In the media, we often focus on ranking NFL draft prospects by position. But that can be misleading, especially when taken in context of what happens in NFL team headquarters. It's the overall sequence, regardless of position, that matters most.
Here's how it works in draft meetings: After each scout reads his report on a particular guy, he is asked to integrate the player into the entire prospect population. For instance, after everyone who watched and wrote up West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin discussed their report, the leader of the meetings (typically the personnel director or general manager) would ask that group of scouts which player they rated higher, Austin or Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert.
These comparison discussions can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes before the player eventually gets slotted on the master sequence list. This process is run almost like a mini-election. Seven scouts vote for Austin, four scouts vote for Eifert. Austin wins. Next up, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper six votes, Austin five votes. Cooper wins. Therefore, Austin is sequenced in between Cooper and Eifert on the master list.
In order to be properly prepared for these meetings, each scout must formulate his own sequence list of prospects that he's studied. When called upon to pick between two prospects, you can't just throw out a name off the top of your head. You have to consult your own sequence list constantly during these draft meetings. Here's my sequence list for the top 50 players in the 2013 NFL Draft:
1) Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M: This wasn't an easy call. I gave the exact same grade to the top five players. Joeckel isn't in the same class as Joe Thomas entering the draft, but he should lock down one of the OT spots in Kansas City for the next 10 years.
2) Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan: Fisher saw his stock soar during the week of practices at the Senior Bowl. I love his size, foot quickness and competitiveness. He needs to improve his punch and balance, but both of those issues can be addressed with pro coaching.
3) Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida: Floyd is an explosive and disruptive interior defensive lineman. He is ideally suited to play the 3-technique for a 4-3 team. He has an incredible motor and I expect him to make an immediate impact on all three downs.
4) Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: Lotulelei seems to have been given a clean bill of health following a scare at the NFL Scouting Combine. Many have compared him to Haloti Ngata, but I actually think he is a poor man's Ndamukong Suh. He can play in either scheme, but he's best suited to play DE in the 3-4.
5) Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon: Jordan is a long, lean athlete with incredible upside as a pass rusher. Oregon's scheme called on him to drop and cover often, but when he did get pass-rush opportunities, he displayed an explosive get-off and the ability to wrap the edge.
6) Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Johnson is easily one of my favorite players in this draft class. He is an incredible athlete with experience at both right and left tackle. Fisher got most of the attention at the Senior Bowl, but after studying the practice tapes, Johnson actually out-played him.
8) Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina: There are two elite offensive guards in this draft class. I gave both Cooper and Chance Warmack the exact same grade. I ranked Cooper slightly above Warmack on my list because of his superior athleticism and consistency in pass protection.
9) Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia: I'm not alone in my appreciation for Austin's game; I've talked with numerous teams that view him as a top-10 talent in this current draft class. His size is a concern, but he won't need 10 touches to dramatically impact a football game.
10) Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame: Eifert has excellent speed, strong hands and a huge catching radius. The Notre Dame product must continue to improve as a blocker, but he should be able to make an immediate impact as a high-volume pass catcher.
11) Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas: Vaccaro is just a rock-solid football player. He can play down in the box and be a force against the run or float over the top from the deep hash. He is athletic enough to cover in the slot and provides a physical presence in the middle of the field.
12) Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama: Warmack lacks ideal foot quickness, but he's incredibly powerful and capable of dominating in the run game. Most interior blockers are shield and wall-off types, but Warmack is a people-mover.
13) Ziggy Ansah, DE, BYU: Ansah could be the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in the entire draft. He has limited football-playing experience, but his combination of size/speed and his dominant Senior Bowl game performance launched him up draft boards.
14) Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri: Richardson relies on quickness and an unbelievable motor to make plays both inside and outside of the tackle box. He has rare lateral range for an interior defender and trememdous upside as a pass rusher. He isn't going to be as attractive to 3-4 teams, but he could be a dominant player as a 3-technique in the 4-3 scheme.
15) Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina: Williams wasn't 100 percent healthy during the 2012 season, but he battled through it. He is a versatile player with strong hands and excellent first-step quickness. Three years down the road, he could end up being the top defensive tackle in this draft class.
16) Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: I dropped Jones a few spots as a result of his poor pro-day performance, but he's too good a pass rusher to drop out of my top 20. Everyone at Georgia warned scouts that he wouldn't test well; NFL teams weren't as shocked as those in the media when he clocked in the 4.9 range in the 40-yard dash. He relies more on his explosive hands and savvy than pure athleticism or burst.
17) Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: Rhodes has the ideal frame for the cornerback position and he ran much better than expected. He's a former wide receiver with good speed, toughness and ball skills. Rhodes needs to clean up his footwork in off coverage, but his drafting team would be wise to let him press on a consistent basis.
18) Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia: Ogletree carries some risk because of his off-field issues, but he's an explosive linebacker with outstanding cover skills. His background as a safety is evident in the tape I studied. He can mirror tight ends all over the field. He does need to do a better job of using his hands to take on/shed blocks, but that can be taught.
19) Justin Pugh, OL, Syracuse: I'm higher on Pugh than most of the teams I've spoken with. He doesn't have ideal length for the tackle position, but he has quick feet, a strong base and outstanding awareness. He is a better prospect coming out of college than current NFL starters Sam Baker and Andy Levitre were entering the draft. Some teams believe his best pro position might be center.
20) Keenan Allen, WR, California: I love the way Allen attacks the football in the air and he has a great feel for working in zones. While his game isn't predicated on speed, his slow 40 time was still cause for some concern.
21) Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
22) Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
23) Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
24) D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
25) Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
26) D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston
27) Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
28) John Cyprien, S, Florida International
29) Manti Te'o, ILB, Notre Dame
30) Matt Elam, S, Florida
31) Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
32) Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
33) Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
34) Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State
35) Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU
36) Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
37) D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina
38) Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
39) Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
40) Eric Reid, S, LSU
41) Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
42) DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
43) Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
44) Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
45) Robert Woods, WR, USC
46) Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
47) Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
48) Kyle Long, OG, Oregon
49) Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
50) Jonathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
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