2022 Free Agency Analysis: Liam Jones, Western Bulldogs

Welcome to the 2022 Free Agency & Trade Period analysis series. Over the next fortnight, the plan is to look at every player heading to a new club. It’s not going to be a ‘who won the trade’ series, but rather a look at how players fit into existing setups, or what changes they may force.

A move sealed a long time ago, but finally made official on Tuesday. Liam Jones has returned to the club where his AFL career started, initially drafted by the Western Bulldogs in 2008 with pick 32.

After 12 months out of the game, for reasons I’m not touching with a 1,000 foot pole, there are plenty of questions on how this signing will unfold.

It’s easy to see the positive side of it, and just as simple to see how it could go wrong. There’s also the issue of the team setup as a whole, and what role Jones will be asked to play in it.

Let’s get stuck in.

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After that they’ll be free for all. Given the Patreon is only running until the end of October, signing up now means only one monthly payment is needed before it goes on hiatus until March 2023.

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Liam Jones: The positives

To start with the obvious, if Jones returns at somewhere near his best, he instantly becomes the Bulldogs’ best key defender. Ryan Gardner battles admirably but is limited, likewise Zaine Cordy when he’s deployed as a back, Tim O’Brien is a fringe player at best, while Alex Keath is best suited to a complementary role rather than one on the opponent’s best forward.

In his later years at Carlton, Jones was asked to defend one-on-ones all the time. The team’s defensive strategy basically boiled down to ‘let Weitering and Jones figure it out’.

It was only because of Jones (and Weitering, of course) that the strategy didn’t devolve into outright disaster. Consider the following:

In 2021, Jones had 110 defensive one-on-one contests, fourth most in the league. He only lost 13 of them, for a rate of 11.8 percent. It was by far the lowest in the league (of any key defender with 25+ contests).

To be under pressure week after week and still hold up to that extent was a remarkable effort.

It’s relevant to the Bulldogs because they do everything possible to avoid one-on-one defensive contests, knowing their personnel will struggle to hold up.

It’s contributed to a defensive method which, to be blunt, hasn’t held up consistently.

Having Jones back there provides a security blanket. Knowing there’s a genuinely good one-on-one defender behind the ball, it allows defence around the ball to become more aggressive, forcing more turnovers at the source.

If Jones is capable of taking the number one defender, it places Keath in a comfortable role as the number two, and allows the general defence to refresh.

Those are the positives. There’s also another side to explore…

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Posts continue to come thick and fast. If you’ve missed anything recently, here are links to catch up:

Tuesday 4th: Free Agency Analysis: Daniel McStay
Tuesday 4th: Trade Analysis: Blake Acres
Monday 3rd: Free Agency Analysis: Jayden Hunt
Monday 3rd: Trade Analysis: Bobby Hill
Friday 30th: Free Agency Analysis: Karl Amon

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Liam Jones: The questions

For me there are two to assess, and both – frustratingly for someone who’s looking to make a conclusive analysis – fall into the ‘wait and see’ basket:

1: The unknown on whether Jones can recapture his level after 12 months out of the AFL system, and at 32 years old by the time he plays his first game in 2023.

All the QAFL form can’t mask that it’s a standard far below what will be expected of him in Bulldogs colours.

The level of performance has to increase sharply, and immediately. Not to mention the level of fitness required at AFL level compared to the QAFL.

2: If the team defence stays with the same look and mentality as 2022, acquiring Jones won’t move the needle at all.

To reiterate numbers from the Bulldogs’ list analysis post:

Bulldogs defence in 2022Points Conceded Per 100 Possession ChainsAFL Rank
Scores from stoppages85.813th
Scores from centre bounce110.416th
Scores from turnovers76.314th
Scores from forward half124.913th
Scores from defensive half49.915th

The general defensive process has to improve, and then Jones should be a symbol at the end of that chain.

There’s no way of assessing that at the moment, but it should become fairly obvious whether an improvement is on the cards as soon as pre-season games begin.

Until then, we wait…

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In case you missed it, the Look Back/Look Ahead series recently wrapped.

Every team’s list was analysed in depth, with a key question picked out for 2023. In some ways the posts work hand-in-hand with these individual analyses, understanding needs and priorities.

Here are all the links to catch up on:

North MelbourneReadWest CoastRead
GWSReadEssendonRead
AdelaideReadHawthornRead
Gold CoastReadPort AdelaideRead
St KildaReadCarltonRead
RichmondReadWestern BulldogsRead
MelbourneReadFremantleRead
BrisbaneReadCollingwoodRead
SydneyReadGeelongRead

Here are all the Patreon details and how to sign up.

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