The decade ahead: Our AFL team for 2020-29

New AFL players are put under the microscope (1:08)

Players answer some light-hearted questions after being picked in the 2019 AFL draft. (1:08)

As 2019 drew to a close, we selected our AFL team of the decade which, unsurprisingly, proved extraordinarily difficult.

But even more difficult than that is looking ahead to the next 10 years: Which players will rule the AFL from 2020 to 2029?

ESPN's AFL draft expert Chris Doerre looks into his crystal ball to select a 22 who he thinks will dominate their positions in the coming decade.

When selecting a team of the next decade (2020-2029), availability could be the biggest factor. Longevity and durability are often overlooked but are essential elements that cannot be ignored in the assessment of a player's value towards winning.

If someone plays only five seasons, as Dean Cox did in the previous decade, the opportunity cost is five additional seasons of someone else. A similar argument can be made around Cyril Rioli, who may be last decade's best small forward when available but he only played 145 of Hawthorn's 241 games in the decade, an opportunity cost of 96 games.

With those central ideas in mind, no one born in 1993 or earlier was selected to maximise the probability of selecting players who can contribute for the full 10 years and play 20 games or more, more years than not.

In combination with age and durability, arguably the most difficult component in putting together such a team is in the selection of the untried or developing players. Young players who are already at the top of their games and still young enough to be playing in 2029 pick themselves. But those who have only just been drafted or have only been in the competition for a short time and have yet to establish themselves require the greatest conservatism at the selection table.

Those who are selected at the pointy end of drafts often don't reach the heights projected coming out of junior ranks, even if early glimpses are promising. There are so many variables involved in predicting the future success of a player - some of these factors include but are not limited to player development, future injuries, veteran leadership within a club and opportunity.

The following team offers balance across all lines and is designed if the group stay together from 2020-2029 to win every premiership in the decade.

Chris Doerre's team of 2020-2029

B: Andrew McGrath, Harris Andrews, Sam Taylor
HB: Conor McKenna, Jacob Weitering, James Sicily
CEN: Lachie Whitfield, Marcus Bontempelli, Sam Walsh
HF: Hugh McCluggage, Jack Lukosius, Jaidyn Stephenson
F: Ben King, Aaron Naughton, Connor Rozee
FOLL: Brodie Grundy, Patrick Cripps, Clayton Oliver
BENCH: Tim Taranto, Bailey Smith, Matthew Rowell, Tim Kelly

Major talking points

Is the selection of Matthew Rowell premature or a no-brainer?

While being pick No. 1 last year far from guarantees Rowell will become a future great of the game, there have been debates among recruiters surrounding whether Rowell is better than Sam Walsh. Rowell is a low risk selection who is the only player to win back-to-back best on ground medals in the TAC Cup/NAB League including in a losing team in his underage year. His 44 disposals, 11 clearances, nine tackles and two goals in Oakleigh's Grand Final triumph solidified his standing as last year's top prospect. What you can expect to see from Rowell in his first season is a best and fairest contender, near Walsh numbers, big game performances, big plays in big moments, aggression, a high work rate and a rare will to win.

Was Jack Lukosius' first year strong enough to justify selection?

Lukosius' first year was a tale of two halves. His first 10 games of 2019 were good in glimpses but mostly frustrating, with so few of his leads honoured and so much of his gut running unrewarded. Lukosius' second half, when switched into defence, was excellent with 62 marks from his last 11 games an outstanding return for a first-year key position player. Lukosius' intercept marking was a weapon during that period and his damaging kick and gut running are further weapons that should shine through in future years. Lukosius could have been selected in defence or on a wing, but with correct development and a capable team around him, he has the scope to develop into a sweeter kicking Nick Riewoldt.

Are Brodie Grundy, Lachie Whitfield and Tim Kelly too old?

The trio are set to turn 26 this year and whether they are likely to still be playing in 2029 is a fair question. What inspires confidence from the group is their respective elite levels of play, ongoing yearly improvement and durability. Grundy has not dropped below 20 games over the past four seasons and has not missed a game over the past two seasons. Whitfield has played 18 or more games in each of the past five seasons while Kelly remarkably has not missed a game during his tenure with Geelong. They all conduct themselves professionally and display great attention to detail with their preparation which suggests there is a chance they may still be playing in 2029.

In the AFL, there is great variation of retirement age. Brent Harvey -- who displayed a similar attention to detail in his preparation and showed remarkable durability -- was still playing at 38. Harvey could have arguably played another two years based on performance and continued durability had he been afforded the opportunity. On the other hand, former No. 1 selection and key component to the Western Bulldogs' 2016 premiership Tom Boyd surprised everyone by retiring at age 23.

Overall, playing it safe with established players is the high percentage play because they come with a greater degree of certainty of future performance if they've already proven themselves as opposed to someone untried who is still aspiring to become great.

Five most notable non-selections for injury risk reasons

Jordan De Goey would be a first-choice forward in this team based on talent age and he should still be playing in 2029 at the elite level. With hamstring issues at such a young age and averaging fewer than 18 games a season on a team that has been playing finals football the last two years, his questionable availability and uncertain capacity to churn out 20 or more games a season is what sees him miss selection.

If not for reoccurring hamstring injuries and an average of 14 games played per season, Darcy Moore is another Pie who would be in the selection discussion based on age and talent. With availability the best ability and no certainty Moore's body can hold up, having played more than 17 games only once, there are better options.

If he overcomes his hamstring issues and experiences no reoccurrences, Izak Rankine has the talent to be the best small forward in the competition. Rankine turns games like few others in the competition, but with persistent hamstring issues impacting the careers of too many footballers over the years, it's the safe play to not select him. The key considerations with Rankine are he has yet to debut or prove his body can hold up over a full season in the AFL ranks, which places him in the too high-risk basket.

Max King on talent is another who would be selected. In Max's only TAC Cup game in his draft year, he dominated, kicking eight goals and taking six contested marks against grand finalist, Oakleigh. His twin brother Ben by contrast was unable to kick more than five goals in a game. Coming off an ACL, there is the risk with Max another ACL could happen. Like with Rankine, with Max having yet to play a senior game and prove his body can hold up over several seasons, selecting Max is an unnecessary risk, while Ben is nearly as talented and showed glimpses that he can become a dominating force close to goal in his own right.

Coming close to selection, Josh Kelly is of an age where he could play eight or nine seasons in the decade. With the combination of age, recent games played, playing a combined 34 of a possible 50 games over the past two years, with groin and calf injuries plaguing him, there are others of comparable talent who appear likely to have better availability for the decade ahead.