Essendon mid-season report card: Finals shapers?

Record: 6 wins, 7 losses
Grading: C-

The mid-year bye provides a time for clubs to reflect on their season to date and debate whether to plot a new path for the remainder of the campaign.

Summer expectation: Essendon exceeded expectations to make finals in 2017. They were smashed by Sydney in an elimination final but with the off-season signings of Jake Stringer, Adam Saad and Devon Smith it was expected that Bombers would improve their seventh place finish, if not hold their spot in the finals.

Speedster: Adam Saad breaks away from West Coast's Luke Shuey during the Bombers' win over the Eagles in Perth.

Speedster: Adam Saad breaks away from West Coast’s Luke Shuey during the Bombers’ win over the Eagles in Perth.

The story so far: There's been little middle ground – the Bombers have either been inspiring or absolutely listless. Their midfield was smashed in poor losses to the Western Bulldogs, Carlton, Collingwood, Melbourne and Hawthorn, but wins over Geelong, GWS and West Coast (both away) have kept their season alive. Joe Daniher hasn't played since round seven and his groin problem looks like it may keep him out for the whole season. He hasn't played in any of their best wins, with a makeshift forward line anchored by Shaun McKernan and Jake Stringer working at this stage. 

The surprise: Devon Smith. We knew he was good but I don't think many thought he would be this good. He has led the way in the side and the competition for tackles and pressure acts all season and his ability to swing from midfield into the forward line has helped the Bombers attack, which early in the season looked slow and lacked pressure. The other surprise has been Matt Guelfi, the pick no.76 in the 2017 draft has played seven games this season.

What's ahead: When the Bombers play their best football Stringer, Saad and Smith are contributing and Zach Merrett and Dyson Hepell are on top in the midfield. That was clear against the Eagles. The run home is tough – North Melbourne and Collingwood the next two weeks followed by second up games against Hawthorn and Richmond. They also play Sydney (at home) and have to travel to Port Adelaide in the final round. 

How is your team going? Every side will be covered in this series in the coming days.

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