AFL Rookie Rankings: Crows defender on All-Australian watch

How are the players from the 2022 draft class shaping up two months into their AFL careers? Jasper Chellappah takes a look in ESPN's monthly Rookie Rankings.

Will Ashcroft has dominated headlines and Harry Sheezel has claimed records, but father-son Crow Max Michalanney is quietly putting together a genuine All Australian case after eight rounds.

Michalanney has claims to be the best lockdown small in the game this year. According to Champion Data he has a defensive rating of +50% (fourth best in the AFL), meaning he's keeping his direct opponents to 50% of their average output (measured in Ratings Points). Put simply, Michalanney's opponents are half as good as they usually are when they play on him.

Taking the best small forward each week, he has produced some elite results. In Round 7, he held the Pies' Jamie Elliott goalless in 92 minutes, and the week before, Hawthorn's Luke Bruest could only muster four touches in 47 minutes. Other scalps include Shai Bolton and Michael Walters, with just one goal between the two star forwards in 116 minutes of game-time.

In his first seven rounds the youngster has given up just two goals total to his main opponents.

Michalanney is a unique general defender in the age of attacking intent out of the backline. The Swans would have seen shades of premiership defender Nick Smith in Michalanney when they tried to snare him at pick 17 last November, but the Crows were quick to match, knowing there was more than meets the eye with the unassuming teenager out of Norwood.

That depth of character was tested in his first Showdown, staring down a rampaging Todd Marshall in front of over 50,000 frenzied supporters. Showing an abundance of courage he grabbed the loose ball above his head and opened up his body for the incoming key forward to barrel into. Michalanney shook off the hit after getting his ribs examined by medicos and went on to play an integral role in the Crows' striking win over their cross-town rivals.

Michalanney's 11 disposals per game might not stand out, but his 84% disposal efficiency is indicative of his composure, and with the second-most tackles of any general defender in the league (four per outing) his defensive intent is undoubted.

The likes of Nick Daicos and Jack Sinclair are providing their sides with tremendous drive from half-back and are on track for All Australian blazers, but if selectors give value to defensive output then Michalanney will be squarely in their sights as well.

Michalanney isn't the only rookie to exceed all expectations through two months of the 2023 season. Harry Sheezel continues to shine off half-back with his rebounding vital for a Roos defence under siege. Sheezel has recorded the most effective kicks in the first eight games of a career since Champion Data began recording the stat in 1999. Sheezel is racking up over 28 disposals per game and is building a nice defensive rapport with veteran Jack Ziebell.

Will Ashcroft continues to provide gut-running and silky skill through the middle of the park to the tune of 22 touches and 3.6 clearances, while Reuben Ginbey remains top five in the league for tackles and Mattaes Phillipou tops the Saints for pressure acts - something sure to keep Ross Lyon happy.

Carlton's Ollie Hollands has been a shining light on the wing, covering the fifth-most kilometres in the competition across the first two months, and teammate Alex Cincotta has burst onto the scene in the past three weeks. The mature-ager out of Carlton's VFL is composed and confident out of the backline, cementing his spot in the best 22 quickly.

ESPN's Rookie Ladder after Round 8:

  1. Harry Sheezel (NM)

  2. Will Ashcroft (BRIS)

  3. Max Michalanney (ADEL)

  4. Reuben Ginbey (WCE)

  5. Oliver Hollands (CARL)

  6. Mattaes Phillipou (ST K)

  7. Alex Cincotta (CARL)

  8. Cam Mackenzie (HAW)

  9. Alwyn Davey Jr (ESS)

  10. Lachie Cowan (CARL)

Essendon's prized pick five Elijah Tsatas is back running after preseason surgery on his torn meniscus. He's eyeing a mid-season return to football as he builds his training loads. North Melbourne's George Wardlaw was a late withdrawal from the VFL with knee soreness on the weekend, while fellow top-10 pick Jhye Clark continues to press his case for an AFL debut at the Cattery and may get his shot with Patrick Dangerfield missing for the short term.