Melbourne land Jake Lever, but they sold the farm to do it

Ryan Buckland Columnist

By , Ryan Buckland is a Roar Expert

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    The animus is over, for now. Melbourne have secured the services of Jake Lever, their young key position piece, giving up a bounty to add one of the final pieces of their aggressive rebuild.

    Melbourne has exchanged their 2017 first-round pick (currently pick 10), their 2018 first round pick (which would project in a similar range to this year’s pick right now) and a future fourth-round pick for Adelaide’s Jake Lever, Adelaide’s 2017 pick 35 and their 2018 third round pick.

    The wantaway key defender, who completed a three-year stint with the Crows with a borderline All Australian season, now forms part of a youthful core of blue-chip talent at the Dees.

    Melbourne has Lever, Christian Petracca and Jesse Hogan all in the same age bracket – a key forward, key defender and primo midfielder to build a team around for the next decade.

    The Dees were reportedly in love with Lever in the 2014 draft, but chose to draft Petracca and midfielder Angus Brayshaw instead. It cost a pretty penny – which we’ll get to in a moment – but now they’ve got their set.

    Lever has put together a very strong three years for a young key position player, his reputation as an outstanding aerialist growing this season as he averaged 9.5 intercept possessions in 20 games.

    His 190 intercepts were second to Richmond’s Alex Rance, a player Lever is often compared to as a measure of how high his ceiling extends. Melbourne’s new piece makes quality decisions and possesses an above average right boot, and does his best work flying across a marking contest to chop off the play.

    There’s little doubt Lever is an outstanding player for his age. Champion Data’s AFL Player Ratings have him as the best key defender for his age ever – albeit their history extends to 2010.

    But this does not consider role, and it’s where this deal gets a little murky. Lever has been Adelaide’s third defender for most of his career, and spends plenty of time as a spare man when the Crows look to manufacture an extra behind the ball. That is sure to inflate his intercept statistics.

    Melbourne will be procuring his services to eventually act as their number one defender. It’s not clear he can’t grow into this role, but it is no sure thing. It won’t happen overnight, either.

    The Dees’ defence does need some help. They were no better than average last season, conceding 88 points per game, and a hair more against the top sides (90, ranked eighth). Stopping teams from scoring is driven more by scheme and team defence, but having a Jedi Knight patrolling the back 50 can buttress even the shakiest of teams.

    Lever’s ascension will force some change in Melbourne’s defensive mix. One of Oscar McDonald, Tom McDonald and Sam Frost will be punted out of defensive 50 – the prime candidate for me would be Tom McDonald, who will instead take his rightful place as the centre half forward no one knew we needed. It puts Melbourne’s desire to offload Jack Watts into sharp focus.

    A Lever-McDonald swap doesn’t instantly improve Melbourne’s projected defensive prowess – particularly if he isn’t able to handle the load as the number one man straight away.

    But this is all about growth for the Dees, and being in a position where a clutch of highly rated players can grow in concert. It is a gamble on Lever’s upside, albeit one where the odds are stacked in Melbourne’s favour.

    Which gets to the bounty the Dees gave up. For all the bluff and bluster – and boy wasn’t there a lot of it – Adelaide ultimately got their inflated asking price: two first round picks.

    There are pick swaps down the line that may help soften the edge for the Dees – Adelaide’s pick 35 could yield a handy role player based on history – but make no mistake: Melbourne has sold the farm for this guy.

    It harkens back to Collingwood’s 2015 trade for Adam Treloar, where the Pies gave pick eight, pick nine and pick 65 to the GWS Giants for Treloar and pick 33.

    It looked a lot at the time, and the Pies picked Treloar on his potential, which depending on your perspective he may or may not have yet to live up to.

    It affords the Crows some added space to wheel and deal their way into an extra piece to bolster their already very strong best 22.

    There is already talk Bryce Gibbs may suddenly be a little more available than he was at the start of trade period, when the Blues and Crows ruled out a deal.

    The Dees pulled the Lever in this trade, but there’s little doubt as to who was the puppet master.

    Adelaide have come out of a heated negotiation, with a player who was out of contract and had all-but narrowed his list of suitors down to one, with the very best possible deal.

    The diminishing value of draft picks continues at a pace. If Lever is really a young Alex Rance, for Melbourne it was a price worth paying.

    Ryan Buckland
    Ryan Buckland

    As an economist, Ryan seeks to fix the world's economic troubles one graph at a time. As a sports fan, he's always looking one or two layers beneath the surface to search for meaning, on and off the field. You can follow Ryan here.