Commentary

Ranking ESPNU 150 no easy task

This year's class the toughest to rank yet and coming up with No. 1 was a big debate

Updated: August 5, 2009, 12:24 PM ET
By Scouts Inc. | ESPN.com

The Class of 2010, the fifth edition of Scouts, Inc.'s ESPNU 150, was without a doubt our most challenging rankings to date. Since February's signing day wrapped up the Class of 2009, the process for the 2010 class has included extensive film evaluation coupled with in-person scouting at training camps, combines, college camps and seven-on-seven tournaments and resulted in over 2,300 player reports. Over the spring and summer, more than 10,000 prospective student-athletes have attended events covered by Scouts, Inc.

The last week in July is the culmination of a six-month process of individual national evaluation. Each staff member of Scouts, Inc. is responsible for specific positions, selected based upon the staff member's experience in the game. While others may divide the process regionally, our scouts have broken down film on every top player at their positions regardless of location, resulting in the most extensive, objective positional and national analysis possible.

We avoid the regional bias of only seeing players and levels of competition in a given area, which limits the ability to make accurate comparative analysis of other players from other regions. By scouting the country positionally, we not only compare players from different regions, we develop a sound foundation of knowledge of the competition level that those players stack up against.

In late July, the individual analysis that took place over the course of the spring and summer becomes an entire staff evaluation process, position-by-position, with all eyes on all players. Our staff is aware of the class as a whole through periodic cross-checking, but the last week of July is the most formal joint effort. The entire team is gathered together and locked in a room. The projector goes on and every ounce of film that has been obtained is viewed positionally and debated by all members of the team. Strengths, weaknesses, projections, upside ... everything is dissected. The rankings are done for each position before a word is uttered about any overall 150 ranking.

Once positional rankings have been determined, we have a strong foundation for where the strengths and weakness of the class lie. This year, for example, safety, wide receiver and defensive line are deep and strong. Conversely, the quarterback and inside linebacker groups of the 2010 class is not as prominent as previous years.

This procedure mirrors that of college and professional personnel departments, only on a much grander scale because our numbers are much higher than that of one university or NFL team. Where an individual college program might have specific needs, be looking for a certain type of player or scouting limited regions of the county to fit its scheme, our focus allows us the freedom to evaluate the player alone.

As we've always stated, this is not an exact science. No one has all the answers. There are too many variables and unknowns that often times do not manifest themselves until the prospect reaches the next level of competition. We use our resources and backgrounds to come to the best possible conclusion given the parameters.

Deciding on who's No. 1

This was by far the most difficult, wide-open debate for the initial ESPNU 150 No. 1 overall player. There are obviously positions we place a high premium on: quarterback, pass-rushers and defensive corners. But we quickly realized there is not an ESPNU 150 No. 1 quarterback yet, and instead gravitated to a position of both strength and impact, not only in this class but in the game of football: defensive linemen. It was there we found most of our candidates for the top spot, with an offensive tackle in the mix, too.

Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (Plano, Texas/West), outside linebacker Jordan Hicks (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West), defensive end Ronald Powell (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde) and offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson (St. Paul, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall) emerged as the best candidates for the No. 1 overall spot.

Henderson proved worthy of being the top-ranked offensive prospect in this class at the No. 4 overall spot with tremendous athleticism for his size at the tackle position. However, we do not feel he has the same immediate impact potential of former Alabama OT and current Cincinnati Bengals rookie Andre Smith, the highest-rated offensive lineman in the ESPNU 150's history. Powell, the No. 3 prospect, is a player with outstanding raw physical tools and versatility, and with continued development on the technical side, he will eventually play with the consistency to match his tremendous athletic ability. Hicks, coming in at No. 2, offers immediate big-play potential on the perimeter. His relentless motor and ability to not only rush the passer but play in space makes him a unique prospect in this class.

But after fierce debate, Jeffcoat landed at the No. 1 spot as the nation's most intimidating and college-ready defender at a position of impact. Jeffcoat is a player with distinct advantages at this stage; his father Jim was an all-pro with the Dallas Cowboys and is currently the defensive line coach at the University of Houston. The younger Jeffcoat has been well taught at defensive end, understands the nuances of the position and possesses all the physical tools and measureables to make an immediate impact at the next level.

If the ESPNU 150 in years past has proven anything, it's that starting at No. 1 does not guarantee finishing at No. 1. The 150 is not a static list of rankings. In a class with so much parity across the board, especially near the top, this is certainly not our last debate over No. 1. We're still waiting for that one guy to definitively stake his claim for the top spot. As in recruiting, this process is a marathon, not a sprint. The evaluation period will continue for the next six months, with senior seasons to be played and all-star games to be scouted.

Speaking of all-star games, for any conspiracy theorists, the ESPNU 150 is not influenced by who is participating in which all-star game. Five of the top-10 prospects are in the Under Armour All-American Game, but three of the top-5 are not. A prospect must be properly evaluated prior to receiving an Under Armour invitation, not the other way around. Rankings are based on performance and projectability. If a prospect receives an invite, he is naturally going to rank high in the ESPNU 150 because our staff felt he was a great prospect in the first place. The invitation process takes place well before the ESPNU 150 is decided upon.

Tom Luginbill, Craig Haubert, Bill Conley, Billy Tucker and Paul Pawlak contributed to this report.