Rivals Rankings Week: Five tough questions the analysts faced
Every rankings meeting features big discussions where the national analyst staff weighs various prospects against each other as the Rivals250 is compiled. Those discussions can get more intense as the end of the rankings cycle nears.
This final rankings update for the 2023 class featured some of the most in-depth debates in recent memory. Here are the five toughest questions that national analyst staff asked themselves during the final 2023 rankings meeting.
RIVALS RANKINGS WEEK
Tuesday: Rivals250 released | Biggest Movers | Gorney's thoughts
Wednesday: Offensive position rankings released
Thursday: Defensive position rankings released
Friday: State rankings released
NICO IAMALEAVA VS. DANTE MOORE
Moore looked so natural during the All-American Bowl in San Antonio and his performance won over a handful of analysts. He isn't always the most impressive during practice or other controlled settings but he showed such a great feel for the game when he was on the big stage.
Iamaleava, however, reminded everybody why he was such a highly-ranked player in the first place with his performance at the Polynesian Bowl. He has exceptional abilities as a passer and is especially good at throwing accurate deep passes but what makes him such a devastating quarterback prospect is his ability to pick up big chunks of yards on the ground when the play breaks down. He is definitely a passer first but defenses cannot afford to lose track of him if every receiver is covered.
In the end, it was argued that Iamaleava‘s ceiling is higher than Moore‘s but the margin between the two is razor thin.
SHOULD THERE BE A FIVE-STAR RUNNING BACK?
Whether or not there should be a five-star running back is an annual debate and it will continue to be that way until the dynamics on offense in the NFL change. This year it was the most heated debate the national analyst staff had and it mainly centered around Justice Haynes and Rueben Owens.
Last year there wasn’t a running back selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and no more than two were taken in the first round of the previous three drafts. There will probably only be one running back taken in the first round of the NFL Draft for this year in Bijan Robinson.
The projection for a five-star is a first-round draft pick. The entire analyst staff agreed that Haynes, Owens and Cedric Baxter are the elite running back prospects in this class, but the majority of the analysts did not think any of the three should be rated as a five-star.
WHO REIGNS ATOP THE RECEIVER RANKINGS?
The players near the top of the receiver rankings are special but there was some debate about who should end up as the No. 1 WR after some outstanding performances during all-star season.
Brandon Inniss has been so consistent throughout the rankings cycle. One of the analysts made the point that the Ohio State signee has the highest floor of any receiver in this class and that made it very difficult to move him off of the top spot.
That being said, Zachariah Branch made as good a case as possible to land to overtake Inniss. The future USC Trojan is a little bit smaller than Inniss but has elite speed and playmaking abilities when he gets the ball in space.
This really was a "pick your poison" situation and the difficulty we had making this decision is illustrated by their back-to-back ranking in the top 10 of the Rivals250. Inniss barely ended up holding onto the top spot.
WHICH FOUR-STAR SHOULD HAVE BEEN A FIVE-STAR?
This is an area we've struggled with over the years. Travon Walker, Garrett Wilson, Quay Walker, Devonta Smith, Solomon Thomas and Jamal Adams are just a few players ranked in the first 10 four-stars who we've pumped the brakes on making a five-star only to see them become first-round draft picks.
There are a few players in that group that may make us regret holding back that fifth star. Haynes and Owens were discussed heavily (see above) and so were Tomarrion Parker and Jaquavious Russaw. Parker wowed us throughout the process and we have a lot of confidence that he'll have plenty of success at the next level. Russaw is a tenacious defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid who makes a ton of plays in the backfield and can chase down plays to the opposite side of the field. The Alabama signee plays bigger than his size and knows how to maximize his physical traits.
Cornerback Malik Muhammad very nearly landed his fifth star. There was a lengthy discussion about the top of the cornerback rankings (see below). Two players that were consistently discussed as possible five-stars throughout the rankings cycle were AJ Harris and Alex Birchmeier but neither made the jump in the final update to the Rivals250.
DID WE GET THE TOP OF THE CORNERBACK RANKINGS RIGHT?
There are some very strong opinions when it came to figuring out how the cornerbacks should be ranked. Cormani McClain and Desmond Ricks didn't have dominant senior seasons but were very good during the all-star season. Most of the analyst team wasn't as confident in either as they were at the end of the summer but their physical traits and overall body of work helped them hang onto their five-star rankings.
Malik Muhammad almost got his fifth star after an excellent showing during all-star season but the majority of the analyst team voted for him to remain a four-star. Muhammad did move up in the position ranking.