FREMANTLE faces a classic recruiting conundrum when it comes to using its first-round pick at this year's NAB AFL Draft, and the path it takes will be crucial in its list build under Justin Longmuir.
Currently at No.12 but likely to slide to No.15 on Draft night, the Dockers will face the choice between the best talent available versus its most pressing long-term list need – a young tall forward.
After adding top-end midfield talent and medium defenders and forwards with their prime draft selections in recent years – and mostly hitting the mark – the cupboard for developing talls is almost bare.
It's a list issue that became obvious this off-season after Jesse Hogan was traded and young tall forward Hugh Dixon was delisted, joining Cam McCarthy, who was told in August he would not be offered another contract.
Dixon, who is expected to train with the club from next month, could yet return to the list via a Pre-Season Supplementary Selection if he impresses, but he won't address the issue alone.
While the solution is obvious, the conundrum for the Dockers is they'll be drafting at a point when the best young talls are off the board, but high-quality local players in other positions are still available.
Draft for positional needs in the first round and a talented Western Australian, like defender Heath Chapman, could slip past and carve out a great career elsewhere. Draft best available and the need for a young forward remains.
The case for taking the positional needs path is strong. Getting games into a young forward now before an anticipated push up the ladder will be crucial for the Dockers.
In the past 10 NAB AFL Drafts, only two key position players, Griffin Logue and Michael Apeness, have arrived via first-round picks, and only defender Logue remains on the list after injuries cruelled Apeness in his five seasons.
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The odds of striking gold with a key forward reduce significantly after the first round, and in those 10 Drafts the Dockers have used eight picks in the second round onward to select talls, including three ruckmen.
Defenders Alex Pearce and Brennan Cox, as well as ruckmen Sean Darcy and Lloyd Meek remain. Club champion and 186cm defender Luke Ryan is not included in those figures but played as a key defender in 2020.
Meanwhile, six key position players have arrived via trade, with Rory Lobb and Joel Hamling remaining on the list. Former Dockers Jack Hannath and Jack Anthony arrived via the Pre-Season Draft.
The key position success story has been Matt Taberner, who was elevated from the rookie list in 2013 and, after a run of bad luck with injuries, earned nomination in the 40-man All-Australian squad in a career-best 2020.
If the Dockers draft for positional needs in the first round, Northern Knights key forward Nik Cox shapes as a likely target. The 200cm Victorian can play at both ends of the ground and is a powerful runner, but he will need time to develop.
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The case for selecting the best player available regardless of the position he plays can be made by looking at the Dockers past four seasons at the Draft.
The Dockers have selected the best players available in the first round and, as an aside, have not been put off by postcodes, using five of their seven first-round selections since 2016 on Victorians.
It's been a highly successful drafting period and the future midfield combination of Adam Cerra, Andrew Brayshaw and 2020 NAB AFL Rising Star Caleb Serong is among the most exciting in the competition.
It is clear the Dockers will be winning their share of midfield battles from 2022 on, now they need to make sure they have a forward line that can capitalise on that talent well into the future.
With dual Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe moving forward alongside star Michael Walters, and Taberner and Lobb taking contested marks, the forward line looks strong in 2021.
But Taberner, 27, is the youngest of those four and a transition plan in attack is needed.
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Western Australian Chapman might prove too tempting, or the Dockers could spring a surprise if a midfielder/forward like Archie Perkins slides to their selection on Draft night.
If that is the path they take, you suspect Freo have a plan to land a key forward via other means ahead of 2022, when finals will be well and truly on the agenda.
Whatever path they take, the Dockers' recent drafting suggests they will make the right call on December 9.