IT HAS taken almost five years but West Coast defender Brad Sheppard is finally realising his potential.
Sheppard appeared destined for a bright future after playing 14 games in his rookie season of 2010, with the No.7 draft pick a rare positive from the Eagles' wooden spoon campaign.
But the next three years were full of frustration for Sheppard as he failed to nail down a permanent spot in the side.
He was moved from the midfield into the forward line without much luck, with his wayward disposal causing much angst.
The 22-year-old appeared set for another unfulfilled year after starting 2014 in the WAFL under new coach Adam Simpson.
But Sheppard's injection into the Eagles' backline has proven to be a masterstroke, with the 52-gamer now in career-best form.
Sheppard has averaged 18 possessions a game over his seven outings this season, with his dash out of defence becoming a crucial weapon.
Fellow defender Shannon Hurn has noticed Sheppard's rise.
"I think any time a young player comes into the AFL they think it's going to be pretty easy and pretty good, but it's not," Hurn said.
"It's very hard to be successful.
"I think in the last year but especially over the pre-season, Brad's understood what football is about. He has probably matured as a person in general.
"It's really pleasing that he's put the performances on the board. Now the challenge going forward is to consistently keep doing it and keep improving."
The Eagles (4-4) moved into seventh spot on the table following Sunday's 111-point demolition of GWS.
West Coast is yet to claim a high-profile scalp this year but will have a chance to change that when it takes on Collingwood (MCG), North Melbourne (home) and Hawthorn (Aurora Stadium) after this week's bye.