Calder’s Jake Lever is, in my mind, the most intelligent key defender to come through the TAC Cup in many years. He reads the play like Harry Taylor, intercepting everything, and then sets up the play as a backline general.
He also has the athleticism and talent to set up rebounds and find plenty of the ball. However, he’ll be out all year whilst recovering from his ruptured ACL and his aim to be fit for the draft combine.
Right now, he’s an assistant coach for the Vic Metro backline, which is pretty impressive for an 18-year-old. He looked certain to be a top five pick this year until he went down. To assess where he will be drafted, let’s go over the recent highly touted players who spent most of their draft years on the sidelines.
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These are just some of the higher profile cases in the past three years, there are plenty more. In Lever’s case, there are several things that must be considered when placing his draft stock. Firstly, how much of a look at him did recruiters have?
Jake Lever 2013 TAC Cup statistics
Average kicks: 12.4
Average handballs: 6.8
Disposal efficiency: 69.8%
Average marks: 6.5
Average contested marks: 1.8
Average handball receives: 6
Average tackles: 2.5
Jake Lever 2013 Under 18 carnival statistics
Average kicks: 9.8
Average handballs: 7.8
Disposal efficiency: 72.9%
Average marks: 3.5
Average handball receives: 7.5
Average tackles: 1
With those stats in mind, they had at least 15 games to assess him, which was certainly enough to showcase his talent. For talent shown, he will get a tick in recruiters’ minds.
The second aspect is the recent history of key forwards who had injury troubles in their draft years. The two best examples in the past couple of years were Cameron Conlon and Jake Stringer.
Conlon was always going to be difficult to take. He had set the world on fire in the first few games as an under-ager in 2012, but he only played a few games before going down with an injury. Personally, I was still surprised that he wasn’t drafted, as he was one of the few talented key forwards with great height and athleticism. But that small sample size wasn’t enough for recruiters.
Stringer was a different kettle of fish. He was one of the truly dominant players for the Rebels and was touted as equal to or better than his teammate Ollie Wines. The fact that he was a midfielder who showed his talent as a key forward after breaking his leg makes it hard to tell whether recent history will apply to Lever.
Most importantly is the depth of talls in this draft. There is far more gold in the talls this year than ever. Key backs in Darcy Moore, Sam Durdin and Hugh Goddard headline the draft, but on exposed talent, Lever is the best pure defender.
Taking all this into account, it is still possible that Lever squeezes into the top five, but it’s likely that he will drop closer to the eight to 12 mark. That would be one of the biggest draft day steals in recent history.