JACOB Weitering put the runs on the board early. In two games in April for the NAB AFL Academy, Weitering outmuscled and outmaneuvered VFL opponents (most of them AFL-listed) at centre-half back.
Very quickly, he established himself as the leading contender for this year's No.1 pick. One recruiter said he couldn't remember such a gap between the best player and the next player, such was the Dandenong Stingray's dominance.
But is the race for first picked still as clear-cut? With the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships to close next week and a trio of clubs (the Brisbane Lions, Carlton and Gold Coast) in the mix for the wooden spoon, it is a good time to reassess the top end of the draft pool.
Weitering hasn't dropped off in form at any point this season. He has performed consistently and effectively for Vic Country during the national carnival, and will likely be named an All Australian this week.
His marking, game sense, excellent long kicking and size (195cm, 92kg) makes him a promising and bankable package. "He'd be playing in every AFL team right now," a recruiter said recently. Weitering is also mature, presentable and would handle every press conference with a minimum of fuss. He has the assuredness of Tom Boyd, who carried the No.1 tag throughout 2013.
But not many key defenders get taken as the first pick. In fact, the last to fill that spot as a backman was Darren Gaspar in 1993, when the Sydney Swans selected him from South Fremantle.
Clubs like using early picks on key forwards, because they see it as the only way to secure quality talls without spending a fortune. Aside from father-son selections Tom Hawkins and Travis Cloke, a majority of the competition's other best goalkickers were high picks: Josh Kennedy, Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead, Jack Riewoldt.
In more recent times, Joe Daniher went Essendon's way through the father-son rule, Melbourne grabbed Jesse Hogan in the mini-draft, Jeremy Cameron was a pre-selection for the developing GWS, and St Kilda took Paddy McCartin last year.
All of this (plus a consistent, prolific season near goal) has made Josh Schache the other emerging possibility as the 2015 No.1 pick. "It's not easy to get 200cm forwards who can kick goals and also play that modern role of being an effective part-time ruckman," a scout said. "Schache does that. You'd have to take him for that reason."
There are other reasons. The left-footer is a brilliant shot for goal, he has built up his frame, is playing more aggressive footy this year and can run – his best beep test is 14.1. In comparison, the average for small players at last year's draft combine was 14.6.
Aaron Francis' standout carnival for South Australia has seen him rocket into contention too, although clubs asked by AFL.com.au about who they would take at No.1 didn't think he had done enough to displace Weitering and Schache as the main options.
The 191cm prospect started the year as a high-marking defender, but has pushed up the field during the carnival and even kicked 4.5 from 22 disposals in one game. Dynamic and powerful, Francis has started in the middle on other occasions, but recruiters think he couldn't yet be picked as a midfielder without his running at that level.
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Midfielders Callum Mills (Sydney Swans) and Jacob Hopper (GWS) would be in contention if not tied to academy clubs, but it's hard to see another club bidding the No.1 choice on either under the new system. Darcy Parish's dash and desire make him the best midfielder with no club already attached – and maybe full-stop.
Of course whoever finishes bottom might also determine who goes where. If the Suns choose not to throw everything at keeping key forward Charlie Dixon then Schache might become a bigger proposition for them. But they did pick 203cm forward/ruck Peter Wright last year, and have Sam Day and Tom Lynch emerging.
Their defence is solid when Steven May and Rory Thompson are there, but Thompson has had injury battles and Jack Leslie and Henry Schade are the back-ups. Weitering could step right in.
The Lions' desperation for a goalkicker would make them think strongly about Schache, whose father Laurence played 29 games for the Brisbane Bears in the early 1990s.
They have secured a nice batch of young talls – including Harris Andrews, Dan McStay and Darcy Gardiner – but they may all be better suited to the backline. They also have first access to tall back Eric Hipwood through their academy this year.
Their interest in the ready-made Dixon, and the potential of adding a young, developing forward like Schache to their list, would give the Lions some firepower to add to an impressive midfield.
Weitering would be hard to overlook for the Lions, though, after having him train at the club in January for a week through the NAB AFL Academy. Lions coach Justin Leppitsch thought he could have stayed, such was his ability to mix it with the group.
Carlton's win over Port Adelaide last week put it a game ahead of the Suns and Lions, and the Blues face the Suns at Etihad Stadium on Sunday. If they win, a two-game gap on the Suns might put them out of reach of their fourth wooden spoon in 14 years.
Weitering and Schache with both appeal to the Blues, and will so more if an uncontracted Lachie Henderson leaves the club at the end of the year.
This draft isn't strong, but the good thing about it is there's some talls at the top. If Weitering and Schache go early, Francis, and injured pair Sam Weideman and Charlie Curnow won't be too far behind.