PORT Adelaide's draft hand this week is a stark contrast to the past three years - just one pick in the top 30 (at No. 12) compared with three in 2018 and four in 2019. And there is a 50-call gap between the first pick and the second hit at No. 62, compared with 33 between Lachie Jones at 16 and Ollie Lord at 49 last year.
Port Adelaide recruiting manager Geoff Parker has not faced the prospect of "watching" more so than participating in the early round of the AFL national draft since 2017 when his first call was at No. 47 (and counted with 2021 SANFL club champion Sam Hayes).
"It is a little bit different," Parker said on Tuesday on the eve of Port Adelaide's 26th appearance at the AFL national draft.
"We have been here before, picking late in the draft after doing some trades with our top-end draft picks, so it is not that we are not used to it. But it is a bit different when the picks are so spread out (from 12 to 62) with no pick for two or three rounds."
There is the option to trade into the second and third rounds, however.
"We will be waiting to see what players are available - and considering whether we move back into the draft (with live trading of draft picks) if there are players there that we like," Parker said.
Port Adelaide, at this stage, will call at 12, 62, 72, 73 and 85 during the two-day AFL national draft that returns to the Docklands in Melbourne after two years of displacement by COVID protocols.
The No. 12 pick came from Port Adelaide's trade with ruckman-forward Peter Ladhams to Sydney. The club started with it first pick at No. 16, based on ranking third in the 2021 premiership race.
Parker notes Port Adelaide will have access to a different class of player after advancing four picks in the first round of the draft.
"The move from 16 to 12 put us into a different category of player," Parker said. "There is a little bit of a mix of types that we will hopefully have the opportunity to pick from.
"There is not a particular type of player (wanted at No. 12). List manager Jason Cripps has done a good job in bringing in players through the trade period to fix gaps in our list. The recruiting team has done a good job in drafting players that also fill spots on our list across all three areas of the game (attack, midfield and defence).
"So there is not a glaring need. You are always looking at the best player available, but there also are a few different types of players in that group that we are hoping to consider. It is a little bit unknown - pick No. 12 is probably going to end up being 14 once (Nick) Diacos and (Sam) Darcy are bidded for (as a father-son picks at Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs respectively).
"So there is a little bit more uncertainty; you are not quite sure what is happening in front of us."
This uncertainty clouds the prospect of the Glenelg-based Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera still being available when Port Adelaide has its first call on Wednesday.
"Everyone has seen that Nasiah has some talent and there is no doubt he would be in discussions for our first pick at No. 12, if he still available," Parker said. "It is a big discussion.
"I honestly do not know if he will be or won't be. It is really hard to know, particularly when there is live bidding for picks."
Port Adelaide list manager Jason Cripps already has worked preliminary talks with rival clubs - in particular Greater Western Sydney - to understand the opportunities and costs of trading for draft picks in the second and third rounds.
"You need to have a group of players (in those rounds) who still interest you," Parker said. "They have to enhance your list. You then also have to weigh up the cost of coming back into the second and third rounds.
"It is a debate between the recruiting staff, the list-management staff and the coaching group.
"I would think that on (Wednesday night) we will go in with what we have (pick No. 12). We will always look at improving our list. If that is trading back into the second and third rounds (on Thursday) - and what that costs us - is something we have to weigh up."
The scouting of draft prospects is complicated not only by COVID lockdowns denying Victorian teenagers football competition, but also recruiting watchers not having easy access to Western Australia where under-age leagues have been in full play.
"We always rely heavily (on the recruiting network) but the restrictions on travelling have made it a lot harder to see players," Parker said. "This draft, our full-time recruiting staff have not been able to get to Perth for the past two years to watch any football in Western Australia. So that is another added dimension.
"We are watching a lot of vision of players from every weekend. It has made it a different way of trying to work through a draft. You do prefer to watch them live, at least a couple of times during the year. We just have not had that opportunity with several of the players we are discussing around our first pick.
"The lack of football the Victorian boys have played - not just this year but also last year - compared with the rest of the country makes them a little bit unknown in some way. This group of Victorian footballers have missed two years of football, so you are looking back at vision from when they were 16.
"It is more of a gamble because they have not played - and they have been restricted in their training. So when you are discussing a Victorian boy in this year's draft these are the things you have to consider. A lot of their training has been kick-to-kick with their mates in a park.
"There is always a risk in any draft with any pick. But I would like to think we all do a real mountain of work in minimising that risk. Some draft picks don't work out ... there is always that risk."
Port Adelaide will use the break between Wednesday night's early draft calls and those on Thursday to assess its strategy with father-son prospect Jase Burgoyne. This becomes complicated by any rival bid for Burgoyne, in particular from Essendon and Melbourne.
"Most of the clubs have watched Jason play a lot because he has played a lot in the past two years compared to some," Parker said. "The way we have worked our draft order - and trading of picks to get points (for bidding) - we would expect a bid would come in the second half of the draft. That is the way we have been working in the past month.
"In the past week and a half we have really narrowed our focus into a group of players we would be prepared to draft. If there are players in that group who are still sitting there in the mid-part of the draft we might look at coming back in. But it also depends on where that bid comes for Jase Burgoyne and what picks we are left with once that does happen.
"There are a couple of different scenarios. We will have a bit of time to work through that after Wednesday night is done. We might have a bit more of a feel on Thursday. We are working through different contingencies."
Parker confirmed Port Adelaide has spoken with former North Melbourne and Norwood player Trent Dumont, but has made no commitment to claim the 113-game AFL midfielder in the draft, rookie draft or as a delisted free agent.
Also, Tex Wanganeen - the son of Brownlow Medallist and inaugural Port Adelaide AFL captain Gavin Wanganeen - is off the draft agenda because of his lack of football activity during the COVID lockdowns in Victoria.
"He also suffered an injury pre-season," Parker said. "He just has not played enough. He just needs to get fit and healthy and play a whole season next year and then the determination will be made by us or Essendon and he also has the choice (on father-son nominations). We will have to wait on that."
Port Adelaide's top-30 draft calls in 2018 and 2019 delivered Connor Rozee (No.5, 2018), Zak Butters (12, 2018), Xavier Duursma (18, 2018), Miles Bergman (14, 2019), Mitch Georgiades (18, 2019), Dylan Williams (23, 2019) and father-son pick Jackson Mead (25, 2019).