Young AFL Stars Set to Shine in 2021

By Ben Morris in Sports
| February 25, 2021 7:18 am PDT
Top 10 Young AFL Players to Watch in 2021

Having been selected as the No. 1 pick in December’s draft, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan is an obvious candidate when it comes to choosing the best young AFL players to watch in 2021.

But after seeing numerous highly-rated prospects enjoy breakout seasons last year, there is no shortage of exciting young players to keep an eye on in the AFL during the upcoming campaign.

With the new season set to kick off on Thursday, March 18, now feels like a good time to look at some of the top young AFL players in 2021 and assess what they can achieve this year.

So, join me as I discuss ten young AFL players to watch in 2021.

Jamarra Ugle-Hagan – Western Bulldogs

Jamarra Ugle-Hagan
  • Age: 18
  • Position: Forward

When it comes to discussing the top young AFL players to watch in 2021, it only makes sense to start with the 2020 AFL No. 1 draft pick, right?

Having made a name for himself with the Oakleigh Chargers, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan was a top-priority pick for pretty much every club at December’s draft. Thankfully for the Bulldogs, they ended up landing the young forward.

Interestingly, Ugle-Hagan grew up on the Framlingham Aboriginal Reverse, becoming the first Indigenous player since Des Headland in 1998 to be taken at No. 1 in the draft. The teenager will now be hoping to take the league by storm.

With gifted midfielders like Marcus Bontempelli shining for the Doggies, Ugle-Hagan is bound to get heaps of service – and he is only going to learn from experienced forwards like Josh Bruce.

The 18-year-old has already been compared to AFL legend Buddy Franklin. No pressure, Jamarra!

Matt Rowell – Gold Coast Suns

  • Age: 19
  • Position: Midfielder

From the 2020 No. 1 draft pick to the 2019 No. 1 draft pick – Matt Rowell looks set to cement his status as one of the best young AFL players in 2021.

Big things were expected of the midfield prodigy last term, but a season-ending shoulder injury saw him make just five appearances before spending the remainder of the campaign on the sidelines.

However, Rowell has since recovered and is ready to light up the AFL this year.

After notching up 19+ disposals in four of his five appearances last season, Rowell showed glimpses of what he is capable of. If he can stay fit, the teenager could easily become the Suns’ most important midfielder in 2021.

In fact, Rowell is even among the bookmakers’ favorites to win the Brownlow Medal this year.

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Caleb Serong – Fremantle Dockers

  • Age: 19
  • Position: Midfielder

Having clinched the 2020 AFL Rising Star award, it is no secret that Caleb Serong is already one of the top young players in the AFL. But I think the Fremantle midfielder has the potential to get even better in 2021.

Of course, it will be difficult for the 19-year-old to maintain the kind of form that saw him named as last year’s Rising Star. But there is no reason why he can’t continue to develop.

AFL RISING STARS (LAST FIVE YEARS)
Year Player Club Votes
2020 Caleb Serong Fremantle 48
2019 Sam Walsh Carlton 54
2018 Jaidyn Stephenson Collingwood 52
2017 Andrew McGrath Essendon 51
2016 Callum Mills Sydney 49

Serong averaged 17 possessions per game during his debut AFL season, underlining his ability to dominate contested situations and come away with the ball. Better still, he also racked up 20+ disposals on six occasions last year.

Alongside fellow young midfielders like Adam Cerra and Andrew Brayshaw, Serong will be confident of helping the Dockers to achieve a top-eight finish in 2021.

Will Day – Hawthorn

Will Day
  • Age: 19
  • Position: Defender

With James Sicily set to miss the majority of the 2021 AFL season through injury, I’m expecting Will Day to be a key performer for Hawthorn this year.

The versatile teenager has already shown that he is capable of filling in for the sidelined Sicily in the Hawks’ defense, although Day’s adaptability means that he could also be used by coach Alastair Clarkson in a variety of different roles.

After initially struggling to break into Hawthorn’s starting line-up the last term, Day ended up making 11 appearances in 2020 – reaching 10+ disposals on every occasion.

The 19-year-old’s ability to track down the ball and move it efficiently makes him one of the top young AFL players to watch in 2021.

Isaac Quaynor – Collingwood

  • Age: 21
  • Position: Defender

At 21, Isaac Quaynor isn’t exactly the youngest prospect in the league. But having featured in 11 games for Collingwood last season, the promising defender looks set to be one of the AFL’s breakout players in 2021.

Quaynor made four appearances during his debut campaign back in 2019, meaning he now has 15 senior games under his belt. With a third pre-season behind him, the young Magpie should be able to take his game to the next level this year.

Not only does the 21-year-old add serious pace to the Collingwood side, but he also boasts neat foot skills and bags of game awareness.

Quaynor exhibited his attributes with a standout individual performance against Carlton last season, enjoying 20 touches and seven rebounds in that game.

If he can post those kinds of numbers on a regular basis this year, Quaynor will only further establish himself as one of the best young AFL players in 2021.

Luke Jackson – Melbourne Demons

Luke Jackson
  • Age: 19
  • Position: Forward

Viewed as the long-term heir to Max Gawn’s throne, Luke Jackson is destined to enjoy more success this year.

The highly-rated forward picked up the Harold Ball Memorial Trophy in 2020, making him the best young player for the Demons. Now, he will have his sights set on becoming the best young player in the AFL.

Following an eye-catching display against the Crows last term, the 2019 No. 3 draft pick won the Rising Star nomination for Round 10, recording five score involvements, three inside 50s, and two contested marks on that occasion.

Jackson may not be the tallest forward in the game, yet his huge leap often sees him to get the better of stronger ruckmen. I’m excited to watch the Melbourne prodigy develop in 2021.

Nick Coffield – St Kilda

  • Age: 21
  • Position: Defender

To give you an idea of just how good Nick Coffield is – at just 20, the young gun finished fifth in St Kilda’s best and fairest award last season.

Now 21, I’m backing Coffield to up his game in 2021 and mount a serious challenge for the Trevor Barker Award this year.

We all know that Coffield is already a well-established member of the Saints’ defense. I mean, he took more marks and intercept marks than any other St Kilda player last term, meaning he is clearly a special talent.

MOST MARKS BY ST KILDA PLAYERS (2020 ALF SEASON)
Player Total Marks
Nick Coffield 118
Rowan Marshall 83
Tim Membrey 83
Ben Paton 82
Jack Billings 77

The Saints enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in 2020, with Coffield seemingly at the heart of everything good about Brett Ratten’s team last year. It goes without saying that St Kila supporters will be hoping for more of the same in 2021.

James Rowbottom – Sydney Swans

James Rowbottom
  • Age: 20
  • Position: Midfielder

The Swans possess a host of exciting young prospects at the moment, with players like Justin McInerney bursting onto the scene last year. But in my eyes, James Rowbottom is the club’s most promising starlet.

Coach John Longmire wasted no time in throwing the then 19-year-old into the Swans’ midfield last term – and Rowbottom’s ball-winning skills instantly caught the eye.

Admittedly, the hard-working midfielder struggled to make an impact towards the end of the previous campaign and looked tired at the tail end of the season. Still, he showed plenty of promising signs throughout 2020.

Rowbottom averaged 7.5 clearances across a four-game hot streak last term. If he can replicate that sort of form on a consistent basis, he will undoubtedly be viewed as one of the best young players in the AFL in 2021.

Laitham Vandermeer – Western Bulldogs

  • Age: 22
  • Position: Utility

Laitham Vandermeer’s versatility saw him operate largely as a half-forward for the Bulldogs last season, enjoying a standout debut campaign in the AFL.

After kicking nine goals in 12 games, Vandermeer deservedly won the Chris Grant Best First-Year Player award. If it wasn’t for a lengthy injury, the 22-year-old would have almost certainly notched up more goals.

As you can see from the table below, Vandermeer’s goals per game ratio was among the best at the club last year.

TOP GOALKICKERS FOR THE WESTERN BULLDOGS (2020 AFL SEASON)
Player Goals Games Goals Per Game Ratio
Mitch Wallis 25 18 0.72
Aaron Naughton 15 12 0.80
Josh Bruce 14 17 0.82
Marcus Bontempelli 11 18 0.61
Laitham Vandermeer 9 12 0.75

When Vandermeer was sidelined in Round 14, the Dogs clearly missed his pace and line-breaking ability during the remainder of the season – and that is a testament to his efforts.

If Vandermeer can stay injury-free in 2021, he has the potential to become one of the league’s most prolific goal-kickers this year.

Jarrod Brander – West Coast Eagles

Jarrod Brander
  • Age: 21
  • Position: Forward

Everyone knows that Jarrod Brander is viewed as the successor to the Eagles’ key forward, Josh Kennedy. But with Kennedy, Oscar Allen, and Jack Darling occupying the forward spots, Brander generally found himself on the wing last season.

The 21-year-old only played eight games in 2020. However, after proving that he deserves a place in Adam Simpson’s team, Brander is likely to be given far more opportunities this year.

Sure, he may have to wait for his chance in the Eagles’ forward line. But if he continues to show the same determination and desire that got him into the team in the first place, his chance will surely come.

I’m expecting the Mildura native to shine this year and seal his standing as one of the AFL’s top young players in 2021.

What Can the Best Young AFL Players Achieve in 2021?

At this stage, No. 1 draft pick Ugle-Hagan is somewhat of an unknown quantity. But after shining for the Oakleigh Chargers in the NAB League, big things will be expected of the 18-year-old this year.

I’m backing young defenders like Coffield, Quaynor, and Day to enjoy breakout seasons in 2021. But for me, Rowell is the kid who can outshine all the other promising youngsters in the AFL this year.

The 19-year-old was unfortunate with injuries last season, yet he still managed to make people stand up and take notice of his undeniable ability. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gold Coast young gun becomes the Suns’ most important player in 2021.

Don’t forget – the new AFL season gets underway on Thursday, March 18, with Richmond and Carlton opening the campaign at the MCG.

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