CLUB: Sturt/Sacred Heart College
PICK RANGE: 15-35
South Australian Charlie Ballard is a prospect that has flown under the radar as the season has gone on, but has been on the minds of recruiters for some time after a breakout U18 Championships.
He has grown 15cm in under two years and the spurt in height has meant adjustments to the way he plays. At just under 196cm, he is genuine key position height, but is making his name known as a rangy wingman. He is raw and has plenty of development, but ticks a lot of boxes for what the modern game requires.
He burst on the scene with a very strong Championships for South Australia, where he averaged 18 disposals and played all four games. He proved that he could match the smaller opponents with his running, but became a difficult match up in the air due to his size and long arms. His kicking and decision making isn’t far off being elite, while he has a sense of composure with ball in hand.
At Sacred Heart he got the opportunity to play at both ends of the ground, which saw him utilise his height more consistently and learn to get in more dangerous marking positions. His intercepting and aerial work continued to improve at U18 and reserve level for Sturt, where he could be used as a target on the wing or be involved in turnovers.
He finished the season on a unique high by winning two premierships in a week for Sturt, firstly in the U18s before following up the weekend after in the reserves.
WHY PICK HIM?
Ballard is very different to any other player available in this draft pool or previous years for that matter. His height and wingspan set him apart as a wingman, although there are enough signs to suggest he could become a KPP or even a tall inside midfielder.
As an outside type, he possesses impressive skills and athletic traits. He is faster than he looks, although a calm demeanour gives him extra time to assess the situation ahead. You couldn’t describe him as explosive, but he ran a 3.05 second 20 metre sprint at the combine to prove that his wheels are well above average for a player his stature. He is an exceptionally good kick for his size, long or short and is more than adequate on his left foot.
In the air his hands are good, while he is generally just too tall to be beaten for his usually smaller opponents. He floats up and down the ground to be a target or when required, sit in the hole and clean up any stray opposition kicks. A very light body means he can be buffeted or easy moved in a pack situation, but if he gets his hands to the ball, big contested marks aren’t out of the question against taller types. Thankfully, he possesses a frame that has the potential to fill out, while he is still in the process of getting used to a shape that has changed dramatically in a short period of time. This is why some recruiters and underage watchers believe his scope to improve is a high as anyone.
THE QUESTION MARKS?
The most obvious question recruiters are trying to answer is where does Charlie Ballard play at the next level? Due to his height and athleticism, there are plenty of options. He has made his name on the wing, but is there a role for him like that in the AFL? If the wing or midfield doesn’t work, has he shown enough to be considered a real key position prospect? While he could have shown more in the better competitions in those roles, there are just too many attributes to ignore that could prove to be elite in 2-3 years.
The contested category of his game is certainly something that needs work, both offensively and defensively. As a midfield or receiving option, his contested possession percentages need to rise, while he averages well under two tackles a game at junior level. Promisingly, there have been glimpses throughout that season to suggest these areas can be easily implemented. During his time with Sturt’s U18s side, he got to more stoppages and averaged over two clearances a game and spun out of traffic superbly at times in the SANFL U18 Grand Final. He also memorably chased down the speedy Tarryn Thomas at the National Championships and produced similar moments on multiple occasions in that Grand Final performance. He now needs to produce it on a more consistent basis, especially around congestion.
Charlie Ballard is a player that hasn’t been given his due recognition outside of South Australia, but is about to claim the rewards as a sneaky first round hopeful on Friday night. There are some who have made comparisons to Mark Blicavs, I assume just due to height and movement similarities, but he is quite a different player. There is class and composure that you just don’t associate with a player this tall, something a bit more special. While I don’t want to be the one to create completely unrealistic expectations, there are times when you can’t help but think Bontempelli. The contested possession traits are miles off the standards of the Bulldogs star, but there is a feeling when you watch this kid play that he has what it takes to become a very good AFL player.