Rivals Roundtable: Analysts' thoughts on latest rankings
As Rivals prepares to roll out the final 2018 rankings next week we caught up with our experts and got their thoughts on the decision-making process. Below, they discuss some of the tough choices that were made, players who might be ranked too low and which player is best-suited to come in and make an immediate impact in college.
1. What was the toughest decision you faced personally?
Rob Cassidy (Southeast/Florida): I didn’t know what to do with Tyson Campbell. His potential is sky high and his measurables are off the charts. He’s an incredible talent. That said, he’s prone to lapses and isn’t quite as consistent as you’d like a five-star prospect to be. In the end, I think we made the right choice.
Mike Farrell (National): Not having a specific region and heading up the rankings, I don’t really have any personally challenging decisions. However, the debate over Tyson Campbell was an interesting one. On the one hand, he’s tall, athletic and rangy and could be an elite cornerback. On the other hand, he tends to lose concentration at least once a game and gives up too many big plays. Are there really two five star cornerbacks on the same team, as he and Patrick Surtain hail from American Heritage in Florida? It was a heated debate, but in the end we felt Campbell is too special to pass on for the fifth star.
Adam Friedman (Mid-Atlantic): Ranking USC commit JT Daniels was the biggest discussion we had in the meeting. It's always difficult slotting a player that moves into the top tier of the rankings, because that means other players will move down. Coming to terms with where some of the players in my region moved because of Daniels' placement wasn't the easiest thing to do.
Adam Gorney (National/West Coast): The toughest choice was where to place Anthony Cook. The five-star cornerback had a bad week at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but it was a small sample size. So was it necessary to completely drop him in the rankings - or not? I still think Cook is an athletic kid who could be a shutdown cornerback, but he was routinely beaten, especially on the deep ball, in San Antonio. He needed to be placed differently in the position and state rankings but I didn't want to plummet him, either, since it was only one event where he struggled.
Josh Helmholdt (Midwest): The top four in the state of Ohio are so close you could throw a blanket over them. There really is very little separation between the group from a rankings standpoint, and determining a pecking order was among the most difficult decisions we faced in this cycle.
Nick Krueger (Texas): This time of year it’s easy for us all to throw each other under the bus because we can’t all be at both major All-American games. But those events tend to play a significant role in many players’ final rankings. I was not at the Army game, but was disappointed to find out how much Anthony Cook struggled. Having to help choose where he should fall without having seen for myself the things he was judged on is an unfortunate part of the process. Up until the final rankings, Cook had as impressive a body of work at every event we had seen him in as anybody. But he seemed to not have his best stuff in San Antonio and paid the price for it. It’s disappointing, but he’s not the only player that this happens to on an annual basis.
Chad Simmons (Southeast): The toughest decision for me, not only at the end here in January, but for the last few months was at defensive end in Georgia. Adam Anderson and Brenton Cox had big senior seasons, both were All-Americans, and both are likely to have bright futures. So even though both have different skill-sets, they both rush the passer and it was a tight race on who was the top end in the Peach State.
Woody Wommack (Southeast): One of the toughest decisions I had to face was what to do with Rivals100 wide receiver Devonta Jason. After a dominant spring, Jason was elevated to five-star status, only to later drop due to concerns over his speed. If you base it solely on production, both in camps and on Friday nights, it's hard to argue many players should be ranked ahead of Jason. But as we are projecting forward, everything has to be taken into account and weighed. Jason is still ranked high, and I think he will have a great career, but he was - and is - a tough player to project in terms of how close he is to his ceiling.
2. Who do you think we might have too low?
Cassidy: I think Josh Jobe could make us pay. He has NFL size and his physicality is off the charts. I think he’s the kind of prospect that could have challenged for five-star status. But he transferred north, away from my region, last year so he’s not my problem anymore.
Farrell: I think Tyreke Smith, the Ohio State commitment, will be a guy we look back on and say we should have had as a five-star. He’s still new to football, continues to add good weight and strength, and I think in a couple of years he will be a dominant edge rusher for Ohio State and a highly coveted draft prospect. He’s our highest four-star, but we could regret not giving him that fifth.
Friedman: If I had my way, future Buckeyes Tyreke Smith and Blue Smith and NC State signee De'Von Graves would be higher in the rankings. We had a pretty good discussion about Tyreke Smith and it wouldn't surprise me if Blue Smith turned out to be the best wide receiver in this class. Graves was a tough evaluation because he plays sub-par competition and didn't come out to showcases or 7on7 tournaments. He still earned a 5.8 Rivals Rating, but I have a feeling he should have been higher.
Gorney: Brandon Kaho might be one of the best linebackers in this class and he's ranked in the Rivals100 but there could be five-star potential there. The problem was Kaho did not participate in the Army Bowl, which would have been an excellent evaluation tool and he's at the Polynesian Bowl, but that's only chance this month to see him. Kaho didn't do many camps and didn't play a lot of 7on7, so there wasn't a lot of offseason exposure there. But Alabama absolutely loved the kid and Washington got a huge pledge from him, so he could be something really special.
Helmholdt: Ohio State wide receiver signee Kamryn Babb tore his ACL in August, missed all of his senior season and did not play in the Army Bowl. With no new evaluations since last off-season to adjust Babb's rating, he ends up lower in the final Rivals250 than I ultimately feel he would have if we'd had another evaluation this winter.
Krueger: In my region, DeMarvion Overshown seems to have a ton of potential - and others have him ranked higher than we do - but there is still a lot of rawness to his game. He comes from a town of little more than 900 people, so he’s played in a small classification during his high school career and has spent most of it chasing down runners rather than defending passes. That didn’t stop him from making several highlight-worthy plays on passes during his week at Under Armour, but then again, the quarterbacks didn’t have a spectacular week, either. Regardless, he could end up being a superstar for Texas down the road.
Simmons: I would have to say Brey Walker. He is a top 50 prospect, so he’s not that low, but being an offensive tackle - a premiere position - he could be a high NFL Draft pick down the road. He has the frame, the skill-set, and at his position, he could be one we look back on and think we had a little low
Wommack: Based on the current rankings I think Tyson Campbell is too low at No. 88. In my mind Campbell has the potential to be a future first-round pick and has everything you look for in an elite cornerback prospect.
3. Who do you think will make an instant impact next season in college?
Cassidy: Amon-Ra St. Brown is, by far, the best wide receiver in this class. It’s not particularly close. I think you’ll see him make an impact on the Pac-12 next year. When you consider his talent and the pieces the Trojans have to help him, this seems like a slam dunk.
Farrell: I think Xavier Thomas will make an immediate impact because of his work ethic, size, strength and ability to overpower opponents. This may sound stupid with everyone returning along the defensive line for Clemson, but I think he rotates in well and makes a nice impact for a true freshmen. It would be easier to say guys like Micah Parsons or Lorenzo Lingard, but Thomas has the best work ethic and drive of anyone in this class at least to me.
Friedman: Tyreke Johnson, Mark Pope and Jaylen Waddle are too talented and skilled to keep off the field. I love how aggressive Johnson plays and that should help an embattled Ohio State secondary. Miami would be unwise to not let Pope on the field, with his playmaking abilities. The same goes for Waddle, wherever he ends up.
Gorney: Kelly Bryant helped lead Clemson to the College Football Playoff, and Chase Brice, Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper are waiting in the wings to play quarterback for the Tigers, but I still predict Trevor Lawrence is going to compete - and win - the starting quarterback job there next season. He's just too special to keep off the field. Lawrence is the top-rated prospect in the 2018 class, he's one of the best QBs in Rivals.com history and he could have a record-breaking career at Clemson. It's going to be a heated battle to win the starting QB job, but I predict Lawrence comes out on top.
Helmholdt: This Rivals100 has a lot players who are going to make their mark on college football next year, but I am going to keep with my Ohio State theme and pick defensive end Tyreke Smith. The Buckeyes lost Sam Hubbard early to the NFL Draft, but they return plenty of pass rushers, including former five-stars Nick Bosa and Chase Young. I just cannot bet against Smith, though. He has surpassed my expectations at every step of his development and I think he will impact early in his college career.
Krueger: Without mulling over depth charts and basing this answer purely on the level of hype he received from fellow analysts following the Army Bowl, I think Brendan Radley-Hiles could be that guy for Oklahoma. Even though the Sooners' defense came up big in most games last season, it only had eight interceptions as a unit, and Radley-Hiles is the type of player who can close on a pass and flip the field with a pick at any time. He might not be what’s considered the new prototypical corner, but his ability as a game-changer is evident.
Simmons: Amon-Ra St. Brown is one I’d bet on for sure. This kid has the it factor. He’s physically ready to play, he’s mentally ready to play and he will go into USC and make an impact as a true freshman. He has confidence and he could be one of the top playmakers in the Pac-12 next fall as a true freshman.
Wommack: It's hard to see a scenario where Amon-Ra St. Brown doesn't step into USC next season and make an immediate impact. I know the Trojans have several talented wide receivers on the roster, but St. Brown is one of my favorite prospects in the 2018 class and I think he will be a special player from Day One.