The midpoint of the AFL season provides the perfect opportunity for everyone to take stock and assess all that has occurred in the first half of the year. We now have a clearer picture of the teams destined for finals football and those who are likely to be making holiday plans for September and readying themselves for another long preseason.
The bye rounds are also a perfect time to begin compiling mid-year All-Australian teams, highlighting the players who have led the way for their clubs in season 2018.
However, instead of the traditional best 22, ESPN has put together the ultimate underrated team. This isn't to say that these players aren't household names, but simply those who perform at a much higher level than what is perceived by the general public.
There were so many names that could have found their way onto this team so it's only fair we give a special mention to Brad Sheppard, Sam Menegola, Richard Douglas, Kane Lambert, Jarrod Witts, Toby McLean and Jimmy Webster who were all unlucky omissions.
So, without further ado, ESPN presents the AFL's most underrated team of 2018.
Tom Stewart (Geelong): Such is Stewart's form that it wouldn't be a total stretch to suggest he'd be in the mix to make the actual All-Australian team at the end of the year. The mature-age recruit, 25, finished fifth in Geelong's best and fairest last year but has taken his game to lofty heights this season, regularly beating his opponents and racking up midfield-like numbers (including 28 touches against Carlton and Collingwood). This year, the mid-sized defender is ranked fourth best in the competition for marks and second in rebound 50s as well as being a top 10 player for total intercepts.
Lynden Dunn (Collingwood): There's unheralded and then there's unheralded. Deemed surplus by the Demons at the end of 2016, Dunn has found new life in black and white, regularly taking on rivals' No. 1 key forwards and more than holding his own. Dunn's reliability and booming right boot have played an integral part in Collingwood's impressive start to the season.
Neville Jetta (Melbourne): The 2017 All-Australian nominee has again gone about his work quietly and efficiently this season, negating the most dangerous small forwards in the league and generating plenty of drive for an impressive Melbourne defence. Jetta is so rarely beaten that his opponents must dread the No. 39 sidling up to them at the start of games.
Jake Lloyd (Sydney): A second place finish in the Swans' 2017 best and fairest demonstrates just how highly rated Lloyd is in Sydney. The 24-year-old elite runner has elevated his game further in 2018 to average a touch under 27 disposals and six marks per game and should now be considered one of the competition's premier uncontested ball winners.
Harris Andrews (Brisbane): In a difficult yet strangely positive year for Brisbane, Andrews has been a shining light. The 201cm key defender has taken on and beaten a host of key forwards and is putting up some outstanding numbers: He's ranking first in total one percenters, 16th in total intercepts and incredibly, first in total time on ground (97.5 percent) in 2018. To cap it off, against Sydney in Round 10, Andrews' 23 spoils set a new AFL record.
Paul Seedsman (Adelaide): What a mark Seedsman has made for Adelaide this year. Previously blighted by inconsistency, the former Magpie has been electric at half-back in the absence of Brodie Smith. Seedsman only earned five senior games last year but has become an attacking weapon for the Crows in 2018, ranking first in total metres gained, tenth in total goal assists and 12th in inside 50s per game across the league.
Shaun Higgins (North Melbourne): An absolute A-grade ball user. Higgins possesses poise, class and polish and is enjoying a career-best year in terms of disposals after being thrust into the Kangaroos' midfield. As skilled as he is around the goals, Higgins has too much quality to not play on the ball and was sorely missed this year when he was ruled out of North's Round 6 clash against Port Adelaide.
Devon Smith (Essendon): He left the Giants for midfield time and Smith is repaying the faith to Essendon. Averaging 20 touches per game, Smith is putting up career best numbers for tackles (8.5 per game -- leading the league), rebound 50s (2.2 per game) and clearances (3 per game), all while maintaining his career average of 3.2 inside 50s per game.
Jack Steven (St Kilda): While Steven is comfortably the Saints' best and most consistent player, we still don't think he's rated fairly. Like Higgins, Steven is averaging a career-high this year in disposals (28) as well as clearances (5.9) and inside 50s (4.9). These are elite numbers for anyone in the competition.
Shane Edwards (Richmond): There aren't many veterans who fly under the radar for just abut their whole career, but Shane Edwards would be one of Richmond's first picked every week. Ranked No. 1 in the league for total goal assists and 14th for total score involvements, the 29-year-old unselfish half forward has again taken his game to another level in 2018.
Tom McDonald (Melbourne): There's another Tom who plays forward and commanding big dollars in the open market, but Melbourne's version -- Tom McDonald -- is by far the better 'bargain buy'. The ex-defender has picked up his year where he left off in 2017, and so far has kicked 19 goals from six games. He's also deadly accurate, having kicked just five behinds on the year. Could be one of the AFL's best forwards come season's end.
Will Hoskin-Elliott (Collingwood): At first glance, many might think Hoskin-Elliott is rated pretty highly, but take a look at his number -- and the impact his possessions are having -- and it's clear he is an undervalued asset in the AFL. Hoskin-Elliott has kicked at least one goal in each of his last 14 games (and 23.9 this season from 10 games) while averaging 15.5 touches off the wing and half forward. Impact player.
Luke Breust (Hawthorn): How is it that a three-time premiership player can be underrated? Let's take a look at Breust, who is having a career year with the Hawks. Not only is he averaging over two goals per game but he's ninth on the goal kicking table behind (very highly) rated names. In fact, since 2014, Breust has kicked 213 goals and just 84 behinds.
Josh Caddy (Richmond): Richmond excitement machine Caddy kicked 21 majors in both the premiership year in 2017 and in 2016, but through just eight matches in 2018 (he missed rounds three and five), he's already kicked 27 goals while averaging just shy of 20 touches per game. Caddy has also kicked at least one goal in his last 14 outings dating back to Round 18 last year. There's talk of comparing the out-of-contract Jordan de Goey to Richmond's Dustin Martin as a mid-forward hybrid, but the Tigers only need to look into their own backyard to find another dynamic goal kicking mid.
Sam Gray (Port Adelaide): Often overlooked for his namesake in the same team, Robbie Gray, Sam is one of Port Adelaide's most unheralded contributors. Averaging a career-high 1.5 goals per game in 2018 (up from 1.2 in 2017), Sam Gray has hit the scoreboard in all but two matches so far this year. Remarkably, he's also ranked third at Port for marks inside 50. Sam is the definition of underrated.
Stefan Martin (Brisbane): The stats alone highlight how valuable Martin is to the emerging Lions. Of all ruckmen, Martin ranks fourth for total hit-outs, second for disposals, third for inside 50s and second for clearances. If he could start hitting the scoreboard a little more there's no doubt he would be rated alongside Melbourne's premier ruckman Max Gawn.
Ed Curnow (Carlton): Arguably the most underrated player in the AFL. Curnow, 28, has been ultra-consistent for the Blues since he began his career in 2011 but this year has been his best. Not only is he gathering 27 disposals per game and sitting second in the competition for tackles, Curnow has become one of the league's premier taggers. In 2018, he has played on Joel Selwood, Bryce Gibbs, Zach Merrett and Luke Shuey, convincingly outplaying them all.
Ben Cunnington (North Melbourne): Every time Cunnington turns in a strong performance he's hailed as an underrated star but then we seem to quickly forget about him. Cunnington is the engine room of the Roos' midfield and one of only four players in the competition to average 16 contested possessions and five tackles per game.
Angus Brayshaw (Melbourne): What a rejuvenation it has been for the former No.3 draft pick, who has struggled with concussion and form issues following a promising debut season in 2015. Since being given the chance in his natural inside midfield role, Brayshaw has exploded to be one of the most damaging weapons in the Dees' arsenal. The 22-year-old is averaging the second most inside 50s per game this year and sits in the top 15 for score involvements.
Alex Pearce (Fremantle): Nominated by coach Ross Lyon as a captain-in-waiting ahead of this season, Pearce has been huge for the up-and-down Dockers this year having recovered from two broken legs. While the emerging Tasmanian is yet to add much of an attacking edge to his game, his ability to curtail the best opposition key forward this season has been a massive step forward for someone who has missed so much football in recent years.
Cam Ellis-Yolmen (Adelaide): Watching this bloke play, you'd be surprised to learn he's still recovering from an ACL injury which he sustained in February last year. The big-bodied midfielder is averaging 21 touches per game (12 contested) as well as five tackles and five clearances. Behind a number of talented Crows in the middle, Ellis-Yolman is punching above his weight and is tricky to grab a hold of when in the contest.
Tom Phillips (Collingwood): The Pies have done remarkably well having drafted Tom Phillips at Pick No. 53 in the 2013 draft. After working is way into the Pies' side over the last two season, Phillips has stepped up to another level in 2018, collecting hauls of 38 touches against Richmond, 36 against the Dogs, 36 against Fremantle, 32 against GWS, 31 against Adelaide and 30 against St Kilda. The two-way runner also averages over two rebound 50s per game. A quintessentially underrated player.