What is so interesting about top 100 lists is the recruiting analysts who annually rank the leading football prospects in the nation--Tom Lemming, Rivals, Scout and ESPN, all dedicated and well-meaning competitors who put in plenty of time and effort--rarely agree on anything. So who's right? And who's wrong?
Take the class of 2011, for example. Lemming, Rivals, Scout and ESPN are in agreement on only four of the top 10 players--RB/LB James Wilder of Tampa, Fla., DE Jadaveon Clowney of Rock Hill, S.C., OL Cyrus Kouandijo of Hyattsville, Md., and RB Malcolm Brown of Cibolo, Texas.
Rivals, Scout and ESPN rank Clowney as the No. 1 player in the nation. Lemming lists Wilder and Clowney as his 1-2 choices.
Lemming ranks only one Illinois product among his top 100, RB/LB Rodney Coe of Edwardsville. ESPN lists only one, WR DaVaris Daniels of Vernon Hills. Rivals lists only one, DB Glen Faulkner of East St. Louis. Scout lists three--Coe, Daniels and OL Jordan Walsh of Glenbard West.
Lemming admits he made a major mistake, a serious oversight which he expects to correct at the end of the season. He forgot to include LB Tony Seward of St. Augustine, Fla. Seward ranks No. 2 according to Rivals and No. 10 according to ESPN, No. 97 according to Scout.
"I went to St. Augustine to meet with his (Seward's) coach in early February before he got any offers and not too many people knew about him," Lemming said. "I thought he was one of the top five players in Florida. For some reason, when I was selecting my All-America team two months ago, I left him off. He should have been in the top 50. I gave him five stars. But I misplaced his information sheet.
"I'll change it later. It isn't the first time. I'm a one-man band covering over 2,000 players in 50 states. I'm pretty thorough but sometimes I make a mistake. I apologized to him and his coach. He can run and make plays. He belongs on anybody's top 100 list."
So why can't the nation's top talent evaluators get it right? Why can't they agree? Why does one rank a player No. 2 while another ranks him No. 45? Or why does one rank a player No. 5 while another ranks him No. 105? An inquiring mind wants to know.
"No one has the same list all the time. That's what makes it recruiting," said Lemming, who has been evaluating high school players since 1978. "There are a lot of different names. We're dealing with three million high school players. I see them myself. Other services rely on college coaches and have a bunch of scouts in different areas.
"I may be wrong but I think I'm the only one who sees all of the top players in every state. I watch NFL scouts and they deal with 300 guys. We deal with three million. I think it pays to see each player in person and watch film on them. I feel comfortable with my top 100 because it's all about people I see in person and watch on film. And I've been doing it for 32 years.
"It is a collective opinion with people I trust...college coaches, high school coaches, media and scouts. I rely more on my instincts than scholarship offers and college coaches' opinions. I don't rate kids according to the number of offers they have."
For example, Lemming said without knowing the top 100 evaluations of the other scouting services, that he ranked 6-3, 220-pound linebacker Stephone Anthony of Wadesboro, N.C., much higher than anyone else.
"He looks like a college linebacker already," Lemming said. "His production is off the charts. And he plays against good competition. He has recorded 18 interceptions in three years. Defensive backs don't have that many. He has 4.5 speed and great physical skills."
Lemming ranks Anthony No. 4 on his top 100 list. He is ranked No. 20 by Rivals, No. 29 by ESPN and No. 37 by Scout.