AFL 4 months ago

Where are you, Kyle Langford?

Consider the statistics below. They are the first three years of each player’s career. One is Kyle Langford, the other is Jobe Watson. Can you tell which one is which?

Let’s add another variable to the game. The additional player became a Brownlow medallist. He is, more recently, the target role-model for one of the mystery players. His first three years are superior to those of Langford and Watson. Care to guess who it is?

Player A is Kyle Langford. Player B is Jobe Watson, and player C is Nat Fyfe. While circumstances surrounding each player’s formative years in the AFL aren’t included, it clearly shows that Langford was no more effective than Watson. If anything, Langford’s numbers are bumped up by the 17 games he had to to play in 2016.

As the 17th pick in the 2014 National Draft, Langford was seen as a ‘bolter’. He had impressive performances in back-to-back TAC games, kicking ten goals in that span. There were rumours (which eventually came to nothing) that he could rise into the top ten. At that point he claimed to have modelled his game on Jack Gunston [link], being a tall, smooth-moving half-forward with great hands and an almost graceful approach to goal-kicking.

He was Essendon’s first selection in the draft, using the pick received from Port Adelaide for Paddy Ryder (yeah, I’m still sad about that but I’m coming to grips with it).

Langford’s development is crucial to Essendon’s future midfield. At 191cm and 90kg, his size and ball-handling makes him a tempting option in the middle. Recent games in the VFL have had him in the middle, earmarking his position as the rotational replacement for ageing stalwarts Watson and Goddard.

His size is even more apparent when you consider the other future options in the middle. Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish, great players both, are listed at 180cm. Even if Andrew McGrath graduates to the centre, he is 178cm. Compare that to the 191cm and 193cm frames of Watson and Goddard.

While size isn’t everything, it is essential to have a useful midfield mix. The recent prototypes for impactful midfielders is size. Bontempelli (193cm), Fyfe (190cm) and Martin (187cm) have height above any future Essendon combination with the list as it stands.

Langford himself has moved on from the aspirations for becoming Jack Gunston. More recently, he’s targeted Nat Fyfe as his role model. While this is a useful aspiration, he will need to find more of his own ball and assert his will and physicality more on the game, as these 21st century midfield models have.

With his size, reputation and cost as a first round pick, the pressure is going to be on. Next year, both Watson and Goddard will be 33, past the prime age of inside midfielders. Langford will need to assert himself (along with Jayden Laverde, for that matter) and become the heir to that centre position. As added incentive, 2018 is the final year of Langford’s current contract. There’s nothing like financial and career incentive to push performance.

Looking again at the data, years four to six for Watson and Fyfe shows what motivation and development looks like. Maybe it isn’t too late to find the real Kyle Langford yet.

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