After countless days on the road, hundreds of camps, combines and practices – and a year's worth of hours in the film room - Rivals.com has saved the best for last.
The final update of the Rivals.com recruiting rankings for the class of 2008 were released on Tuesday with the unveiling of the Rivals100. On Wednesday, Rivals.com will release the final Rivals250, along with updated position rankings on Wednesday and Thursday. Next week, the postseason state rankings for the class of 2008 will also be updated. The class of 2009 rankings will also be updated in the very near future.
The changes in the final ranking of the top 100 football players in the nation came after a whirlwind month of all-star games - including major ones like the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and the Under Armour All-Star Game.
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The all-star games gave Rivals.com analysts a full week of practice and a game setting to see how the elite players competed against the best in the nation. Unlike basketball, where players compete on an almost weekly basis against other elite players in AAU tournaments, the all-star games – both on a national and a state level – give analysts a true chance to see how good high school football players fare against other college-bound prospects.
The biggest change in the rankings comes in the national top five.
After months and months of debate – especially from the Ohio State fans – about where Mike Adams of Dublin (Ohio) Coffman falls into the national scene, he proved in the Army game that those local observers in the Midwest were right.
Adams was one of the most dominating offensive line prospects to ever play in the game, and his performances in the game and in practice were the talk of the camp. The 6-foot-7, 308-pound offensive tackle not only was one of the most physically impressive players this season, he backed it up with his play.
"I first saw him on senior tape, and thought there was no doubt at all he's something special," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every said. "I know one of my co-workers has been singing his praises all year long, but to see what he did in the Army game totally validated his status as one of the nation's best players, period.
"He's a franchise left tackle that should be a future first-round draft pick someday."
Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell agrees.
"He has amazing size, quick feet and simply dominated down in San Antonio," Farrell said. "Seeing him in person was definitely believing. He definitely deserved to move up that high in the rankings."
Adams is joined on the five-star level by three other newcomers – Aliquippa, Pa., receiver Jonathan Baldwin, St. Paul, Minn., receiver Michael Floyd and Buford, Ga., defensive tackle Omar Hunter.
Baldwin and Floyd showed why they're among the nation's best at the Army game.
"Baldwin is a huge matchup problem for anyone on the outside," Farrell said. "We originally thought he was a tight end who wanted to play wide out, but we were wrong. He's a super-sized wide receiver with strong hands.
"Floyd proved he was a deep threat - as well as a guy who catches everything and will go across the middle - in San Antonio. There were some original concerns about how fast he truly was, but he erased those quickly with a great week of practice and a great game."
Hunter's rise came after a strong senior season and a better week at the Under Armour game.
"We knew Omar Hunter had the ability to be dominant based on his production his senior season in Georgia's 2A classification at Buford, but the week of practice at the Under Armour game proved that he can be dominant against some elite competition," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barton Simmons said. "He used good leverage, great strength and quick hands and feet to be the most disruptive interior player in the all-star setting."
Dropping from the five-star level were quarterback E.J. Manuel of Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside, offensive tackle Lucas Nix of Jefferson Hills (Pa.) Thomas Jefferson and Statesboro, Ga., defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson. Nix moves down to the No. 39 spot overall, Manuel slid to the No. 43 spot and Tyson finishes at No. 45.
Manuel slipping from the No. 1 pro-style quarterback spot will likely raise some eyebrows.
"At practice in the Under Armour game, Manuel impressed with his athleticism outside of the pocket but showed that he still has some work to do as a passer," Simmons said.
"He struggled with his accuracy and consistency at times, and will likely need some time to develop on the next level. The tools are still there for him to develop into a special quarterback for Florida State. We still think he is one of the elite quarterbacks in the nation."
There were also some significant changes within the five-star level.
Lincoln (Neb.) Southwest star two-way lineman Baker Steinkuhler moves to the No. 8 spot overall. He and Marcus Forston (No. 7) were the two most dominating defensive linemen in the Army game. Steinkuhler remains ranked as an offensive tackle, but he could easily be a star at defensive tackle for Nebraska.
There's also a new No. 1 pro-style quarterback – Ballwin (Mo.) Parkway West QB Blaine Gabbert. There were plenty of questions about Gabbert because of his injury-related struggles this season, but he proved all week long in practice - and then in Army game - that he has a chance to be special for Missouri.
Just outside the five-stars at No. 31 overall is tight end Blake Ayles, a longtime USC commitment from Orange (Calif.) Lutheran. He wowed everybody with a strong week at the Under Armour game, and Every thinks USC landed itself a major player.
"Blake looked every bit the part of an elite tight end at the Under Armour Bowl practices," Every said. "He showed great athleticism and hands. He caught everything thrown his way. His teammates took early notice, and even proclaimed him a first-round draft pick. We think they were right."
Another big mover up the rankings was Trevor Robinson of Omaha (Neb.) Elkhorn. The 6-foot-6, 304-pounder was amazing all week long at the Army game, proving to be the nation's top interior offensive line prospect. The Notre Dame pledge was dominating in everything he did and finishes at No. 37 overall.
"Trevor is one of the biggest and most athletic guards I have seen this year," Every said. "He is big, athletic and plays with a nasty disposition. Notre Dame got itself a good one with him."
Right behind Robinson at No. 38 is Miami Booker T. Washington cornerback Brandon Harris. The 5-foot-10, 174-pounder was amazing at the Under Armour event all week. He was one of the few guys that could lock down T.J. Lawrence and the slew of other talented receivers in the game. But it's the same thing that Harris has been doing all season long, and that's why national powers like Florida, Miami and Ohio State are fighting for him.
"Harris asserted himself as one of the best cover-men in the country with his all-star performance in Orlando," Simmons said. "He locked down every wide receiver he faced in practice, picking off several passes and he constantly stayed around the ball. In the game he shut down his side of the field and caused a key second half interception with a pass breakup. He is a complete football player and a can't-miss prospect."
USC pledge Wes Horton of Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame had one of the best weeks of anybody in the Army game, showing that he has the potential to be special for the Trojans. The 6-foot-6, 230-pounder came into the game in great shape after an up-and-down senior season. Horton turned on his motor and was one of the West's most dominating defenders. He moves into the Rivals100 and finishes ranked as the nation's No. 40 player.
"Wes has the perfect body to be a strongside defensive end," Every said. "He has not even filled out yet - he will probably play at 6-foot-5, 260 and be a terror in the Pac-10 for quarterbacks. He was made to play both ways in high school, but once he concentrates on just defense he will improve by leaps and bounds because this is one smart, athletic football player."
Other new entries to the Rivals100 were offensive tackle Dann O'Neill at No. 49, athlete Jarmon Fortson at No. 75, receiver Brice Butler at No. 79, defensive tackle Corey Liuget at No. 80, receiver Dan Buckner at No. 95 and linebacker Uona Kavienga at No. 97.
Dropping out of the Rivals100 were linebacker Jon Major, linebacker Steven Filer, tight end Jake Stoneburner, receiver Marvin Jones, defensive end Cornelius Washington, outside linebacker Shayne Hale and receiver Deion Walker.