Fact or Fiction: Zachariah Branch should be the No. 1 WR in the 2023 class
Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney along with national recruiting analysts Adam Friedman, Nick Harris and Ryan Wright tackle three topics and determine whether they believe each statement is FACT or FICTION.
RIVALS RANKINGS WEEK
Sunday: Who should be No. 1?
Monday: Five-Star Countdown | Who will be the next five-star?
Tuesday: Rivals250 revealed | Biggest Movers | Gorney goes position-by-position
Wednesday: Offensive position rankings released | Teams that should be pleased
Thursday: Defensive position rankings released | Could this be the best QB class ever?
Friday: State rankings released | Who is on cusp of four-star ranking?
1. The player in Texas who should already be a five-star is Oklahoma QB commit Jackson Arnold.
Gorney’s take: FACT. An argument could be made for Rueben Owens but I’m not there yet and the cornerbacks Jayvon Thomas and Bravion Rogers are phenomenal players but what I saw from Jackson Arnold at the Elite 11 makes me think he could end up being a first-round draft pick. It’s been shown that in recent years quarterbacks with elite zip on their passes who do not turn the ball over are heavily coveted by NFL teams and those are two traits that stand out about the Oklahoma quarterback commit.
With many high-end QBs at the Elite 11, it was Arnold who looked different throwing the ball and firing it all over the place accurately. Sometimes there is a little too much air on his deep balls and he wasn’t phenomenal during the 7-on-7 portion of camp but in a few years, working in that Oklahoma offense under position coach Jeff Lebby, he could be the next Sooners QB to be a first-rounder which means he should have five-star consideration.
Harris’ take: FICTION. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I will continue to campaign for Louisville running back commit Rueben Owens II as a five-star in the class. Understanding the decrease in positional value at running back over the years, I do still believe Owens is a first-round talent that can make an early impact in the NFL on his current line of progression. After rushing for nearly 3,000 yards and 50 touchdowns a season ago and putting down elite triple jump and 100-meter numbers in the spring, Owens will prove by the end of the season that he can safely sneak into five-star territory in the eyes of most evaluators.
2. USC commit Zachariah Branch should be the No. 1 receiver in the class.
Gorney’s take: FICTION. This is really a tough call because I love Zachariah Branch’s game and in terms of being the most dynamic and exciting receiver in this class, it might not even be that close. But the last time a receiver under 6 foot was taken as the No. 1 player at that position in the NFL Draft was Hollywood Brown in 2019. Jahan Dotson was a first-rounder this past draft but four other receivers were taken ahead of him.
Branch could be the next Brown or the next Jaylen Waddle for sure and he’s a five-star receiver since we think he’s a legitimate first-round player. But Carnell Tate is also very talented, Brandon Inniss gets open against everyone and catches everything and Hykeem Williams is the best-looking among the five-stars right now.
Wright’s take: FACT. The top four receivers in the 2023 class are elite and deserving of consideration for the top spot. Tate is electric and can take the top off any defense. Inniss is explosive and consistent. Williams might be the best in the class and is a complete package taking in size, speed and skills.
But Branch is a combination of all the receivers above him, just a little bit shorter. Branch’s routes are as crisp and clean as it gets and his transitions in his cuts are silky smooth. His burst and top-end speed are too much for corners or nickels trying to hang with him on the inside. Branch is a player that can easily transition into the collegiate game and start from Day 1.
3. Samson Okunlola has the best chance of finishing as the top-ranked offensive tackle in this class.
Gorney’s take: FICTION. This is a very tough call because Samson Okunlola has developed not only into a physical specimen but also an athletic offensive tackle who can move his feet so well and then stun defensive linemen with extreme power. I loved what I saw from the Braintree (Mass.) Thayer Academy standout at the Rivals Camp Series in Philadelphia and reports from other camps this offseason have backed up his five-star ranking.
Still, the more Miami commit Francis Mauigoa develops as an offensive tackle after playing defensive end early in his career, he has a real chance to move to No. 1. With all that being said, I still love Proctor, his physical dominance and size and we all know he’s going to go to Iowa and be developed by some of the best in the business.
Friedman’s take: FICTION. Okunlola is one of the very best prospects in this class but right now the player with the best chance of finishing as the top-rated offensive tackle is Kadyn Proctor. He's got the inside track since he's in the top spot already but I won't rule out Okunlola or Mauigoa. It will be very interesting to see how each performs this fall and then at the all-star games later this year.