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Mike Farrell with host John Harris on Yahoo! Sports Radio
The August release of the Rivals100 presented by Under Armour is always anticipated as fans and prospects head into the football season. However, this year's version could be one of the most anticipated in recent years for many reasons. The suspense regarding the No. 1 overall prospect in the country and positional battles at running back, cornerback and wide receiver highlight this release. Woodbridge (Va.) Woodbridge Senior defensive end Da'Shawn Hand remains the top player in the country, and he is joined by five new five-star prospects. Here's a breakdown of the list.
The battle at the top was hotly contested, but Hand held onto the No. 1 slot with many candidates pushing closer. Paramus (N.J.) Paramus Catholic cornerback Jabrill Peppers (Michigan commitment), Monroe (La.) West Monroe offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside safety Quin Blanding (Virginia commitment) and Hoover, Ala., cornerback Marlon Humphrey round out the top five.
"Hand remains on top, but this hasn't become a bell-to-bell situation as I expected initially," Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell said. "There is so much talent at the top that I can think of six or seven prospects who could end up at No. 1 by the end of the year. Hand is an elite prospect with great size, athleticism and work ethic, and we think he will be a star at the next level. But that can be said about so many players in this class. But he came out to Chicago at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour and took home MVP honors against the best. You can't knock a guy for that, especially considering the talent level there."
Rounding out the top 10 are New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette, Gardena (Calif.) Serra athlete Adoree' Jackson, Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage running back Sony Michel (Georgia commitment), Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain quarterback Kyle Allen (Texas A&M commitment) and Oakley (Calif.) Freedom running back Joe Mixon.
"It's a really special top 10," Farrell said. "We moved Jackson to athlete because he can play offense as well at the next level, and we moved Mixon to all-purpose back because he's so versatile. Fournette remains the No. 1 running back, but with Michel and Mixon in the top 10 it's clearly a strong year at the position. And of course Allen makes his debut as a five-star in the top 10."
Allen moved up 18 slots to No. 9 and well ahead of Gainesville, Ga., dual-threat quarterback DeShaun Watson (Clemson commitment) as the top signal caller in the country.
"Allen took that next step when it comes to confidence, field vision and simply becoming a franchise quarterback this summer," Farrell said. "He was great all summer and especially at the Five-Star Challenge. He proved to us there, head-to-head with Watson, that he is just a notch above right now as a passer."
Another big five-star debut is that of River Ridge (La.) John Curtis wide receiver Malachi Dupre, who leapfrogged many wide receivers to check in at No. 1 at his position and No. 15 overall.
"Dupre is an amazing athlete with good size, great hops, excellent hands, and he's a very good route runner for a guy who plays in an offense that doesn't throw the ball," Farrell said. "He just stood out to us as the No. 1 wideout and a clear five-star despite a strong group at his position, especially at the top."
The other new five stars line up in a row at No. 20, No. 21 and No. 22. Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy cornerback Jalen Tabor, Hendersonville (Tenn.) Beech Senior running back Jalen Hurd (Tennessee commitment) and Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul's linebacker Tre Williams (Auburn) earned the coveted fifth star with standout performances.
"Tabor was a guy we liked since the beginning, but we weren't sure if he was a true cornerback. But he showed that especially at the Five-Star Challenge as a late addition to the event. He just showed up and balled out, and he has an uncanny ability to be around the football at all times," Farrell said. "Hurd was a guy we wanted to see in person, just like we did with Mixon in the spring and with Ty Isaac last year. They are all taller backs who needed to show us they were fluid, fast and weren't too stiff and upright to be special at the next level. Hurd proved that at the Columbus Nike Camp, for sure. And with Williams, no linebacker was better in coverage at the Five-Star Challenge and he took that next step from the spring while many others fell back a bit. All three of them earned this by answering a question we had."
In addition to the new five-stars, there were many prospects who made significant moves within the Rivals100 or into it. The three biggest movers pushed up at least 100 slots into the Rivals100 for the first time, led by Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington defensive end Chad Thomas (Miami commitment), who jumped 169 slots to No. 52 overall.
"Thomas made his jump after exceptional summer performances in Beaverton, Oregon, and at the Jimbo Fisher summer camp. Thomas nabbed DL MVP honors at The Opening, frustrating bigger offensive linemen with his ultra-quick get-off and active hands in pass-rush drills," Rivals.com Southeast analyst Kynon Codrington said. "At the Fisher camp, Thomas failed to lose a rep in one-on-ones, playing with great leverage and technique to dominate the afternoon session of the showcase. As a junior, Thomas recorded four sacks playing alongside five-star Florida State signee Matthew Thomas. This year, he will be the focal point of the front four and his production should increase."
Goose Creek (S.C.) Stratford quarterback Jacob Park (Georgia commitment) made the next biggest jump, moving 119 slots to No. 76 overall.
"We already knew that Park had the potential to be a special player, and he spent the summer showing that he belongs among the best at the quarterback position," Rivals.com Southeast analyst Woody Wommack said. "He impressed in Oregon and was among the top overall quarterbacks. In between that he camped at Georgia, where he's committed, and reassured the staff that he was the right choice at the position going forward."
Indianapolis (Ind.) Speedway wide receiver Justin Brent (Notre Dame commitment) was the other prospect to move up 100 or more slots (he jumped exactly 100 to No. 74 overall).
"Brent's performance at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour showed that the Indianapolis native is realizing the potential we saw in him when we rated him four stars initially," Rivals.com Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt said. "Among the top talent in the country, Brent's athleticism, speed and attention to detail allowed him to create space and become a favorite target of the quarterbacks in Chicago."
In addition to Brent, a few other wide receivers made sizable moves. Mount Pleasant, Texas wide receiver KD Cannon (Baylor commitment) jumped 26 slots to No. 27 overall, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Erasmus Hall Campus wide receiver Curtis Samuel (Ohio State commitment) moved up 72 spots to No. 44 overall, New Orleans (La.) Edna Carr wide receiver Speedy Noil pushed up 26 slots to No. 49 overall, and West Palm Beach (Fla.) Cardinal Newman wide receiver Travis Rudolph jumped 76 slots to No. 77 overall.
"Cannon may not be the biggest receiver, but he can flat out go. His quickness and route running allow him to lose even the best defensive backs. He put on a stellar performance at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour in Chicago against the best of the best, and then he went out and did the same at every other stop he had over the course of the summer months," Rivals.com Midlands analyst Jason Howell said. "Cannon is a competitor, and he enjoys mixing it up with his competition. He is supremely confident, and this summer he showed he has every right to be."
Samuel impressed everyone with not only his testing numbers but his ability in space at The Opening.
"Samuel is very explosive, and he's a guy who turns the corner very quickly so he can make players with the angle on him look slow," Farrell said. "He's sure-handed, he is good in space, and he's a threat to go the distance on every play."
While many assumed Noil would easily be a five-star after his off-the-charts testing at The Opening, we are being cautious because he's new to the wide receiver position.
"No doubt about it, Noil had a fantastic summer. His performance at The Opening in Oregon was top-notch, and he showed very strong not only in testing but in 7-on-7 play. His quickness and speed make him tough to handle," Howell said. "He has the ability to change direction in a hurry and he can really make life tough for defensive backs trying to keep track of his every move, so his natural ability at receiver is impressive."
Finally, Rudolph was plain smooth at the Five Star Challenge to push up the receiver ranks.
"Rudolph entered The Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour ranked the lowest among the wideouts from the Sunshine State. The four-star flanker must have used the slight as motivation because he was one of the top four pass catchers of the event," Codrington said. "He made the All-Challenge team and was one of Kyle Allen's top targets throughout the weekend for tournament champion Team Yahoo! His polish and downfield ability surprised a few of the recruiting experts in attendance, but Rudolph has shown big-play potential during his career. In addition to his Five-Star Challenge effort, he was outstanding at the IMG/NFA 7-on-7 National Championship for the South Florida Express."
The offensive line group also boasted some big movers. Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints Episcopal offensive guard Demetrius Knox (Ohio State commitment) and Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco offensive guard Damien Mama battled it out for the No. 1 spot at their position. Knox moved up 52 spots to No. 35 overall, while Mama jumped 61 spots to No. 38.
"Knox is definitely a talker, but in Chicago at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge he was all about business. He certainly had plenty to say, but he showed a level of intensity we had not seen before," Howell said. "He was on his game, and he took on and even called out the top guys at the event. The dominant performance in Chicago definitely stuck in the minds of everyone who saw it, and there was not much debate about Knox deserving a bump up the rankings."
Mama is right on his heels.
"Mama is so massive, tipping the scales at more than 350 pounds, that you would think he'd be slow and plodding, but that's not the case at all. He's surprisingly light on his feet and moves like an offensive tackle," Rivals.com West analyst Adam Gorney said. "He's so big that it's difficult for defensive linemen to get around him, and once Mama gets his hands on an opponent it's basically over. Mama dominated at all the summer events, he moves really well for his size, and with pads on he is even more physical."
Nashville (Tenn.) Montgomery Bell Academy offensive tackle Alex Bars (Notre Dame commitment) and Corona (Calif.) Centennial offensive guard Viane Talamaivao (Alabama commitment) also made nice moves.
"Bars moved up in the rankings because he showed the ability to be physical and aggressive, as well as move his feet consistently," Farrell said of the tackle who moved up 20 spots to No. 36 overall. "Going against Lorenzo Carter at the Five-Star Challenge and beating him despite having his jersey ripped off was one of the highlights of the summer."
Talamaivao made noise at The Opening.
"There's a reason why Alabama recruited Talamaivao so hard this offseason and landed his commitment -- because he is big, strong and almost like an immovable object in one-on-one situations," Gorney said of the big guard, who moved up 63 slots to No. 97. "The things that stand out most about his game are his excellent power base and his thick legs, and once he gets his footing he is really tough to move. Talamaivao gets great arm extension and controls defensive linemen with ease. He had a great showing at The Opening and definitely deserves a major move up in the rankings."
Linebacker was another position that saw movement in addition to Williams' jump to five stars. Columbia (S.C.) Spring Valley linebacker Christian Miller (Alabama commitment), Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary linebacker Dante Booker (Ohio State commitment) and Auburn, Ala., linebacker Rashaan Evans made nice moves.
"Miller isn't the thickest linebacker in the world, but he's long, he has a great frame and he covers a lot of ground," Farrell said of the outside backer who moved up 43 slots to No. 58 overall. "He's a quick-twitch talent who can play in any defensive set."
Booker showed he has athleticism to go with his size.
"There were some questions coming out of his junior season about how badly Booker wanted to be great, but we saw this summer when he faced elite competition that the Ohio State commit rises to the occasion," Helmholdt said of Booker, who moved up 37 slots to No. 71 overall. "At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Booker is a physical specimen who plays sideline-to-sideline and has the size to hold up in the middle of a front seven."
Finally, Evans was another who earned his bump from his workout at The Opening.
"Evans is another big linebacker who can really move well and cover in space," Farrell said of the uncommitted 'backer who moved up 68 spots to No. 95. "He's long, and he has good instincts when it comes to the depth of his drops and disrupting passing lanes for quarterbacks. He can also cover running backs well."
Rounding out the big movers in the Rivals100 are two safeties, two running backs and a defensive end.
Long Beach (Calif.) Poly safety John Smith and Jenks, Okla. safety Steven Parker made big moves after great summers.
"Smith is so athletic and fast in coverage he can cover a tremendous amount of ground, and he's always around the ball. At the Five-Star Challenge, Smith was excellent, especially during 7-on-7 play, where he had a bunch of pass deflections and was really a terror for wide receivers trying to go deep," Gorney said of Smith, who jumped 23 slots to No. 26 overall. "Later in the summer at The Opening, Smith showed his wide receiver skills and proved he's a legitimate two-way threat. Smith has all the talent and potential to be a five-star prospect, but first we want to see him dominate in his senior season before giving him that distinction."
As for Parker, he was a surprise to many.
"Going into the Five-Star Challenge we had a high opinion of Parker, but I don't think we expected to see him perform as well as he did," Howell said of the safety who moved up 75 slots to No. 46 overall. "He was one of the more consistent performers of the weekend and was the top safety in attendance on day one. He did a great job of using his speed and length to close down passing lanes, and he was great as a center field safety on the back end of the defense."
Minneapolis (Minn.) Washburn running back Jeff Jones and Imperial, Calif., running back Royce Freeman jumped into the Rivals100.
"Jones is a bit shiftier than we expected he would be, even after seeing him in the spring," Farrell said of the Minnesota commitment who moved up 24 spots to No. 91 overall. "He was really good in space and after the catch this summer, and he showed more explosion."
Freeman is a big, downhill back who has jumped on the radar.
"Freeman lives in a very remote area of California and he doesn't attend many camps or 7-on-7 tournaments, so not many people have seen him until this summer. Once they did, they were immediately impressed because he's rock-solid muscle, has tremendous size and moves well for someone so big," Gorney said of the Oregon commitment who jumped 94 spots to No. 93 overall. "Trying to tackle Freeman is a nightmare because he runs hard and he's so big; it's like trying to stop an 18-wheeler. He has a college-ready body already, and in Oregon's offense he should be fantastic because of his size, speed and athleticism."
Finally, Plaquemine, La., defensive end Davon Godchaux jumped 52 spots and just into the Rivals100 to No. 99.
"This spring and summer, Godchaux has taken his game to another level. After a strong performance at the Houston stop of the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour, which saw him take home defensive line MVP honors over some stiff competition, he showed up in Chicago for the Five-Star Challenge and continued to handle business," Howell said. "He is explosive off the ball, and he also showed improved hands and mixed in some nice counter moves. In addition to seeing Godchaux in Chicago, we saw him a few more times during the summer and he did not disappoint in those venues, either."
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