With the 2021 AFL national draft now only a couple of days away, we rewind to this time eight years ago to examine the drafting prospects of young, robust ruckman Toby Nankervis from Tasmanian club North Launceston. First-up, it’s an opinion piece on Nankervis by AFL Media draft expert Callum Twomey, followed by an assessment of his potential at the game’s highest level from Aussie Rules Draft Central. Nankervis would end up being drafted by Sydney with its third pick (No. 35 overall). But after just 12 senior appearances in three years with the Swans, Nankervis was traded to Richmond in search of greater opportunity. He has since become one of the Tigers’ most important team members in his No. 1 ruck role, and a triple premiership player.

Callum Twomey’s opinion piece on Nankervis

“Toby Nankervis was overlooked for last year’s AFL Draft but didn’t dwell on the disappointment for too long. He went out of his way to improve where recruiters wanted him to: he became more aggressive, dominated in the ruck, and grew into a pseudo-midfielder who also pushed forward to kick goals in developing his endurance. 

At the AFL Under-18 Championships for Tasmania, Nankervis was named the joint winner of the Harrison Medal, awarded to the best player in division two. He won the ruck position in the All- Australian side and established himself as perhaps the most commanding ruck around. His standout game came against Northern Territory, when he kicked five goals, had 22 possessions and took nine marks. 

Nankervis’ long reach stands out almost as much as his presence. He plays with good character and has a desire to win. Around the ground he pushes his way to the front of packs and takes marks and at ruck contests he throws he frame forward and isn't easily moved (across the championships he averaged 18 hit-outs a game). He has a big left-foot kick and is good when the ball hits the ground, but Nankervis is best when he's leaping, jumping and stretching for the ball. 

To play at AFL level, he will need to improve his endurance. From last year’s testing to this year’s, Nankervis added a level to his beep test results, but that still has to grow further. His kicking looks good, and he can bang it long, but his efficiency statistics show that can also be an area to refine. 

Because of his ability to find the ball, roam around the ground and take a few marks, Nankervis shares some similarities to Port Adelaide big man Matthew Lobbe. Nankervis is probably more comfortable around goal, though. 

A chance to get into the top 30. Just as likely to be picked anywhere after that, as clubs view rucks slightly differently to other types of players.

Clubs are looking for prospects who can play the hybrid ruck-forward role, and Nankervis has proved he can. Hugely improved from last year, the burly Nankervis deserves a shot.”

Aussie Rules Draft Central’s assessment of Nankervis

“Nankervis basically popped up from nowhere to be the best ruck prospect this year . . . He was overlooked in the draft last year, but he mauled every opponent he played against in the National Championships and stormed onto recruiters’ radars . . .

Throughout the Championships, Nankervis averaged 24.4 disposals, 18 hit-outs, close to eight and a half marks and just over a goal a game.

He basically plays as a fourth midfielder in the Dean Cox mould. He moves around the ground extremely well, often combining in chains of handball. He’s a strong, lead-up marking target all over the ground and his kicking is reliable enough for him to be a threat when he gets the ball.

Contested marking is certainly Nankervis’ biggest strength. He uses his size to advantage and reads the ball drop well. He doesn’t get tangled up too often with defenders and his hands are reliable.

Another strength for Nankervis is his tap-work. At Visy Park against Vic Country, he was giving the midfielders silver service and allowing them first use of the ball.

He doesn’t have the greatest vertical leap, so he’s going to struggle against the more athletic Patrick Ryder or Nic Naitanui types, but against the bigger-framed Mumford types, he shouldn’t be outclassed.

Nankervis is offensively-minded . . . Unlike traditional ruckmen who go forward, Nankervis has the agility and spatial intelligence to be a lead-up player. He can also occupy the goal square, and most defenders won’t beat him one-on-one.

His kicking at goal is fairly accurate, although most shots that he took throughout the National Championships were fairly easy.

Nankervis is the type of all-round ruckman who may go as high as the second round, considering the lack of tall talent in this draft. Going undrafted last year signalled that recruiters had some queries over his game, but this year there seems to be no gaping holes at all. While he could still be considered a project ruckman, he is more ready for the AFL than any other ruckman in this draft crop given he has had the extra year to develop.

Given the lack of ruck prospects in this draft, Nankervis could be pounced upon very early . . . He is probably most likely to go somewhere in the second to third rounds but could go higher or lower depending on which team deems they need another ruck that still has years on his side rather than a “gap filler”. Regardless, Nankervis should find a home and will become a very solid player at AFL level.”