Luke Kuechly, the Carolina Panthers' dynamic, sometimes telepathic linebacker, laughed into the phone after a recent weight-lifting session. Still, you could almost hear the gears working in his mind.
He had just been congratulated on his significant spot in #NFLRank, ESPN.com's second annual top-100 player rankings. At 23, Kuechly is the youngest among our top 50 defenders (in 2013, only his second season, he was the youngest-ever Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year), but he was just itching to know who the top three were.
Turned out, he already knew. In about a minute, Kuechly named the best of the best (along with a brief, complimentary scouting report) and got them in precisely the right order.
"There we go," Kuechly said, with impressive gusto, when told he had scored the hat trick. "Those are guys, great athletes, who have put in the hard work.
"Hey, now let me try and get the offense."
Next year, we might have to add him to our roster of 90 evaluators from the dizzying number of constituencies within the Worldwide Leader's NFL operation: NFL Nation writers from all 32 teams, ESPN NFL Insiders -- including former head coach Herm Edwards -- ESPN.com columnists and editors, Grantland writers, as well as the ESPN Stats & Information and fantasy football folks.
Today, we reveal the Nos. 100-91 players on both sides of the ball and continue over 10 days with the Aug. 29 culmination of the top 10s. There will be a page for each 10 players, supported by statistics, photo galleries, analysis and features.
If this almost frightening outpouring of inside skinny doesn't get you ready for your fantasy drafts, nothing will. This is the quintessential beach-reading package to get you through the doldrums of August training camps. And the spicy, subjective nature of this beast is sure to set off a social media tsunami. Some tasty morsels to tantalize you:
• A once-spectacular quarterback coming off a nasty injury was held at bay, failing to crack the top 100.
• Incredibly, two high-flying defensive teammates are ranked Nos. 2 and 3 -- no secondary feat.
"Oh," said Cardinals defensive back Patrick Peterson, sounding unconvinced upon learning their identity, "that's a possibility -- I guess."
• Three of the top-four-ranked offensive players come from the same bruising division. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman correctly guessed them -- again, in the exact order.
"Hah!" he said. "I told you we study tape. We know who the top guys are."
• Two offensive teammates with a higher calling are ranked at Nos. 5 and 6.
"Ah, I know that one," said Houston Texans defensive end Justin James Watt, the No. 1 defensive player in last year's inaugural rankings.
He also understands it will be exceedingly difficult to repeat.