Is Jesse Hogan going to be better prepared for his AFL debut for Melbourne next year, having played a full year in the VFL, than Tom Boyd, the likely No. 1 draft pick who has played under-18 football all year?
Had Hogan not been taken as a priority 17-year-old by the Demons last year, he would be vying with Boyd for top pick.
Both are imposing, key-position forwards with the ability to make an immediate impact in the AFL next season. Hogan is 195 centimetres and weighs 97 kilograms, Boyd is 199 centimetres and 102 kilograms.
The excitement around these two young men is enormous. It is the sort of buzz that surrounded the drafting of Nick Riewoldt, Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead. And while there are never any guarantees when it comes to the selection of young talent, on the evidence presented, Hogan and Boyd look set to live up to the hype.
Hogan will have spent the year playing as a key-position forward for Melbourne's VFL affiliate, Casey Scorpions. He has been ultra impressive, sitting third on the goalkicking table with 34 for the year, including bags of six against Carlton's VFL affiliate, the Northern Blues, and five against Geelong's VFL side. His contested marking has been a highlight and his natural aggression has Melbourne football staff salivating at the prospect of unveiling him next year.
Boyd has dominated the TAC Cup, but it was his early form in the under-18 championships that had every recruiter in the country pencilling him in as highest-rated youngster in the land. He kicked six goals against the NSW/ACT team and then followed up with three goals in 10 minutes of the first quarter against Western Australia before rolling his ankle and taking no further part in the carnival.
Hogan knows where his future is. He has done a pre-season with the Demons and continues to be heavily involved in all of their programs. Boyd will continue to rehab with the Eastern Ranges and must wait for draft day to determine his future.
I am a big fan of the pathway provided for our young talent. I have seen the system work from the inside and the professionalism that the various regions provide for their young charges is widely recognised.
But there was also evidence from the weekend that playing a year against serious senior competition can provide a wonderful platform for a smooth transition to the big time.
Jaeger O'Meara and Brad Crouch were on-traded by the Giants as priority 17-year-olds in the 2011 draft. They spent last season playing in feeder competitions; O'Meara with Gold Coast's reserves team in the NEAFL, and Crouch with West Adelaide in the SANFL.
O'Meara was outstanding in the NEAFL until a groin injury brought his season to a premature end. Crouch was a significant performer for West Adelaide, amassing plenty of football through the midfield, and helping his side into the grand final.
The experience of playing senior football has held them in outstanding stead for their debut seasons at AFL level. O'Meara is an outrageous favourite to win the NAB Rising Star Award and every week his standing as an elite midfielder in the competition is elevated even higher.
Crouch didn't have the same impact early in the year, with injuries playing a part, but he is finishing the season in outstanding form, with his past month suggesting the Rising Star may be closer than we thought.
Both have imposing builds for 18-year-olds and have not been physically found wanting at all. They don't have doubts that they deserve to be part of the competition. How much of that is due to a year of playing against senior footballers, before entering the AFL is hard to gauge, for one suspects their success was always assured.
There are some very experienced and successful football people who suggest that the step from under-18 football, straight into AFL football is too great for many young draftees. And that, with reduced playing lists, they are being played before they are ready. They argue that a year at senior level in the various state competitions is the better preparation for a long and prosperous career. While I don't agree with this premise, I can understand the rationale.
Jack Viney is another player who starred last week, having played at senior level last year. Viney played with Casey Scorpions, having committed to the Demons under the father-son rule. Again, he had the benefit of being in the under-18 system with the Oakleigh Chargers the year before, played in the under-18 championships twice, and played in the VFL as well.
Hogan will enter the AFL next year having played, week-in, week-out, against AFL-listed defenders. He would have learnt just as much from the games where he was well beaten, as he would have from the games where he kicked bags.
For Boyd, apart from a game against Collingwood's VFL side, playing for the AIS Academy, it will be a much steeper learning curve. Mind you, he took 10 marks in that game (five contested), so the transition may not prove to be a huge problem.
I would love it if some of the top-age under-18 kids were somehow able to experience a game or two at VFL level before they were drafted. It would give recruiters an even more detailed base on which they make decisions and it would give the kids some idea of what to expect.
I think it provides the best template. It would round out a terrific pathway for young footballers chasing their AFL dream.
It certainly hasn't done the likes of O'Meara, Crouch and Viney any harm.