WHEN opposition clubs started monitoring young West Coast tall Jarrod Brander last year, they did so believing he was an AFL-standard key forward being played in a less familiar wing role.
If those same clubs are keeping tabs on Brander this season, they'll see a player who is not only making the wing role his own, but one who has the physical attributes to evolve into an onballer if he doesn't move into a key position.
Brander, whose role at West Coast has been a riddle for four seasons, is settling on a wing this season and is arguably the team's most improved player in his six games.
The 22-year-old has lifted his disposal average from 11.1 to 17.0, his inside 50s from 2.0 to 4.0, and his marks from 4.6 to 6.1, playing every game since round three and stepping up during an injury battle for the club.
Where his split between the wing and forward line was 65-35 last season, he is now settled, spending 81 per cent of his game time on a wing and 8.8 per cent forward.
The rest has been used for cameos in the middle, where he averaged just under one clearance a game and shown enough for the Eagles to believe he could build on that.
"It has been difficult at times to work out what the best spot is for Jarrod, not only for him but for us as a team," West Coast head of development Gavin Bell told AFL.com.au this week.
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"Athletically he's very strong, and he's got good endurance and good speed. He's tall and he's very agile, and then he's also good at ground level.
"So he has a lot of great physical attributes and we've experimented with trying to find the role that best suits, which is not uncommon for a lot of players as they've come through the system.
"But the role he's been playing on the wing has really assisted us and we feel like he's really starting to evolve."
Bell's role at West Coast as head of development is to take a big-picture view of all of the club's players and assess what work they need to do to become their best version.
With Brander, he sees an explosive big man without a ceiling, either on a wing, in the midfield, or in a key position.
"I think he's going to be a guy who consistently evolves into what he wants to do and where he wants to play and what's going to be best for our team," Bell said.
"Right now it would be great to consolidate what he's doing in the midfield and show what he can do there, either on a wing or through the middle and evolve that skill-set to be able to play on the ball eventually.
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"There's no ceiling for Jarrod and it's going to be up to him on how hard he's prepared to work on his craft and his body and his mind. It's a really great platform for him."
Champion Data's ranking points highlight Brander's improvement this season, jumping 30 per cent from an average of 55 in 2020 to 71.5 this season. Only midfielder Jack Redden has had a higher year-on-year rise.
He is clearly enjoying his football and benefitting from a clean bill of health, completing a full pre-season after a hip injury last year and a serious hamstring setback in 2019.
Recruited with pick No.13 in the 2017 NAB AFL Draft, he has built tight friendships with his Oscar Allen, Jack Petruccelle and Brayden Ainsworth and should now be viewed as a key signing for the club, with a deal beyond this year yet to be announced.
"The impact he's having on AFL games is assisting him build his confidence," Bell said.
"He's been given an opportunity through injury and circumstance and he's grabbed that opportunity.
He's a good character and we're really pleased with what he's showing us at the moment. He's got the opportunity to become a really strong player for us."