MELBOURNE has a huge decision to make on Wednesday night.
The Demons are contemplating selecting basketball convert Luke Jackson at No.3 in the NAB AFL Draft – and may already have decided – behind Gold Coast-bound pair Matthew Rowell and Noah Anderson.
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Jackson would be the first ruckman taken in the top five of the draft since West Coast's Nic Naitanui was pick two in 2008.
Naitanui has certainly worked out for the Eagles, as a spring-heeled, 201cm specimen who earned All-Australian honours in 2012.
The last big man snapped up in the top 10 was 202cm Billy Longer in 2011, with giant Sun Peter Wright (2014) considered a forward-ruck.
Brodie Grundy (2012) and Tim English (2016), who are both 203cm or taller – compared to Jackson's 199cm – were picked in the late teens.
Jackson left basketball officials shattered when he quit the sport to pursue a football career in July last year, later telling AFL.com.au his early decision was about taking "pressure off".
The 18-year-old West Australian's relative lack of height for a No.1 ruckman is one of the queries on him – and he could yet grow.
However, half of the most common first-choice big men this year were 201cm or shorter, so that's nitpicking.
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Jackson's impressive ground-level work has become a strength of his game and seen him compared to dual All-Australian Grundy, who's revolutionised the expectations for ruckmen.
Also noteworthy is how Melbourne's national recruiting manager Jason Taylor views him as a prospect.
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"We've done a fair bit of work on Luke, particularly in the latter part of the year where he was able to go forward," Taylor told AFL.com.au.
"I was fortunate to go and see him live play forward a bit more, and he does have some flexibility in his game. We don't purely see him as a ruckman only."
The Dees' call with pick three will be a dramatic change in ruck profiling for the club, given its triple All-Australian big man Max Gawn is 208cm and his deputy, Braydon Preuss, is 206cm.
Jackson's stature is more comparable to Melbourne's more recent ruck draftees in Lochie Filipovic, Mitch King and Max King, who all stand 200cm.
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None of that trio made a senior appearance before being delisted but Mitch King was a pick 42, while Filipovic and the other King were rookie-draft gambles.
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That club hit-rate on ruckmen is partly what makes the Demons' interest in Jackson so fascinating, along with the competition's overall success and strategy with the sport's tallest players.
Almost half of the roughly 100 players drafted since 2010 who were classified as ruckmen or spent decent time there – combined with a key-position role – haven't played an AFL match.
More than 50 per cent were rookie-draft choices, as were some of the best big men in the past two decades: Dean Cox, Aaron Sandilands, Shane Mumford, Darren Jolly, Stefan Martin and Jarrod Witts.
The bigger guys take longer to develop, but there are still some alarming numbers, even once the past three drafts are removed from this period.
Ex-Cat Wylie Buzza (nine games), more of a forward-ruck, and Tiger Mabior Chol (10) are the only players out of nine from this group in the 2015 draft to progress to senior ranks.
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In fact, Giant Matthew Flynn is the only other ruckman from that class left on a list.
The 2014 crop featured Wright, Marc Pittonet, Billy Frampton, Reilly O'Brien and Preuss, while a reluctant ruckman in Rory Lobb was the biggest prize a year earlier at pick 29.
Grundy headlined the 2012 draft, with Callum Sinclair, Jon Ceglar and Sam Naismith selected as rookies and Orren Stephenson and Ben Hudson – both on the wrong side of 30 – thrown another AFL lifeline.
The ruck careers of Bart McCulloch, Sam Michael, Fraser Thurlow, Tom Read and Luke Goetz are more customary than those of Gawn, Grundy, Todd Goldstein and Paddy Ryder.
The riddle is far from being solved, even as some clubs deploy two in their best 22 each week.
So is Melbourne right to pounce early if its recruiting team thinks Jackson is the exception to the rule?
Or is a safer option such as Tom Green, Hayden Young or Sam Flanders a wiser move for a team trying to bounce back to respectability next season?
The other food for thought in this discussion is a ruckman's role in a team's success.
Six-time All-Australian Cox, Tiger-turned-Cat Brad Ottens and then-Magpie Jolly are the only ruckmen in the top 10 of their club's best and fairest in a premiership year since 2006.
No one will know for years whether Jackson will be a hit or a miss but the Demons need to figure out now whether he's a ruckman worth taking a punt on.
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