Caleb Daniel (South Adelaide)
Height: 168 cm
Weight: 68 kg
Strengths: Pace, agility, endurance, core strength, disposal, inside ability
Areas of improvement: Nothing within his control
Player comparison: Dayne Zorko (more skilled version)
Caleb Daniel is a special player. On ability he’s the best player in the draft crop, no player possesses close to the same natural talent. However, Daniel is one of the smallest players to play the game. It’s about the one thing that can make even the best drop down the draft boards. If drafted, Daniel will be the smallest player in the AFL.
In 2013 as an underaged player he averaged 17 disposals across 10 games. An ankle injury prevented him from playing early this year but he made his way back for the second half of the championships. Despite having no match practice and very little conditioning, Daniel managed to average 20 disposals at 90 per cent efficiency, four marks, four inside 50s, five tackles, two clearances and two goals in his three games. Particularly impressive was a 27-disposal, three-goal game in round five and a 21 disposal, three-goal and 217 champion data ranking point game in round six. In three SANFL games since the championships he’s averaged 16 disposals a game at 84 per cent efficiency.
Athletically Daniel excels. Last year he ran a 15.7 beep test, this year he reportedly ran a 16.1. There’s every chance he’ll break Billy Hartung’s record of 16.6 at the combine this year and at worst he’ll be in the all time top three. He also ran a 2.99 second 20-metre sprint last year and a 10.09 minute three-kilometre time trial, both likely to have improved throughout this year. Daniel is a very good chance of ranking in the top 10 for the 20-metre sprint, three-kilometre time trial, beep test, agility run and repeat sprints at the combine. It’s rare that a player is elite in both sprint speed and endurance, but Daniel is.
Daniel isn’t just an athlete though, he’s a footballer too. Below the knees his hands are excellent and he doesn’t ever fumble with his pickups always clean. When receiving a handball irrelevant of how poor the handball is, whether it’s behind him, on the ground or too far in front of him he collects it cleanly without breaking stride. By hand and foot he is excellent. Not only is he technically a good kick but his vision and decision making are elite. No matter the pressure he’s under, Daniel is able to effectively execute high degree of difficulty kicks with ease.
He spots targets in space others aren’t able to and whether it be across his body or on the outside of his foot, he’s able to execute the kick to perfection. By hand he’s able to hit targets to advantage and release runners with ease. While Daniel is an excellent user of the ball in space, under pressure he’s even better being able to always find targets even in heavy traffic. Daniel’s ability to evade the tackle is excellent and on the rare occasion he is tackled he’s able to get his hands free and fire off an effective handball. While Daniel’s disposal efficiency at both SANFL and under 18 level is excellent, not only are his disposals effective but they’re damaging; they’re not just cheap handballs out the back or long bombs to contests, nearly every time Daniel gets the ball you can be sure his disposal is going to lead to the team being closer to a goal.
Daniel has the ability to turn hard ball gets into uncontested possessions with ease, while also regularly winning 50/50 contests leading to an inside 50 mark. He breaks games. While in the championships Daniel played more of a forward flank/outside midfielder role, at SANFL level he’s played more of an inside role at times. He truly is a balanced midfielder and a volume accumulator. If he’s around the play he finds a way to win the ball whether it be gut running to provide an outside link up option or burrowing in hard and winning the contested ball.
Defensively Daniel works hard. With his pace and agility he’s able to corral and apply pressure with real intensity. He keeps track of his man and runs both ways. He’s always looking to tackle when not in possession and despite his small stature, at under 18 and SANFL level he’s been able to tackle with some real force and efficacy. At his size his tackling proficiency is no guarantee to translate to AFL level, but at worst with his work rate he’ll still be able to apply pressure. There isn’t much wrong with Daniel’s game.
In the championships he managed six goals from three games however of those three were handball receives into on the run shots from outside 50 and one was from an uncontested mark 45 metres out that he’d never have been allowed to get at AFL level. Before the championships he hadn’t shown much to indicate he had a forward game and while his performances in the championships were a real step forward, two games of three goals is a small sample to be making judgments on his ability in the forward 50. The other knock on his game is that when kicking long he is prone to swinging out onto his right foot and kicking across his body instead of through the ball, something that is easily fixed.
The knock on Daniel is his height. And it’s a big one – players of his height are traditionally looked over. While there aren’t any players of Daniel’s size in the AFL right now, that’s not to say there’s not a place for one – he is simply better than all the sub 170 players that have been rejected in the past. While at AFL level he won’t be afforded the same freedom he is at lower levels, with his skills, athleticism and football smarts there will always be a place for him regardless of size.
Jake Neade was given a chance at 170 centimetres and Daniel, being only two centimetres smaller, would be able to perform and impact like Neade did at the absolute worst. Dayne Zorko too is a small half forward/midfielder who found a place in the league through hard work and size hasn’t held him back. With Caleb Daniel’s work ethic and character there’s no reason why he can’t defy the odds and make the grade.