Essendon's Darcy Parish crowned ESPN's most improved AFL player for 2021

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Essendon midfielder Darcy Parish has claimed the inaugural ESPN's most improved AFL player award for 2021, pipping Fremantle ruckman Sean Darcy by a single vote.

Parish received 17 votes from our panel of experts, edging Darcy on 16, while Gold Coast's Touk Miller finished ahead of Carlton's Coleman Medal winner Harry McKay for third.

Season 2021 was a breakout year for Parish who was moved into a more permanant midfield role from Round 3 and quickly flourished. His work around the stoppages and ability to rack up plenty of the ball saw his stocks rise by the week.

Throughout the home and away season, Parish averaged 30.27 disposals (previous best was 21.05 in 2017), 13.23 contested possessions (previous best was 9.18 in 2020), 7.45 clearances (previous best was 4.24 in 2020) and 5.95 inside 50s (previous best was 3.29 in 2020).

Parish's 2021 numbers stacked up with some of the game's best midfielders. He finished the year as the league leader in centre clearances (84), third in total clearances (164) and third in score involvements (168). He was also ranked in the top 10 for disposals, effective disposals, inside 50s and ground ball gets.

The 24-year-old also completed an unprecedented best on ground treble in 2021, winning the Anzac Day Medal, Yiooken Award and Country Medal.

Parish was named to the AFL's All-Australian squad last month and is expected to feature prominently on Brownlow Medal night, with our predictor expecting him to finish inside the top eight.

In order to be eligible for the award, a player must have played in the AFL prior to 2021. They must also have played a minimum of 15 games during the 2021 home and away season.

A third of the votes are cast by Champion Data who award 10-8-6-4-2 to the five players who, statistically, have improved the most this season. The formula looks at a player, with a minimum of four seasons, and how their career ranking points per game compare to their average ranking points per game in 2021.

The other two thirds of the votes come from four ESPN AFL journalists, who vote 5-4-3-2-1 on who they believe to be the most improved player from the season. Therefore, a player can receive a maximum of 30 votes (10 from Champion Data and 20 from our ESPN voting panel). Ties are split by the player to receive the most maximum votes.

Here's how we voted on the most improved player of 2021:

10 - Sean Darcy (FRE)
8 - Bailey Dale (WB)
6 - Darcy Parish (ESS)
4 - Sam Taylor (GWS)
2 - Luke Davies-Uniacke (NM)

5 - Touk Miller (GC)
4 - Ben Keays (ADE)
3 - Ollie Wines (PA)
2 - Harry McKay (CARL)
1 - Sean Darcy (FRE)

5 - Sean Darcy (FRE)
4 - Willem Drew (PA)
3 - Nick Hind (ESS)
2 - Darcy Parish (ESS)
1 - Luke Davies-Uniacke (NM)

5 - Harry McKay (CARL)
4 - Darcy Parish (ESS)
3 - Touk Miller (GC)
2 - Zac Bailey (BRIS)
1 - Karl Amon (PA)

5 - Darcy Parish (ESS)
4 - Touk Miller (GC)
3 - Harry McKay (CARL)
2 - Aliir Aliir (PA)
1 - Tom Hickey (SYD)