Paddy McCartin may be the most important No. 1 pick of all time

Paddy McCartin might just become the most important No. 1 draft pick of all time.

No, he won't go down as the best No. 1 to play the game, nor the most talented - and certainly not the luckiest. But it's clear McCartin has a chance to play a crucial role in spreading further awareness about concussion and its devastating effects if he so chooses.

Following his brutally honest interview with Triple M in May, in which he detailed how his eight concussions had affected not only his football career but also his life off the field, if McCartin chooses to make a meaningful impact in the awareness and education space, it would be far more valuable than anything he could ever produce on the field for St Kilda.

That's not to disparage the former No. 1 pick's playing ability, but with constant advancements in understanding the brutal nature of brain injuries and the eye-opening nature of McCartin's interview, returning to the field should be the furthest thing from his mind.

"I've sort of lost my footy identity a little bit, but then also my identity as a person as well," McCartin said at the time. "I can't do stuff. I can't go to the supermarket when it's busy or go to a cafe with my girlfriend, or drive my car. I'm a shell of a person that I was really."

It was a sobering discussion but McCartin's management indicated to ESPN that the 23-year-old had not yet made a decision about his playing career or life after footy. In fact, McCartin recently sought treatment at the Neurological Wellness Institute in the United States, which specialises in aiding the recovery from concussions through "functional neurology and functional medicine".

That trip suggests McCartin still hasn't given up on returning to the field, which is his right and something every footy fan would welcome should he find a way to conquer his concussion demons. But it would also make many football and wellness experts nervous; some have called for him never to play again considering the long-term risks including the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

In June, CTE was identified in two former NRL players for the first time in a landmark finding.

ESPN columnist and concussion spokesperson Jude Bolton believes attitudes have shifted in the past five years towards taking a more cautious route with brain injuries and McCartin needed to consider the impact on not only himself, but his family as well.

"For Paddy McCartin, it's really disturbing that he's had eight concussions since 2014. That's going to have a big effect on him and his family, so he has to make a decision about where he's at as a footballer," Bolton told ESPN. "Having gone through concussion and having lived and breathed that, it's not a great scenario.

"I remember having two concussions in one game. The AFL has changed the rules since [so] if you are visibly concussed, you don't return to the field which is a great thing [but] I put enormous pressure on myself to get back out there."

The scary thing for players like McCartin and Bolton is the full effects of head knocks sustained throughout their careers might not be known for years, and in some cases, decades. And modern science is also investigating the cumulative effects of subconcussive impacts -- also known as micro concussions -- which may impact the brain despite no obvious immediate impact to the athlete.

Bolton said the AFL had introduced a number of directives for players and clubs to better understand the risks and effects of head trauma, but there was always room to improve.

"Just recently I had some post-career concussion testing, so I had an MRI and about three hours of neuropsych testing which was an AFL directive," Bolton said. "To go through that process and map out my concussion history -- about six over 320-odd games -- was good. They were significant concussions, but every time, I re-entered the field. I had one at training and didn't go back out for training, however when I suffered on in-game, I went back out there. We wore it as a badge of honour and that's just silly.

"You also have to look at the flow-on effect in the wider community. We don't want parents saying 'this is a game we don't want our child playing' because I think it's the greatest game on the planet."

McCartin's future is of course up him and those closest to him, and there's no doubt the football community would be thrilled if he was able to get well enough to return to the field and forge a successful career.

But if that doesn't happen, his impact on the AFL shouldn't end there - McCartin could become a landscape-changer if he chose to become a spokesperson and advocate for treating concussion and CTE with the respect they deserve.

Junior, school and amateur teams -- of every major code in Australia -- would all benefit from hearing from McCartin about the struggles he faced on the field and everyday life.

Despite being one of the AFL's most promising talents when he was claimed at No. 1 in the 2014 draft, McCartin might have a greater calling than football, one which would leave a legacy longer lasting than anything he could possibly achieve on the field.