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Rivals Rankings Week: Breaking down the 2023 athletes

Samuel M'Pemba
Samuel M'Pemba (Rivals.com)

The updated 2023 Rivals250 is out this week and today we take a look across the defensive positions. In focus here are the players listed as athletes.

Today, we break down the top-rated player at the position, two teams to watch and three other names to watch as the offseason continues.

NEW 2023 RANKINGS: Athlete | Safety | Cornerback | Outside LB | Inside LB | Strongside DE | Weakside DE | Defensive tackle | Center | Offensive guard | Offensive tackle | All-purpose RB | Running back | Pro-style QB | Dual-threat QB



Previews: Who should be No. 1? | Which QB should be next to receive a fifth star? | Can Nico Iamaleava unseat Arch Manning as No. 1 QB? | Who is the best defensive lineman?

Monday: Five-Star Countdown | Meet the new five-stars

Tuesday: New Rivals250 released | Gorney's thoughts | Biggest movers | Thoughts on M'Pemba, Tate, Haynes

Wednesday: Offensive position rankings released | Five schools that should be pleased | Breaking down the QB rankings | Breaking down the RB rankings | Breaking down the WR/TE rankings | Breaking down the OL rankings

Thursday: Defensive position rankings released | Breaking down the DL rankings | Breaking down the LB rankings | Breaking down the DB rankings

Friday: State rankings released

Saturday: Rival Views

Sunday: Who will move up most in the next Rivals250?


1. No. 1 at the athlete position: Samuel M'Pemba 

College football recruiting diehards understand why Samuel M’Pemba is atop the Rivals rankings as an athlete. M’Pemba is one of the most intriguing players in the 2023 class, not only because of his athletic talents and abilities but because he could be a next-level weakside defensive end or outside linebacker – or he could be a receiver or tight end.

On top of the possibility of playing any one of four positions, the IMG Academy five-star will do it at an elite level.


2. Two teams to watch: Maryland and Texas 

Will Maryland be able to keep the local star home? That's the big question about Nyckoles Harbor, the Archbishop Carroll (D.C.) athlete. On pure athletic talent alone, no one in the 2023 class can touch Harbor. He is an Olympic-caliber track athlete who competes in the 100 and 200 meters. When the Friday night lights are on, Harbor is terrorizing the East Coast as a receiver and outside linebacker/end. With his freak talents in a 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame, Harbor can effectively play any number of positions. Maryland would love to keep Harbor home, but Penn State, Alabama, Clemson, Florida, among many others, have dropped offers and want him.

Every top Power Five school in the country wants Dalton Brooks, so we had our choice of schools to choose from here. But we'll go with Texas, which is in an in-state battle with Texas A&M for the four-star 2023 athlete, who resides in the small town of Shriner, which is nestled between San Antonio and Houston. All eyes will be on the Longhorns and Aggies, but Brooks has his choice of any school. Can Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Michigan or even Oklahoma sway the running back/linebacker away?




3. Three names to watch: Lewis Carter, Isaac Smith and CJ Turner 

Lewis Carter may double as a hard-nosed running back, but his next-level talents will more than likely be used on defense - and where that may be is still up in the air. Lewis is a headhunter in the secondary as a free safety but also crushes quarterbacks and running backs in the box as a linebacker/rover. Nearing 40 offers, all of college football is aware of Lewis. Carter has room to advance up the Rivals rankings over the spring and summer months before entering his senior year.

One would be hard pressed to find another old-school, hard-hitting safety like Isaac Smith. The Itawamba Agricultural (Miss.) four-star is big, strong and comes to the party ready to bring the hurt. When Smith isn’t beating down 4A Mississippi skill players, he’s lining up at receiver. Nearing the 20-offer mark, Smith’s recruiting is set to take off again this spring and summer as he showcases his skills on the 7v7 circuit and at camps.

In the secondary for Star City Senior (Ark.) or on the outside on offense, CJ Turner is a big play waiting to happen. With the ball in his hands, any sort of crease could turn into an explosive play as he uses his next-level speed. Turner is a big one to watch this offseason. He has six offers, but once college programs are made aware of the four-star’s talents his offer sheet should blow up.