo goes forward but I fear he is a skills player that needs touches to stay in form. Therefore we may see him in and out of the side for the likes of Butler this season.
I think we will see a much improved Redden this season. After a year to settle in at the club, bulking up and some good form in the WAFL. His tackling sets him apart from the likes of Duggan. In what is now Redden's 8th season. I'm looking forward to a potential breakout season.
At only 20-years-old in entering his 3rd season. Duggan should see and increase in games with his increasing experience and consistency. A borderline top 22 player, he may find himself out of the side for players such as Jetta, Hill, Hutchings and Butler early on as he is coming off a hamstring injury.
Offseason pickup, the dish, Drew Petrie. Probably the biggest question mark on his role and what he will provide for the team. If Darling is in good form he may get the 3rd string defender which he should be able to take advantage of. He has had some experience in the ruck. Although not very effective besides ball-ups. I wouldn't like to see him there too often. When Lycett returns Petrie may struggle to make the side if Darling and Vardy are playing well. He may also lose his spot early on to Giles in the absents of Lycett.
Tom Barrass - If MacKenzie cannot reclaim his form of 2015 Barrass will be the first in line. He may also see an opportunity arise if Petrie does not work out as planned with the ability to play forward also.
Lewis Jetta - Not worth a run in my opinion. I don't think Jetta offers enough other than the occasional dash down the wing and goal. Which brings him extra unwarranted attention. Although I assume he will still get an opportunity.
Josh Hill - Same basket as Jetta. A goal sneak who's not sneaking goal. At 28 years of age averaging only just over 1 goal a game last season. Put a fork in him, he is done. He did play 22 games last season so he will probably get another chance too.
Sam Butler and Mark Hutching - two experienced heads. We know who they are and what they offer as players. Both should see some time for the likes of Duggan, Redden and possibly Wellingham. I prefer to see the Eagles give that playing time and experience to younger players. Using Butler and Hutchings more so if players happen to be injured.
Jonathon Giles - Impressive as a tap ruckman in his short stint last season. Giles has the potential to have a consistent role with short ruckman stocks early on combined with the uncertainty of Petrie's performance. Giles may find himself sharing the ruck with Vardy until Lycett returns.
Watching the Eagles rotations this season will be very interesting. The Eagles have the flexibility to move a handful of players between multiple positions. This will not only help to band-aid the void left by Naitanui but also help the glut of big men down back and somewhat up forward. The Eagles have the big utilities to match up with the forward lines of GWS and Adelaide but also the ability to match up with dangerous small forwards of Hawthorn. Players such as Petrie, Giles, Mackenzie, Butler, Hutchings, Barrass, Hill, Jetta, Duggan, Redden and Wellingham will consistently be vying for a guernsey each week.