Which AFL players have the athleticism and skill-set to fill a role in an American Football team? Ahead of Monday’s Super Bowl, aflplayers.com.au has compiled an AFL Players’ Pro Bowl team.
There are significant differences in body size and shape – linebackers, who are often around 6’1” regularly weigh more than a ruckman – and in some cases there are no like-for-like fits, so position-specific attributes such as burst speed and leadership have been taken into account at the selection table.
We are playing a 3-4 defense (three defensive linesmen and four linebackers) to capitalise on the mobility of the AFL players rather than size.
Note: The following team was selected at the start of 2014 and includes a number of players who have since retired.
Quarterback: Scott Pendlebury (Coll)
At Quarterback you want leadership, class and poise – Pendlebury has all of these attributes in spades. His ability to find space in packs is second to none, and his size, core strength and vision would make him the perfect man to lead your offence.
Runningback: Gary Ablett Jr. (GC)
Ablett became the best player in the AFL due to his unique combination of strength, agility and acceleration. North Melbourne players were once told not to bother trying to tackle the Gold Coast captain – such is his evasive ability. Ablett’s outstanding marking ability would also make him a threat in the passing game
Wide Receiver: Nic Naitanui (WC)
There’s no athlete in the AFL quite like Naitanui – and barely any in the NFL either. He’s tall, fast, powerful and can jump over tall buildings. In short, Naitanui would border on un-guardable and would make a lot of big plays.
Wide Receiver: Mitch Clark (Melb)
With his size and sure hands, Mitch Clark makes an excellent second threat in the passing game. Clark would complement Naitanui well, making big catches through the middle while Nic-Nat stretches the field.
Tight End: Matthew Pavlich (Freo)
A tight end should be big enough to block for the quarterback, but must have hands good enough to be a factor in the passing game. If anybody has the size and the hands to do it, it’s the Fremantle captain. The tight end often serves as a quarterback’s ‘safety blanket’ – there to bail him out with a size mismatch when the wide receivers are covered. Throughout his 14 years at Fremantle, Pavlich has shown he can be counted on to make the big plays.
Tight End/Full Back – Jonathan Brown (BL)
While the FB position is used less and less by modern offenses, it was traditionally used to smash its way through the front line of a defence to clear the way for the RB, but is now used as a hybrid position with tight end (TE). The Brisbane legend has done enough bashing and crashing for three careers, and would still have the hands to play TE in the case of double TE sets.
Offensive Tackles: Shane Mumford (GWS), Todd Goldstein (NM)
Offensive tackles are part of the offensive line, and keep the opposition from getting to the quarterback. Pro-Bowl tackle Joe Staley is 6’5” and 143 kgs, so using ruckmen is a necessity. Goldstein and Mumford are big-bodied men who are agile enough to cover those attacking the QB on the outside.
Offensive Guards: Cale Hooker (Ess), Matthew Lobbe (Port)
Offensive guards fill space on the inside of the offensive line, but could also be called upon to ‘pull’ and double team linebackers. Hooker may be the only non-ruckman on the offensive line, but he’s certainly big enough to fill the hole, while Lobbe has shown he can cover the ground well for a man his size.
Center – Will Minson (WB)
In the middle of the offensive line, the center should be intelligent and aware of his surroundings, as he often calls the blocking schemes, making sure the line knows who it’s stopping. Minson’s intelligence is no secret; he would serve the team well at center.
Defensive End – Lance Franklin (Syd)
The defensive end should be fast, powerful and a little bit angry. In sport, when in doubt, do what you think your opponent wants least. Would you want all 6-foot-6 of Buddy Franklin trying to tackle you if you were a quarterback? Few players in the AFL are built like Buddy; he would torment offenses all day
Defensive End – Daniel Merrett (Bris)
Also fitting the criteria of fast, powerful and a little bit angry, ‘Big Sauce’ can get the job done at both ends of the field, and would be right at home shoving the offensive line and rushing the quarterback.
Defensive Tackle – Aaron Sandilands (Freo)
Another position requiring a body type that doesn’t exist in the AFL – the defensive tackle is the anchor of a defense. He is unshiftable when the offensive line pushes him. Sandilands is taller than normal for a defensive tackle – Pro-Bowl DT Haloti Ngata is 6’4”, but weights 154kgs – but is the AFL’s immovable object, so he gets the nod at DT.
Outside Linebacker – Adam Goodes (Syd)
Proving Sydney’s bash and crash style suits the NFL, the two-time Brownlow medallist slots into the team at outside linebacker. The outside linebacker’s job is similar to that of a defensive end, rushing the quarterback and stopping the run game. The outside linebacker will often be tasked with ‘sealing the edge’ on run plays, getting to the edge of the pack to ensure the runningback can’t get around him.
Outside Linebacker – Nick Riewoldt (StK)
While his primary strength of endurance is less of a factor here, Riewoldt is a supreme athlete, perfect for filling space against the run, going after the quarterback, or dropping into coverage to cut off passes.
Middle Linebacker – Luke Hodge (Haw)
The middle linebacker is often seen as the quarterback of defense, setting the tone with good communication, hard work and even harder tackles. Hodge is a leader players would go into battle with, and his hard work in and under would transfer well to the NFL.
Inside Linebacker – Karmichael Hunt (GC)
An inside linebacker plays a secondary role to the middle linebacker, moving sideline to sideline, filling holes and assisting in tackles. Karmichael’s rugby background would serve him well; he wouldn’t even have to pass the ball, and could just nail anyone who came his way.
Cornerback – Alex Rance (Rich)
The cornerbacks cover the wide receivers, so you want someone fast and agile, with the ability to stick close when the ball is in the air. Alex Rance has good size and speed, and has shown that he can play tight on the most physically gifted forwards.
Cornerback – Corey Enright (Geel)
Over many years Enright has shown himself to be a picture of skill and reliability. There are a few places you could put him, but at cornerback he would cover the wide receivers more likely to cross over the middle, and use his smarts pick off a few passes along the way.
Strong Safety – Patrick Dangerfield (Adel)
The strong safety should be able to tackle like a linebacker and cover like a cornerback – the explosive and powerful Dangerfield is the perfect fit. His ability to burst through packs would bring him quickly to the line of scrimmage, and his strength overhead would help him cut off balls thrown over the middle.
Free Safety – Brian Lake (Haw)
The last line of defense, the free safety is there to cut off long passes, and is usually the last man a running back will have to beat on a long run. A supreme reader of the game, nobody cuts off long balls as well as Lake. Every quarterback would think twice before testing him with a long throw.
Punt Returner/Kick Returner – Chris Yarran (Carl)
A kick and punt returner needs safe hands, a good burst of speed, and an ability to weave through an entire special teams unit. While Yarran’s hands are surer on the ground than in the air, his speed and agility are elite. There might not be a faster player in open space than Yarran, and his love of a goal would translate well to the kick return; you know he’s aiming to run the length of the field every time he gets the ball.
Punter – Trent Mckenzie (GC)
They don’t call him ‘The Cannon’ for no reason.
James Faulkner – not the cricketer, although he is fair skinned and bowls left arm medium pace – is a local writer and tweets about sport and TV at @JamesAFaulkner