The simple fact of football is, every year, there are 17 teams trying to regain grand final glory while one side sits pretty at the top of the pile, premiership in hand.


In the quest for long-term success, there is arguably no more valuable commodity than the number one draft pick. The club which holds it has their pick of the top young talent around the country, ready to place their faith in a potentially era-defining player.

This year, for the first time in its history, North Melbourne holds the number one selection. There are a number of quality players the club can select, but who will be chosen?

Much like everything else associated in the game, when you look back at the history associated with the pick, there are both victories and warnings, or successes and failures.

The first number one:

Prior to the introduction of the draft, players were recruited via zones. Depending on where in the state you were from, you were tied to a specific team.

With the nationalising of the VFL though, changes had to be made. In 1986, one of the most drastic alterations in the history of the game was introduced. Despite drafts being held in 1981 and 1982, it was the year of the first ‘modern’ draft.

The Brisbane Bears were entrusted with the first ever selection, and they recruited South Australian Martin Leslie from Port Adelaide’s SANFL side. He continued to play for Port until 1989 when he would first join up with the Bears.

After winning the SANFL premiership in 1988, Leslie would go on to play 107 times for Brisbane, winning the 1990 club champion award, before retiring in 1995.

The averages:

Since the first ‘modern’ draft in 1986, the national draft has taken place in some way, shape or form every year since, meaning the player selected with the first pick in 2021 will be the 36th top selection, with eight previous selections still active in the AFL.

Out of the 27 inactive number one picks, Luke Hodge played the most senior games across his career with 346, including 305 games and four premierships at Hawthorn, the team that drafted him.

Nick Riewoldt leads all number one picks in goals, kicking 718 across 336 games for St Kilda, with the Saints legend remaining a one club player for the entirety of his career, leading his side out in three grand finals, including the draw and eventual replay of the 2011 iteration of the game.

Between those 27 players, there has been an impression average of 172 games and 142 goals kicked.

Of currently active players, David Swallow leads both categories with 175 games played and 78 goals kicked, however he has also been in the system longer than any other currently active number on pick, with Gold Coast selecting him at the 2010 National Draft.

The teams:

North Melbourne is one of just four teams in the AFL to never have had access to the number one selection in the national draft, with Adelaide, Port Adelaide and Geelong also missing out.

However, Adelaide did hold the top selection in the 2020 draft before the Western Bulldogs matched the bid for academy prospect Jamarra Ugle-Hagan.

While Geelong has been a member of the VFL/AFL since that first draft in 1986, Port only entered the competition in 1997.

With three consecutive selections in 2005, 2006 and 2007 they selected Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Matthew Kreuzer, before taking Jacob Weitering in 2015 and Sam Walsh in 2018.

Success stories:

Being selected with the number one pick comes with its fair share of pressures, however, these players often deliver.

Drew Banfield, formerly of West Coast, won two premierships for the Eagles 12 years apart, with his first triumph coming in 1994, before retiring after his club’s return to the pinnacle in 2006.

Luke Hodge, as mentioned, won four premierships in his time at Hawthorn, captaining the club to a three-peat in 2014, 2015 and 2016, while winning the Norm Smith Medal in 2008 and 2014.

Adam Cooney is the only number one selection to have won a Brownlow, winning the prestigious award in 2008 with 24 votes, just one ahead of second placed Simon Black.

Nine number one selections have played over 250 games, with seven consecutive number one picks from Nick Riewoldt in 2000 to Bryce Gibbs in 2006 reaching that mark.