AFL Draft: Five must-watch prospects heading into the 2023 season

Jasper Chellappah has joined ESPN's footy coverage for 2023 covering all things AFL Draft and beyond.

ESPN's AFL Draft coverage is back for 2023, and to kick things off we take an in-depth look at the five must-watch players headlining the draft crop this year.

The 2023 edition differs from drafts of late, in that midfielders won't dominate the top of the draft board. Instead, a group of forward-half players from around the country have wowed as bottom-agers in the state championships already, staking their claims to be the number one pick.

Stealing all headlines in possibly the best bottom-age campaign ever has been Tongala's Harley Reid, but the talent is rich in 2023's draft pool with a host of young guns ready to dominate state leagues and the newly-branded Coates Talent League.

These are ESPN's top five AFL Draft prospects leading into the 2023 season, in alphabetical order.

Nate Caddy
Northern Knights/Vic Metro
FWD/MID, 191cm, 83kg

The nephew of premiership Tiger Josh, Caddy has the game to challenge for the first pick this year.

As a forward he's commanding in the air with safe hands, and has an immense work rate to keep presenting on searching leads. Caddy kicked three goals against South Australia in an impressive performance in the wet, showing he is capable in all conditions.

What has clubs really intrigued is his ground level work. For his size, Caddy has brilliant hands below his knees and has shown rare contested ball ability. He's had stints on-ball with the Knights where his contested appetite holds him in good stead, and his frame creates a mismatch around the ground.

In the evolving game, there could even be scope for Caddy to play as a secondary ruckman where he adds another midfield presence when the ball hits the ground.

Ashton Moir
Glenelg/South Australia
FWD, 186cm, 78kg

A mercurial talent in the forward half, Moir is the leading South Australian prospect in the draft and Reid's closest competitor for the first overall selection. He boasts innate footballing ability with his nous around goal and balance with ball in hand.

Everything Moir does is silky smooth; he kicks set shots off both feet, creates time for himself in congestion with a sharp sidestep, and produces extraordinary highlights in the air with his springy leap and timing. His four-goal effort against Western Australia to finish the state championships last year saw him named best on ground as a 17-year-old.

Moir's ability to play a variety of roles in the forward half is what will appeal to clubs, with his aerial presence combined with ground-level skill and pressure a big selling point.

Harley Reid
Bendigo Pioneers/Vic Country
MID, 185cm, 82kg

We're still eight months out from the AFL Draft, but Reid is the runaway favourite to be the number one pick. The powerful Pioneer has played across all areas of the ground and shone.

With Vic Country as a bottom-ager he was stationed in defence where he read the play and intercepted to the tune of 20 disposals per game. He also swung forward in the final match against Vic Metro, kicking two goals and showing moments of brilliance to nearly drag his side over the line.

While he's shown his natural footballing ability at both ends of the ground, Reid's power and aggression will be utilised through the middle of the park this year. He has a wicked fend-off and accelerates out of congestion, drawing genuine comparisons to Dustin Martin.

A forward-half midfielder that extracts the contested ball and hits the scoreboard is where, and how, he will play his most damaging football. Reid produced possibly the best bottom-aged draft campaign ever in 2022, and currently presents as the best open draft pool prospect of recent seasons.

Jed Walter
SUNS Academy/Allies
FWD, 195cm, 94kg

Gold Coast has been planning for this upcoming crop of NGA prospects for a long time, and Walter is the best of an exciting group.

The key forward plays a bruising style, crashing packs and clunking contested marks in the Coates Talent League and at representative level. He kicked nine goals across four state champs games last year for the Allies as a bottom-ager, making the All Australian side.

His aggression, strength and speed on the lead has made him a match-up nightmare throughout his junior career. Walter is the leading tall coming into 2023 and the Suns will be prepared to match a bid wherever it comes in the draft to partner the local product with Ben King.

Nick Watson
Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro
FWD, 170cm, 66kg

Small in stature but a sublime talent with ball in hand, Watson has been on recruiter radars for years.

The small forward is full-chested in his attack on the footy and opponent. He's proactive without the ball, getting to the right spots and making the most of his opportunities. It all translated to a three-goal performance against South Australia in wet conditions for Vic Metro last year where he treated onlookers to a quintessential small forward game, creating goals out of nothing and bringing frenetic pressure.

Clubs are increasingly placing higher value in elite small forwards through the junior pathways, and there's a reason Watson is nicknamed 'Wizard' already.