2023 Defence Ratings: Essendon
Points Against (Brennan Jakovich Shield): 2087 - 16th
Inside 50's Against Per Goal: 3.8 - 17th
Scarlett Silvagni Medal Votes: 32 - 11th
Keys: Lewis Hayes, Jayden Laverde, Rhett Montgomerie, Zach Reid, Jordan Ridley, James Stewart, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher
General: Massimo D'Ambrosio, Dyson Heppell, Nick Hind, Jake Kelly, Alastair Lord, Andrew McGrath, Mason Redman
In: Lewis Hayes
Out: Cody Brand (delisted), Aaron Francis (Sydney), Michael Hurley (retired), Garrett McDonagh (delisted)
Ah, Essendon's backline, the white whale of unfulfilled talent.
Ridley and Redman both featured heavily in the Scarlett-Silvagni medal last year on the back of great campaigns, and when given the right role to play, Kelly even looked at home as an intercepting and rebounding defender.
Andrew McGrath is arguably too good to be playing off the half-back, and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Zach Reid look like talents of the future.
So what went wrong? Why does a team so stacked with defensive talent have the second-worst inside 50 conceded to goal ratio, and why did they slide from one of the strongest teams in the second half of 2021 to also-rans in 2022?
If I knew the answers to that, I probably wouldn't be writing this article, but it's probably fair to say their draw favoured them in 2021, and some unfit and undetermined players made the inside 50's too easy for opposing teams.
So what to expect in 2023? This is a team that should be contending for a top-eight spot, if talent and the 2021 season are anything to go by, and Zerk-Thatcher looked a more mature key defender in the pre-season hit-outs.
Only time will tell though on whether this team has the drive to push to a finals campaign, or if they'll be happy with late-season consolation wins and another handy draft pick.
Expect improvement out of Zerk-Thatcher, Reid, Ridley, and if he can manage to get a spot in defence back; D'Ambrosio.
Back Pocket Rating: C