Tom Lynch: He doesn't command the external attention of Taylor Walker or Eddie Betts and doesn't possess the size and athleticism of a Josh Jenkins, but Adelaide's forward line would struggle to function efficiently without Lynch. The wiry high forward often links the team's attack with its defence and was responsible for more goal assists (30) in 2015 than any other player in the competition. He also booted 32 goals. Having endured a disastrous, injury-plagued 2014 campaign, Lynch increased his average number of disposals to a career-high 19 a game last year and also averaged seven marks, showcasing his tendency to work up the field to deliver back into the forward line. Only Patrick Dangerfield was responsible for more inside 50s last year. - Harry Thring 


Mitch Robinson: He's played just one season at the Lions, but Robinson had a big influence. After starting the year as a half-forward he was moved to the midfield for the final nine weeks and completely turned the Lions' fortunes. Until then they had won the clearance count just four times in 12 matches, but once Robinson was inserted as a negator, things flipped. The Lions won the clearance count six of nine times (he missed one match) with an average difference of plus five. Robinson also found plenty of the ball himself, racking up 25 disposals and 10 tackles a game. Not the flashiest, but possibly the most effective. - Michael Whiting 


Matthew Kreuzer: His value to Carlton lies not in winning the hit-out and placing it to advantage, rather his strength and influence around the ground. In his 13 games last year after returning from a series of foot injuries, his average disposals, contested possessions, clearances and pressure acts were above average for a ruckman. Can take a strong contested mark and showed what he was capable of against Melbourne late last season when he earned the three Brownlow votes with a brilliant display. With Robert Warnock gone, much of the Blues' hopes for 2016 rest on Kreuzer's shoulders. - Howard Kotton 


Tyson Goldsack: The Magpies are certainly a better proposition when they have the versatile Goldsack at their disposal. Over the past two seasons, when they have missed the finals after being in the top four at the halfway mark, the Pies have gone 2-9 (a strike rate of just 18 per cent) without him, yet 19-14 (58 per cent) with him. The self-sacrificing swingman provides the Pies with some much-needed experience, genuine hardness and the flexibility to deploy him as a defensive, lock-the-ball-in forward or as a back-half option capable of pinch-hitting in a key defensive role. The Magpie Army will be praying he finally overcomes the knee tendinitis that ruined his 2015 season and has again laid him low recently. – Ben Collins


Zach Merrett: The classy youngster played 17 consecutive games in his second season in the League in 2015, before a foot injury ended his season. The 20-year-old has quickly become one of Essendon's most consistent players forward of centre and through the midfield. He averaged 22.4 disposals last season and with elite decision making his possessions generally hurt the opposition. With a number of his more experienced teammates serving season-long doping bans, the responsibility on Merrett is likely to rise another couple of notches. Although he is only going into his third season, the smart onballer has proven he can handle expectation. – Ben Guthrie 


Michael Johnson: The Dockers' defence is often taken for granted. They have been so good that they rarely get noticed and Johnson is one of the unsung heroes of the defence. His statistics don't jump off the page but when he is playing his best football the Dockers are very successful. He finished equal second in the best and fairest in 2006, just his second season, when Fremantle made the preliminary final. He was named All Australian in 2013 when the Dockers made it all the way to the Grand Final. He suffered a serious hamstring injury last year that coincided with a drop off in form for Freo. His leadership and rebound ability in defence is undersold. – Alex Malcolm


Tom Lonergan: He has long been an underrated member of Geelong's side, but that doesn't appear to faze him. His job is to shut down the opposition's most dangerous key forward and the miserly backman achieves that more often than not. The 31-year-old is tough to beat in one-on-one contests, which allows star defender Harry Taylor to play with more of a licence to take intercept marks across the backline. His efforts to blanket Collingwood forward Travis Cloke, who had booted three first-half goals on Taylor, in the second half of the 2011 Grand Final was a key factor in the Cats' third premiership in five years. – Ben Guthrie 

Gold Coast

Steven May: While his high-profile midfield teammates get most of the accolades when the Suns play well, full-back May has a huge influence. Over the past two seasons he has missed seven games – and Gold Coast lost every one of them. With May in the team, they've won 14, drawn one and lost 22, but more than that, the Suns have conceded 108 points a game without him and just 95 with him. May, now 24, not only negates the opposition's best forward, but is also the source of much of Gold Coast's counter attack. - Michael Whiting 


Stephen Coniglio: The No.2 pick from the 2011 draft is the leader of coach Leon Cameron's 'team defence' philosophy as the Giants' No.1 stopper, but also has the ability to win plenty of his own ball. As an example of his value to GWS, Coniglio kept Melbourne captain Nathan Jones to just 11 touches and picked up 26 of his own in round two when the Giants won by 45 points in Canberra. With the West Australian absent due to injury in round 23, Jones gathered 36 disposals to help the Demons to an upset 26-point victory. – Adam Curley


Paul Puopolo: In a team chock full of stars, Puopolo is rarely in the spotlight unless he's flying high for a spectacular grab, but the pint-sized forward is a key cog in Alastair Clarkson's machine. Forward pressure is an integral part of the game these days and few do it better than Puopolo. The 173cm terrier's No.1 role is to chase and harass, and he's ranked top-three at the Hawks for tackles and free kicks won each season during their run of three-straight flags. Puopolo's grunt work makes life easier for Hawthorn's galaxy of stars, but his ability to sneak under opposition radars and hit the scoreboard when his teammates need a lift also can't be underrated. - Travis King 


Jack Viney: It's impossible to say the Demons can't win without Viney, but his performances last season went under the radar. He has matured, supporting Bernie Vince and Nathan Jones to create a passage for the young midfielders on the list and was a close second in the club best and fairest despite missing six matches. Last year, Viney averaged 22 disposals - 12 contested - 5.6 clearances and 6.6 tackles per game. He hits packs hard, is prepared to take on sacrificial jobs and is learning what he can and can't do when it comes to his disposal. Still only 21, he is rapidly earning respect for his efforts at Melbourne. - Peter Ryan 

North Melbourne

Sam Wright: After establishing himself in North's backline in the second half of 2014, Wright has become one of the Roos' most valuable defenders. He provided the lion's share of North's defensive rebound last season, finishing equal ninth in the AFL for rebound 50s and third at the club for running bounces. At 188cm, Wright is deceptively strong in one-on-one contests and in the air – he was third at North for marks last season and eighth in contested marks. The 25-year-old also reads the play well, his game sense best illustrated by the match-turning intercept mark he took in North's comeback elimination final win over Essendon in 2014. - Nick Bowen

Port Adelaide

Jack Hombsch: Although his performances have started to garner him the sort of praise he deserves, Jack Hombsch would still rank as underrated by the wider football community. He easily led the Power for one-percenters last season (averaging seven a game) and was ranked fourth in the AFL for total one-percenters. Port has young Tom Clurey in development but is vulnerable when a big key defender goes down with injury. That includes Hombsch. The 22-year-old's consistency saw him finish third in the club's best and fairest last year and since cementing his place in the side in 2014 has proven himself one of the most important players at Alberton. - Harry Thring 


Anthony Miles: While Trent Cotchin draws the tags and Dustin Martin attracts the headlines, it is Miles who gets on with helping the Tigers win clearances. He has ranked No.1 at the club for the past two seasons for total clearances and, when he attends a centre bounce, the Tigers win the clearance 49 per cent of the time (No.1 of all permanent midfielders at the club). Further highlighting his value, when Miles wins first possession at a stoppage it converts into an effective clearance 74 per cent of the time. A hard nut who plays a great support role to Cotchin, Deledio and Martin, he averages four effective tackles a game and did not miss a match in 2015. - Nathan Schmook   

St Kilda

Sean Dempster: Dempster is one of the most underrated players in the AFL, perhaps due to his preference for keeping a low profile. He is elite in the AFL for effective intercepts (No.5 in 2015) and intercept marks (No.3), which protects a St Kilda backline that can find itself under pressure. When locking down on an opponent, Dempster only conceded more than two goals against his direct man twice last season, when on Cam McCarthy and Eddie Betts. Far from underrated internally, he finished third in the club's best and fairest in 2015 and should continue to match up on dangerous opponents like Jack Darling, Jake Stringer and Jeremy Cameron this season. - Nathan Schmook 

Sydney Swans

Kieren Jack: In a midfield boasting Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery and Luke Parker, the co-captain often gets overlooked by those outside the football club, but there's no doubt Jack is the club's barometer. The 28-year-old managed over 500 possessions in 2015 at just over 23 per game but Jack's defensive pressure is his biggest asset, and he does it in big games. In round eight last year against Hawthorn at the MCG, he laid 11 tackles in a thriller that the Swans won by just four points and he inspires teammates week in week out. – Adam Curley

West Coast

Mark LeCras: Last year's Coleman medallist and All Australian Josh Kennedy is the headline act in the Eagles' forward line but LeCras is equally as valuable. LeCras kicked 45 goals last season, his best return since 2011 when the Eagles last made a preliminary final. He missed all of 2012 due to a knee reconstruction and other injury issues kept him to just 30 games across 2013 and 2014 when the Eagles failed to make the finals. Beyond his goalkicking ability, he was No.1 for goal assists at West Coast last year with 25. – Alex Malcolm

Western Bulldogs

Liam Picken: While not blessed with the most talent, Picken is widely respected for his sheer determination, courage and selflessness. The 29-year-old was a reliable tagger for much of his 150 AFL games until Luke Beveridge transformed him into an attacking midfield option in 2015. Picken averaged 23 possessions a game (up from a career average of 17) and kicked 13 goals without neglecting his defensive standards. His increasing value to the side was no more evident than during the two games he missed through injury last year when the Dogs were smashed in the midfield and on the scoreboard by Port Adelaide (round 11) and West Coast (round 21). - Ryan Davidson