Scouting is an inexact science, but it is also a very thorough science. So much goes into the evaluation of college prospects, who will be taking part in NFL minicamps in just a few short weeks.
After scouting games in person, watching hours and hours of game tape, checking out players at the combine and pro days around the country, draft boards are taking shape. Of course, draft boards vary from team to team. As I've always said, some people like rocky road ice cream and some people prefer vanilla.
Here is my attempt at identifying the first 100 players I think will be selected at the April 25-26 draft. I look at the prospects' most important individual characteristics, position specifics, along with height and speed to formulate this order. Playing experience (i.e., long-time starter vs. one-year wonder) is something I value. Injuries must be taken into consideration. Three players not on this list -- Missouri TE Chase Coffman, TCU LB Jason Phillips, North Carolina WR Brandon Tate -- would have been in the 51-100 area if they were medically cleared.
Rather than ranking the players from 1-100, I have broken them into 10 tiers of 10 and listed them alphabetically within the tiers. Nobody can predict exactly where every player is going to get drafted. The point here is to pinpoint the range in which a prospect is likely to go.
It's entirely likely that a big offensive or defensive lineman can move up, considering those players are harder to find. It's much easier to find a successful running back or receiver later in the draft than it is a lineman.
Here is my "Hot 100" --
Tier One (1-10)
Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech:
Crabtree was a high school quarterback who caught 231 passes for 41 touchdowns in just two seasons as a receiver at Texas Tech… Holds the NCAA freshman record for most receptions, yards and TDs (134-1,962-22)… Had foot surgery in late February, but has been given a clean bill of health… Very soft hands.
Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest:
Started 48 games in four years for the Demon Deacons… In 2007, he tied the NCAA record for linebackers with three interceptions returned for touchdowns… Ran a 4.55 40-yard dash at the combine at 254 pounds.
Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State:
Tall (6-foot-5 ¾) with a big arm… Passed for 38 TDs over the last two seasons… Started eight games as a true freshman… Smart with great work habits… Father played in the USFL… Ran for 400 yards and 14 TDs in 2008 on a poor team… Risk-reward type of player.
Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU:
A former high school defensive player of the year in Louisiana in 2003… Started 39 games for LSU and recorded 24.5 sacks… Ran 4.97 at 296 pounds at the combine… A very good athlete with long arms (34 ¾ inches).
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri:
After missing 2006 with a knee injury, he started the last two seasons… Set NCAA record for freshman in 2007 with 2,776 all-purpose yards… Caught 182 passes in two seasons for 22 TDs… Excellent return specialist.
Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia:
Played as a true freshman in 2005… Has started at both guard and left tackle over last three years for Cavaliers… Strong, good athlete… Comes from family of 16 children, including 11 boys.
Brian Orakpo, DE/OLB, Texas:
Ran a 4.63, had a 39 ½-inch vertical jump and did 31 bench press reps at the combine… Very athletic… Had 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 2008… Good burst makes him an effective pass rusher… Needs to play more consistently.
Andre Smith, OT, Alabama:
Only seven players in Alabama history have started a season opener as a true freshman; Smith started 13 games at left tackle as a true freshman… This is a very good football player who performs much better then his speed and bench press numbers suggest… Has very long arms (35 3/8 inches)… Will be a Pro Bowl player if he stays in shape.
Jason Smith, OT, Baylor:
Smith started eight games at tight end in 2005… Moved to tackle, starting on the right side in 2006, and at left tackle the last two seasons… He is a good pass protector, with good punch and footwork… Had 33 bench-press reps at the combine, and then 38 at his pro day workout… Very smart, great character.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia:
Started 34 games in three years at Georgia… As a true freshman in 2006, he recorded wins over the 5th-, 14th- and 16th-ranked teams in the nation… Smart player, with a very strong arm and outstanding athletic ability… Ran under 4.9 at the combine at 225 pounds.