Daniel McKenzie (Oakleigh Chargers)
Height: 183 cm
Weight: 77 kg
Player comparison: George Horlin-Smith
Strengths: Speed, tackling, defensive pressure, marking, big-game player
Areas needing improvement: Consistency, ability to hit the scoreboard
You could be forgiven for not knowing who Daniel McKenzie is, what position he plays, and why he’s being spoken about within top 30 calculations. But Collingwood, Hawthorn and West Coast fans take note: McKenzie’s draft stocks are rising.
In a nutshell, McKenzie is a classy midfielder with superb athletic traits who boasts a rare combination of top line speed, endurance and agility. His skill set is also within the top echelon. He is a balanced kick on either side of his body, rates highly in terms of his marking capabilities, whilst his defensive pressure and nous to spread and win the ball on the outside also features prominently.
McKenzie’s natural leap means that he can play small or tall as a defender, and his endurance means that he can bounce around between half back and half forward, and really own a wing position, such is his transition running and offensive drive.
While McKenzie hasn’t exactly been a household draft name in the lead up to November 27th, he’s certainly starting to gain traction.
McKenzie’s year started off somewhat slow, but he came home with a wet sail, with the Oakleigh Chargers naming him best on ground in their premiership win, highlighting his appetite for the big stage.
But if we put the magnifying glass on the second half of his year, it’s one simply of a revelation.
An impressive showing at the National Championships in the middle of the year for Vic Metro was the catalyst of McKenzie’s run home. He notched 18 possessions at a super 89 per cent disposal efficiency during his one game, including three marks. He was ultimately pushed out in favour of others, but he answered his critics in a scintillating return to TAC Cup football.
It prompted a permanent move to the midfield, a natural progression from a back flank where he was notoriously known for shutting down his opponent, taking intercept marks, creating run from the back half and doing it all with a bit of ‘oomph’ and a touch of pizzazz.
It saw a rise in all of his key performance indications, averaging 19.8 disposals, 5.1 tackles, 5.1 marks and 5.6 handball receives, increasing from 12, 3.8, 2.5 and 3.5 respectively.
It brought to the fore his strengths – his speed and endurance and a natural ability to find the footy. He was able to win the ball, and run and in doing so left opponents in his wake. He would back himself to beat any would-be tackler, with a quick side step and accelerating past, or through congestion.
McKenzie was able to exploit his athletic capabilities, but in doing so kept a defensive mindset, an attribute AFL recruiters love. He was the only TAC Cup player in the competition to average high disposal numbers yet maintain equally high pressure acts, such was his harassing, tackling, spoiling, bumps and blocks.
At the next level, a club that is fortunate enough to call him theirs will have flexibility and versatility in abundance with McKenzie. As a defender, he uses his body positioning quite well, often playing in front and gets good location on his opponent, sticking close and using his strong core to back himself in a one-on-one contest, where his first instinct is to spoil or manoeuvre his opponent under the ball.
Although McKenzie doesn’t have a penetrating kick that’s reliable over 50 metres, he’s precise over 40 metres, and in particular has a habit of making bullet-like passes on a wing, or cutting inboard from defence.
His marking however, arguably defines him. He reads the kick off an opposition boot well, moves fluently into space, reading the ball in flight before taking the mark in defence and using the ball truly by foot. His ability to take intercept marks, go back with the flight of the ball with incoming contact, and take contested marks, sets him apart from other midfielders.
One of the most gifted, yet freakish athletes available in this year’s draft, McKenzie’s draft stocks have drastically risen particularly after his impressive draft combine. His vertical jump, endurance, repeat sprints, time trials and agility test all rated within the top echelon of testing, rounding out an impressive make-up of his athletic traits.
Whilst McKenzie’s scoreboard impact would loom as an area of immediate development, only kicking two goals in 2014 despite being an mainstay in Oakleigh’s all-conquering midfield, there is still plenty to be excited about with McKenzie’s scope for development ranking inside the top 10 of this year’s draft crop.