- Fire up the Draft Machine and pick your club's next star

THERE have been plenty of frustrating moments for Jake Lever this year. Watching every game from the sidelines has been harder at some points than others. Learning how to walk then run again was a challenge.

Getting texts from friends to go for a kick at the local park, three months after his knee was reconstructed, was tough; it was tougher to go down anyway, sit near the fence and spend the whole time wishing he was able to join in.

But the thing that has bugged Lever most has been that his name, in discussions, has seemingly always carried an extra question.

"A lot of people say 'Will a club take a risk on him?' When they say it, you get a little bit defensive. You think, a risk? I don't think I'm a risk," Lever told AFL.com.au.

Meet Jake Lever

"I don't think I'm more of a risk than anyone else even though I had had a knee reconstruction. I'd never had any knee problems beforehand – it just happened.

"It does annoy me a bit, especially when you get a question from a club like 'If we take you, is your knee going to hold up?' I can't tell them the answer. But I know I've done everything I possibly can to make it 100 per cent. I'm as confident as anyone."

He has reasons to be that way. At last month's NAB AFL Draft Combine, he received some comforting news. Early in the week, he had an MRI scan on the knee, which found his anterior cruciate ligament is intact and there is no damage around it.

Road to the draft podcast

Some patella tendinitis was discovered, but Lever knew about that already, a regular by-product of the surgery and subsequent rehabilitation process. Getting those results was a relief, particularly given the many little hurdles Lever has overcome since having the operation last December.

"When people check it, you think it's all good and fine. But until you actually see under the knee, and you get the results back and the report to say everything's perfect, you don't know for sure," he said.

Further reinforcement came later in the week at the combine, when he sat down for his medical screening in front of club doctors.

The key defender is in a unique position: he is a highly rated talent, but one who hasn't played since September last year. By the time he plays his next game of footy, he would have been out of action for nearly 18 months. Few early draft picks in the past have had their whole season wiped out like Lever.

So when the AFL's physiotherapist Nick Ames called his name at the combine's medical screening, Lever expected there to be some interest. "But I sat down and nobody was coming up and I thought 'Oh beautiful, everyone's happy'. Then one doctor got up and there was just a swarm who followed him," he said.

They poked, prodded, pulled and pushed him for answers. "I've never had that many people come at me at once and ask a thousand questions at once."

Lever has asked his own questions of others throughout the season. He has had many interviews with club recruiters across the season and they have been impressed by his mature and methodical approach to his recovery.

But, every now and then, he has asked for a little bit of feedback, to know they remember what he achieved last year, when he showed his substance as a courageous and combative tall defender for the Calder Cannons and Vic Metro – a little bit of feedback to know they hadn't forgotten.

"You need a lot of reassurance. You need it from the club recruiters who say you're still in the picture, you're still being considered," he said.

"But for me the club doctors are just as important. They're going to shape the recruiters' minds. I've been trying to impress the recruiters, but at the medical, I had to impress the doctors. It gave me an extra step that I was able to get through it."

Jake Lever shows the strain after the 3km run at the NAB AFL Draft Combine. Picture: AFL Media

Last weekend he ticked off another milestone, completing the Noosa triathlon alongside Calder's strength and conditioning coach, Steve Forcone. It had been a goal he set early in the year, and became something to work towards when he knew football was out of the picture.

Despite his positivity, there are still things Lever wished he got the chance to do this season, like try his luck in the midfield. At 193cm, he feels he has the shape and traits to move in there, and some clubs think it could be his best spot in the future.

And if that didn't work, he still could have settled quickly back in defence, where he showed great signs last year with his aggression, game sense and competitive streak.

He would also have loved to win a premiership with the Cannons, and watching their Grand Final defeat was difficult (Lever had done the warm-up with the team on the ground before running off and getting changed, and seeing the club lose by 47 points to the Oakleigh Chargers).

But a torn ligament in your knee means you have to take enjoyment from other sources, like the success of teammates. He's seen his good mates Touk Miller, Peter Wright and Damien Cavka put themselves in contention for the draft, and watched as friends Christian Petracca and Paddy McCartin have handled the hype of being in contention for the No.1 pick.

That wasn't originally how Lever thought his draft season would go, and until he jumped, spoiled and landed awkwardly on the Gold Coast last November to suffer the injury during a training session, he had big plans.

Those changed. But so did Lever's outlook, and the injury has given him a perspective he doesn't think he otherwise would have developed.

"There are a lot of people out there worse than me – including people who can't play footy ever again because of neck injuries," he said.

"As bad as it is, it's probably the best thing that's ever happened to me. I appreciate doing the little things in life – going for a run whenever I want, being able to kick the soccer ball, playing 'British Bulldogs' or shooting the basketball with my mates.

"These are things I couldn't do for six months, and some a bit longer. I'm pretty proud of how I've handled it all."