Power Ranking the Top 25 Defensive Playmakers in the 2013 NFL Draft
Every football program understands you can never have too many playmakers. Their value in determining the game's outcome is unquestioned. True playmakers can swing the momentum of a game with just a single play.
In this slideshow I dive deep in an effort to determine this draft class' best defensive playmakers using a variety of methods.
First, I created a formula that weighted position-specific stats based on the importance of each stat category. Those stat categories are then added together throughout the prospect's entire college career in order to create a total production grade.
That position-specific production grade was then used as a foundation for creating a rough version of the list, which came down to about 50 different defensive prospects. Essentially, that list was limited exclusively to prospects that had a grade of 7.5 or better.
The list was then narrowed down even further by eliminating players who had poor "measurables" or "tape study" grades. The few exceptions here were in cases of extremely high production grades being met with "measurables" or "tape study" grades that just missed the cutoff.
In order to narrow the field even more, I divided the prospect's career production grade by number of games played. This created a production score relative to the amount of games played. Any prospect whose production grade was inflated by more career games was then eliminated.
This process led to my top 25 defensive playmakers, who were then ranked in order by the prospects that had the best chance of continuing their playmaking ways into their NFL careers. This was done by using their tape grade and measurables as a foundation, while allowing my intuition to serve as the underwriter for ranking each prospect's playmaking potential in the NFL.
These players may not be the most complete prospects in this class. They may not even be the best athletes, or the ones with the most potential. But every guy on this list has enough of all those things to help him be one of the best playmakers in this draft.
Rather than waiting for 50 comments about why player X was not on the list, I took the liberty of listing a few guys who I suspect many would be curious about. So below is a brief explanation for why these noteworthy names were left off the list.
CB, Xavier Rhodes: Career production grade was 6.7
CB, Desmond Trufant: Only six interceptions in 50 games.
S, Phillip Thomas: Graded too low in his film grade.
S, Matt Elam: Just missed the cut.
S, Eric Reid: Only had a career production grade of six.
Edge, Dion Jordan: Dynamic player but did not have enough big plays to qualify. Low production score.
Edge, Ezekiel Ansah: Graded last in career production and has a low tape grade.
Edge, Cornellius Carradine: Decent production per game but not enough to crack the list.
LB, Sio Moore: Just missed the list and should be considered honorable mention.
LB, Alec Ogletree: Just missed the cut despite having a career production grade of only 6.5.
LB, Arthur Brown: Simply did not make enough plays throughout his college career. He had a low score on production per game and a low career grade.
25. CB, Leon McFadden, San Diego State
Starting this list off at the 25th overall spot is Leon McFadden.
His most impressive playmaking stat would be leading all draft-eligible cornerbacks in career pass breakups. He also was second in tackles for loss, which indicates a desired tendency to be aggressive against the run and a willingness to make plays at the line of scrimmage.
McFadden also blocked two kicks in his career and had a career production grade of 8.8, which ranks third in his positional groupings.
24. S, Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
Bacarri Rambo's ability to play center field and make plays on the ball is the very reason he managed to crack this list. He leads the way for all safeties in this class with 16 career interceptions in 47 games.
His measurables and tape study are areas of concern to some degree, but Rambo should be able to do well in the right system.
23. Edge-Rusher, Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Bjoern Werner's career at Florida State was full of big plays and impressive stats generated primarily from his unique ability to anticipate. Of all edge-rushers in this draft, Werner finished fifth in sacks and third in pass breakups for his career. That's why he makes the list.
One of the reasons he wasn't rated higher is because of limited athleticism and upside. It's quite likely that we've seen the best Werner has to offer in regards to playmaking.
Another area of concern that will limit his production as a pro is his chronic lack of hustle in his game tape.
22. CB, Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
Jordan Poyer is one of the more deadly cornerbacks in terms of interceptions. Of all CBs in this draft, Poyer is third in career interceptions.
He's also a proven return man who is a threat every time the ball is in his hands.
Expectations are high for this dual-threat cornerback at the next level, where he should be drafted somewhere in the second round.
21. Edge-Rusher, Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Some might look at Barkevious Mingo's poor sack totals last year and wonder how he was able to make this list. However, he managed to finish fifth in QB hurries among his positional group and eighth in production per game. This level of production was just borderline worthy of the list, but he received a boost for his highly impressive tape and outstanding measurables.
Mingo should improve over time with his uncanny explosiveness and quickness. If he learns to improve his technique, over time he could be one of the best playmakers in the NFL.
20. DT, Kawann Short, Purdue
Kawann Short leads all defensive tackles in pass breakups and is second in career sacks with 18. Short's most surprising stat is his impressive ability to block kicks, having accomplished that feat seven times during his career.
Poor measurables and a marginal tape grade have prevented him from ranking higher on this list.
19. LB, Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
Khaseem Greene is a hard-hitting downhill linebacker notorious for separating the ball from the runner. Few realize that Greene is the most productive inside linebacker of the 2013 draft class. He tops all defensive players with 13 career forced fumbles and leads all interior linebackers with QB hurries.
Greene's NFL potential is still a concern considering he has one of the lowest tape grades of any player on this list. Though he may not be the most complete linebacker prospect available, he definitely is one of the more dynamic playmakers.
18. DT, Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern
What Brandon Williams was able to accomplish while at Missouri Southern is a true rarity. Considering my production formula does not take into account strength of competition, Williams dominated the top of the list as the most productive defensive tackle in this draft.
His career output for a defensive tackle was just ridiculously good. He lead the way in forced fumbles, sacks, and tackles for loss for all DTs in the draft.
However, considering he did this against small school competition and did not wow in terms of measurables, Williams was knocked down a bit on the list for his NFL potential. We should see his numbers come down to earth against the best in the business.
17. Edge-Rusher, Corey Lemonier, Auburn
Corey Lemonier is one of the most naturally gifted pass-rushers in this draft class. He finished second in QB hurries behind only Jarvis Jones. In terms of production per game, Jones ranked third among all edge-rushers.
His athletic ability and length make him an ideal pro prospect. This also means Lemonier is just beginning to tap into his true playmaking potential.
16. S, Jonathan Cyprien, FIU
Jonathan Cyprien played at a very high level throughout his career at FIU. As a result, he finished first out of all safeties in career production.
Cyprien is one of the best tackling safeties available and has a knack for finding the ball. His overall game looks to translate well in the NFL, and he should be a solid playmaker for years to come.
15. Edge-Rusher, Margus Hunt, SMU
Margus Hunt is a physical freak who is very raw in football technique. His athletic ability is highly coveted at the next level and gives him a high ceiling for growth. His measurables are so impressive that he ranked second overall in this draft.
Hunt may be raw, but that doesn't mean he wasn't a dynamic playmaker while at SMU. His most impressive feat was setting the NCAA record for blocked kicks with 17 through his career.
14. CB, Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
The kid formerly known as the "honey badger" has not played football since 2011 due to off-the-field issues. Despite missing an entire season of football, Tyrann Mathieu still managed to grade out as the second-most productive cornerback in this list. When looking at his production per game, he is hands above the rest.
If this list was of the 25 best defensive prospects in the draft, Mathieu would be ranked much lower on the board, if he makes the list at all. His cover skills are suspect and he lacks the necessary size or top speed to be a full-time starter in the NFL.
With that said, Mathieu is a rare, gifted game-changer who can add value to any NFL team.
13. Edge-Rusher, Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Damontre Moore may have been unimpressive throughout this predraft process, but his production and effort speak for themselves.
Moore ranked second out of all the edge-rushers in production per game behind the man who comes up next on this list.
Good length, rare motor and relentless effort have been apparent for this pass-rush specialist who has a knack for forcing fumbles.
12. LB, Jarvis Jones, Georgia
I may not be the biggest Jarvis Jones fan, as there are several holes in his game and overall athleticism, but it's impossible to ignore a guy who has produced on the level he has.
Jones is an absolute beast when it comes to sacks, QB hurries and tackles for loss. He ranks second overall in career sacks even though he has only played in 34 games. He also led all defenders in QB hurries and finished second in TFLs.
His limited measurables and average tape grade have kept Jones out of the top 10 on this list, but he still remains one of the elite playmakers in this draft.
11. DT, Sharrif Floyd, Florida
Perhaps Sharrif Floyd should be higher on the list in some people's eyes, but not in mine. Floyd lacks elite measurables to elicit confidence in his ability succeed in the NFL game. In terms of sheer production, he ranks fifth among his fellow DTs.
Floyd is likely going to be drafted in the top five of the first round, but his playmaking abilities may be somewhat overrated in terms of transitioning to the pro game.
10. CB, D.J. Hayden, Houston
D.J Hayden made this list by finishing second among all cornerbacks in production per game.
He also happens to be one of the fastest players in the draft, evidenced in his sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, which sent the draft community into an uproar.
In only 22 career games, Hayden managed to accumulate three touchdowns, six interceptions and six forced fumbles. This output is second only to former Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu.
9. LB, Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
This Heisman runner-up knows a thing or two about making plays. It was this natural ability which sent him down the perennial path of collegiate glory, making Manti Te'o one of the highest-profile defenders in the country.
Te'o led all linebackers in career tackles and interceptions, which was enough to merit a pot among the best playmakers in this draft.
8. DT, Star Lotulelei, Utah
I had to make a few concessions in order to rank Star Lotulelei this high. Sure he had a productive career, but Star is the highest-ranked player on this list to just barely qualify in terms of statistical production.
Star lands this high because of his unparalleled physical dominance. No prospect in his draft has the ability to impose his will quite like Star can. When you watch the way he drives players into the backfield, you would think he weighs 350 pounds. Then when you see him move and change directions, you wouldn't believe he weighs more than 270 pounds.
Star's NFL upside as a playmaker appears to be fortuitously written in his moniker. After all, fewer Stars come bigger or shine brighter than the one rising over the beautiful skies of Utah.
7. CB, David Amerson, NC State
David Amerson is definitely one of the more natural playmakers in this entire draft. Playing in only 39 games while at NC State, Amerson managed to rack up more interceptions than any other player in this draft.
Amerson has also shown tremendous speed and ideal size at the next level. He may not be a complete corner just yet, but his ability to change the game with dynamic athleticism and instincts justify his position in the top 10 of this class of defensive playmakers.
6. DT, Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
If you're looking for a big man with a whole lot of wiggle, look no further than Sylvester Williams.
The former Tar Heel has impressive quickness which he uses to zip around unsuspecting blockers on his way to opposing ball-carriers. Williams is not just another big body who can take up space and anchor the middle; he's also one of the best interior linemen at penetrating the backfield and making plays.
5. Edge-Rusher, Jamie Collins, Southern Miss
Some of you may be surprised to see Jamie Collins ranked so high on this list. You might even be surprised to see him ranked on this list at all.
Collins is a natural playmaker who can hurt you in multiple ways. He scores touchdowns, gets interceptions, forces fumbles and has a knack for sacking the quarterback. In addition, he also finished second among edge-rushers in pass breakups.
As if Collins' cornucopia of big plays wasn't enough to land him high on this list, he also happens to be one of the most physically gifted prospects in the entire draft. This means the limits to his dominance are only in the infinite stages.
NFL QBs beware.
4. S, Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
Kenny Vaccaro leapfrogged over fellow safeties Jonathan Cyprien and Bacarri Rambo in the overall rankings because he's also one of the premiere athletes in this draft.
Vaccaro is the complete safety prospect and is much more than just a flashy playmaker. His overall potential as an NFL stud makes him one of the safest picks in the first round.
This former Longhorn finished first among his positional group at pass breakups and QB hurries. He also managed to block two kicks during his career.
3. CB, Johnthan Banks, Mississippi St.
Throughout the course of Johnthan Banks' college career, he has established himself as the most productive cornerback in the 2013 draft class. He finished second in interceptions among CB's behind only David Amerson. No CB had more touchdowns (four) than he did. He was also fourth in tackles for loss.
Banks is a guy who can make plays in several ways, whether he's forcing fumbles, rushing the passer or simply knocking the ball out of receivers' hands.
Had he shown more elite all-around speed at the combine, he likely would have been ranked as the No. 1 playmaker in this list. The reason this is important is because his lack of top-end speed could hinder his playmaking potential in the NFL.
As it stands, Banks is still in the top five overall and should a fantastic addition for any team who calls his number on Day 1.
2. CB, Dee Milliner, Alabama
Dee Milliner ranked seventh in career and fourth in per-game production among cornerbacks. But he finds himself as the second-best defensive playmaker in this draft for several reasons.
Milliner has all the tools necessary to become the next great shutdown corner in the NFL—his ability to match up with elite competition and shut them down for an entire game helps make him not just a great playmaker, but also the most complete corner in this draft.
His most impressive playmaking stat is having the second-most career pass breakups of his position group behind only Leon McFadden, despite the fact that McFadden played in 16 more games that Milliner.
If Milliner can improve his catching ability, he may have a shot at Canton someday.
1. DT, Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Sheldon Richardson earned his spot atop the best defensive playmakers with his electrifying ability to shoot the gap and wreak havoc in opposing backfields.
He ranked No. 1 among defensive tackles in production per game and managed to finish in the top five in career production despite only playing in 24 games while at Missouri.
Richardson was able to edge out other highly productive playmakers in this group due to his outstanding measurables, where he ranked first among all true defensive tackles. This suggests Richardson should be able to translate well into the NFL and become one of the most disruptive forces in the league.