We are absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to the small forwards in the AFL. They're exciting, breathtaking and unbelievable at times. Jamie Elliott can jump, Michael Walters can crumb, Eddie Betts is a magician, Hayden Ballantyne can tackle and Luke Breust can nail a set shot. The best of the best can just about do anything.
Iíve recently compared three of the most promising small forwards in the AFL Ė Elliot, Chad Wingard and Walters. And last season, I compared the best of best at the position Ė Breust, Ballantyne and Betts.
So this time around I am comparing three of the most experienced small forwards, who still deserve to have their names placed in this discussion. Who would you rather Ė Lindsay Thomas, Mark LeCras or Robbie Gray?
If you donít join in the chorus, then you are probably scoffing at Thomasí inclusion into the discussion of the best small forwards in the AFL.
Simply put, Thomas is not a liked player by non-Kangaroo supporters. But donít let that cloud your judgment. Thomas is 27, has played 165 games and has kicked 271 goals. He has played a big part in North Melbourneís resurgence in the past few years.
Heís not as silky as Betts, but he is still very smooth. He is not as quick as Jeffy Garlett, but he can still turn on the accelerators. He canít get up as high as Elliott or Walters, but he can still take a high-flying grab.
The point being, Thomas has an array of freakish attributes that he jumbles up every game to produce, well, the player that is Lindsay Thomas.
He gives North supporters headaches as much as he gives them joy. From the undisciplined acts to the inaccurate goal kicking, from the selfishness and the play for free kicks, Lindsay Thomas can eradicate every bad thing he does with one brilliant tackle, one brilliant goal assist or one brilliant snap at goal. And that results in, the love to hate Lindsay Thomas discussion.
His best year was 2013, where he kicked 53 goals and finished seventh in the Coleman Medal. His worst, 2011, where he endured a goal-kicking slump, kicking 21.36.
Thomas is a polarising player, like Ballantyne, and this often smothers the opinion that he is a great small forward in the AFL. And he is great. And if you forget that, he'll probably remind you...
LeCras has been dubbed one of the most underrated AFL players in the modern era.
Perhaps itís because he plays in the West, perhaps itís because of all his devastating injuries, but for all of his success as a small forward, you get the feeling he doesnít mind being a low-profile kind of guy in the AFL.
Injuries have been a consistent storyline in LeCrasí career. At 28 years of age, 2015 is his 11th season and he has only played 142 games. But donít be fooled, letís just casually mention the 317 goals heís kicked to go along with his less than 150-game career.
Similar to Thomas, you wouldnít describe LeCras as flashy or freakish, but he exemplifies a blue-collar small forward type. He works extremely hard and knows how to find the ball.
Itís not as simple as the right place, right time for LeCras; he is an incredibly intelligent footballer who reads the play sensationally well.
He has spent a lot of time through the midfield in his career, but is the most dangerous in the forward line. Giving LeCras any space should be considered a crime.
In what was a disappointing wooden spoon season for the Eagles, LeCrasí 2010 season was unbelievable. He led West Coastís goal kicking (in 2009 as well), won the Eaglesí best and fairest and was named All-Australian in the forward pocket.
LeCras has kicked the most goals in one game at Etihad Stadium Ė in a breathtaking performance against Essendon in 2010 where he kicked 12 goals.
His best may be behind him, but LeCrasí contributions to the small forward position have been remarkable and he has been a wonderful servant to the West Coast Football club.
Robbie Gray may be one of the hottest properties in the AFL right now, but his journey to becoming an A-Grade AFL player has been an up and down one.
Taken at Pick 55 by Port in 2006, the 27-year-old Gray has only played 126 games. Season-ending injuries and patches of poor form crippled the consistency of his career, but Gray has been one of the best players in the AFL since 2013.
After playing most of his career as a small forward, Gray has reinvented himself as one of the premier midfielders in the competition. Gray is dangerous and he is crafty. He is arguably Portís most important player. His 173-goal small forward career has taken a back seat to his esteemed midfield abilities.
He is the most complete player out of the three. He amasses a lot of the ball and is great in winning the clearances.
2014 exhibited the best of Robbie Gray. He was named All-Australian (as small forward) for the first time, averaged 25 disposals, was the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year and was a candidate for the Brownlow.
The best thing about Gray is that, as a small forward, he doesnít have to do the spectacular to impress you. He is an incredibly unselfish player and he knows how to live up to a big moment.
Gray is one of the most accomplished journeymen in the AFL. He has worked his way up to the elite level and as a footy fanatic myself, it has been an absolute pleasure to watch him to do.
Lindsay Thomas, Mark LeCras and Robbie Gray are three of the best, most experienced small forwards in the AFL.
When they are hot, it is pure magic to watch. You can only have one. Time to make your decision.
Who would you rather, Thomas, LeCras or Gray?