The NAB Rising Star has had many names over the years but it has always been one of the most sought-after individual honours for young AFL players. Names such as former champions Ben Cousins and Nathan Buckley sit alongside stars of today's games like Adam Goodes, Joel Selwood, Nick Riewoldt, Sam Mitchell and Brett Deledio, Players like Danyle Pearce, Rhys Palmer and Daniel Rich probably peaked as first or second year winners, but deserve the award in any case.
So what do we make of this year's nominations? While some have played one good game that caught attention, others have played fantastic football on a more consistent basis and seem to be obvious contenders. From the list below, there are three contenders - Dom Sheed, Patrick Cripps and Jesse Hogan. Lets look at the cases for each of these players and predict a winner
After a mixed first season in which he donned the substitute vest on most occasions, Sheed has been a revelation in 2015 establishing himself as an automatic selection for the second placed Eagles. Sheed has averaged 18.9 disposals per game and ranks in the top five amongst Rising Star nominees in disposals per game (3rd), inside 50s per game (1st) and uncontested possessions per game and just outside the top five in contested possessions and clearances. While he may not get the number of first and second place votes as the other two contenders, he richly deserves his likely place amongst the top three. Social media support has been largely limited to WA and Eagles fans as the #sheedwagon has gained steam, but that's hardly surprising given he is hiding away on the other side of the country.
Cripps looks likely to be a star. At 190cm and 88kg, he would have been a key position player in another era but instead has become one of the few bright lights in the AFL's most underwhelming club. Carlton have been coming for years, but Cripps gives them a chance to finally take the first step.
Tallying 22.8 disposals per game, he leads all Rising Star candidates in total disposals per game, effective disposals per game, clearances per game and tackles per game. He would want to limit the number of clangers he commits but given he ranks in the top 20 in the league in handballs, contested possessions and clearances per game it is obvious that he is over the injuries that cost him all but three games in his first season.
The retirement of Chris Judd and total absence of any other young midfield quality at Carlton has Cripps set to be the main man for a decade to come, and based on what we have seen this year Blues fans would be very happy with what he already is, and will become as a player.
Social media is heavily on the "Cripps Train" as most have resigned themselves to the decision being between Cripps and another impressive youngster. The first tweet below seems to reflect the views of most punters, the second tweet should probably be taken with a biased pinch of salt.
Jesse Hogan is 20 years old and playing a key position as the full-forward for a mediocre team. He gets the best defender every week and has dominated the likes of Scott Thompson, Alex Rance, Phil Davis, Nathan Brown and Daniel Merrett.
It would be reasonable to expect him to take longer to mature but his numbers and performances compare favourably to Jonathan Brown and Wayne Carey as second-year players. He is playing for a team that goes inside 50 less than any other team in the league and yet he ranks second in the league in total contested marks, third in contested marks per game, 10th in marks inside 50 and has kicked 36 goals.
He even has a pop-culture based natural nickname and is capturing the attention of his peers.
So who wins this award? Statistics can be inflated and the game seems to be more midfielder-based than ever but to have watched Hogan play this season makes this a no contest. Not only has he been the best player of this young bunch, its actually not even close. Cripps and Sheed are talented young players and the Blues and Eagles will look to lock them up long-term, but they haven't been in the same league as Hogan.
There could be a handful of midfielders as good as Sheed or Cripps in next year's draft but Hogan is shaping as a once in generation player. Potential aside, he has shown that on-field and deserves to poll the maximum number of votes as a runaway winner of the 2015 NAB Rising Star award.