LUKE Jackson might soon be dubbed 'the drought breaker'.
There has not been a ruckman picked in the top 10 of the NAB AFL Draft since 2011, when Brisbane nabbed Billy Longer. But Jackson's form across this season has clubs considering bucking the trend.
Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle are among the clubs who have been linked to Jackson with top-10 picks and are glad the 18-year-old decided last year to give away a promising basketball career to focus on his football.
That call, made in the middle of 2018 after Jackson had played for Australia at the under-17s World Cup in Argentina, has shaped his draft season – which has grown and developed to catch the eye of all scouts.
He has become the standout ruckman of the 2019 crop, improved his game to be a much more rounded prospect, and is now considered a likely early debutant in 2020. Some clubs believe he could take on their ruck reigns in round one if he was to join their list in November.
Jackson looks back on his call between sports as a challenging time, given his prowess in basketball and – at that stage – the unknowns about his footy ability.
"At the time it was pretty hard choosing between them, because I had a lot of people telling me what I should and shouldn't do. But at the end of the day I found it pretty easy so I could block out that and listen to them," he told AFL.com.au.
"I made the right choice and I haven't looked back, and I really just love footy."
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Jackson was a power forward on the court, a little undersized for that role, but was known for his rebounding and attacking play. He's taken the same principles into his football.
While some clubs wonder about his size as a full-time AFL ruck – he measured in at 199cm at this month's NAB AFL Draft Combine – Jackson's ability at ground level and bustling frame gives him unique ways to influence games.
He has drawn comparisons to Collingwood star Brodie Grundy, himself a cautionary tale for clubs who bypass ruckmen, having slipped to No.18 in the 2012 draft despite being widely viewed as a top-five talent.
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Jackson has idolised Grundy in recent years, having grown up watching Nic Naitanui dominate for the Eagles, and entered this year hopeful of having more influence on games.
"My year's been pretty consistent. One of my goals was to find a lot more of the ball around the ground this year and I thought I did this towards the back-end," he said.
Jackson was named the All Australian ruckman after dominating for Western Australia, where he averaged 15 disposals (11 contested), 37 hit-outs and five clearances a game.
And in the last four games in East Fremantle's colts side, Jackson averaged 22 disposals and 34 hit-outs to finish his campaign in sterling form. His season has been so busy he has spent little time reflecting on his switch from basketball.
"It came pretty easy to me in the end. I just knew footy was the right sport for me and where I see myself in the future," he said.
"I wanted to make my name be felt this year and make it my best football season yet. I'm still pretty raw to the game, but I want to keep learning."
With a strong leap, competitive instincts, an ability to mark and also find the ball around the ground, Jackson has attributes of other ruckmen who have in the past been passed over by clubs early in the draft.
He feels different to them, though.
"I want to be a ruckman who can pinch-hit in the forward line as well, and be versatile in those areas. I'm open to even playing in the midfield as well, so I'll go anywhere," he said.