The 2012 high school football season has officially kicked off, so it's perfect timing for our annual August release of the Rivals100, the most prestigious list in all of football recruiting.
With more summer evaluation opportunities than ever before, there are plenty of changes to the list, including eight new five-star prospects and three who fell from such lofty status.
Led by Autauga (Ala.) Academy tight end O.J. Howard, our team breaks down the five-star shuffle.
"This summer has given us more evaluation opportunities than any I can remember," said national analyst Mike Farrell, who has been scouting for Rivals.com for more than a decade. "With the addition of our exclusive Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge to the slate of other all-star events, it gives us a big advantage over the rest of the industry because we've been able to see more of the top kids in action than anyone else."
Of the eight new five-stars, Howard makes the highest debut at No. 5, followed by cornerback Jalen Ramsey from Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy at No. 11, running back Greg Bryant from Delray Beach (Fla.) American Heritage at No. 14, quarterback Shane Morris from Warren (Mich.) De La Salle at No. 17, safety Leon McQuay III from Seffner (Fla.) Armwood at No. 18, running back Ty Isaac from Joliet (Ill.) Catholic at No. 19, running back Taquan Mizzell from Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside at No. 20 and defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson from Fort Worth (Texas) Arlington Heights at No. 22.
"With Howard, it was one of the easiest choices we've ever had to make," Farrell said. "He is our first five-star tight end since Kyle Rudolph in 2008 and he is the most physically gifted player at the position I have ever seen. And people who know me certainly know I don't throw compliments like that around often."
Howard was a standout at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, as well as at The Opening and Gridiron Kings. The next two five-star prospects also started off their year at the exclusive Rivals.com event.
"Jalen Ramsey was the overall MVP at the Rivals Challenge and his combination of size, speed, ball skills and his ability to press or play off coverage is rare at the high school level," Farrell said. "Greg Bryant is a ball of energy with some of the quickest feet you'll ever see and it was our pleasure to watch him dominate our event. While Howard and Ramsey continued their dominance at other events, Bryant showed us more than enough in Atlanta. He has good size to go along with all his other attributes and he catches it well. He's a three-down back and made a case for No. 1 at his position."
At quarterback, Morris impressed at The Opening and the Elite 11 as well as at Gridiron Kings, which helped bump him up to five stars. However, Rivals.com Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt has been a believer since the beginning.
"We have now seen all the top quarterbacks throw live and Morris, hands down, has the strongest arm in the class," Helmholdt said. "His consistency has also improved over the last year and he is more accurate than he has been given credit for in the past, which became evident by his win in the accuracy contest on day two at the Elite 11.
"Morris has the intangibles you look for in the quarterback position as well. He has shown outstanding leadership qualities and works very hard to excel in his craft."
McQuay has shown amazing instincts and closing speed at numerous events this summer, impressing our analysts enough to give him that coveted fifth star.
"McQuay will do something every few plays that makes you shake your head and realize how athletic and special he can be," Farrell said. "His closing speed is off the charts and he has great ball skills as well. I also love his instincts as a center fielder on defense."
Isaac is a big and tall running back who is still very effective despite the disadvantages that come with being such a big target. Helmholdt sees him as one of the rarest prospects in this year's class.
"We have known since early in his junior year that Isaac has five-star talents. The only question we wanted to get answered was whether he had the drive and passion to meet his potential," Helmholdt said. "In several offseason camps, Isaac was leading others in his group and sustained a high level of play throughout. His work ethic and ability to impress at each event we saw him convinced us he was ready to make the move to five-stars."
Mizzell probably had the best summer of any of the new stars and arguably of any player in the country. His willingness to compete anywhere and everywhere as well as his versatility as a running back or slot receiver makes him a rarity.
"We knew Mizzell was good, we already knew that," said Farrell. "But what people have to understand is that this is a kid who can run between the tackles, bounce things outside, line up in the slot or beat you on a wheel route out of the backfield. He can do so many things so well that he's one of the most dangerous all purpose backs we've seen in a few years."
Rounding out the new five-star prospects is Robinson, who emerged as one of the best defensive tackles in the county.
"Aside from Ramsey, who jumped 79 spots to his five-star position, Robinson made the next biggest move of the five stars," Farrell said. "At The Opening, he showed how big and physical he is, but also how quick and aggressive he is off the snap. When he is on, he is unstoppable and he was dominant at times, more than any other defensive lineman over the course of the event. This kid has such light feet for a 300-pounder and he plays low despite his height. Once he gets coached up, he will be special."
While eight new prospects earned their coveted fifth star, three fell from the ranks. Trotwood (Ohio) Trotwood-Madison cornerback Cameron Burrows, Beaverton (Ore.) Aloha running back Thomas Tyner and Whitewright, Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes all dropped down to four-star status.
"Burrows was outstanding last fall while leading his team to a state title. He played fluidly and with outstanding athleticism for his size. This offseason, however, we saw a combination of low effort and a loss of fluidity from the 6-foot, 200-plus pound defensive back," Helmholdt said. "A player his size has to stay fluid through the hips to stay with elite wide receivers. By the time he showed up at Gridiron Kings in late July, he was really struggling and gave up a ton of completions."
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"There is no question that Tyner could be an elite talent because of his size and speed, but injuries have plagued him throughout his high school career and that continues to be a major concern," said Rivals.com West analyst Adam Gorney.
"Apparently, Tyner is healthy for his senior season but he missed portions of last season and was injured again in track, which didn't allow him to attend any elite camps this summer. A big, injury-free senior season might change our thinking moving forward because we love Tyner's game, but another injury might just reaffirm our belief that he cannot stay out of the trainer's room."
"With Swoopes, a lot of people felt we would simply free-fall him down the rankings, but he only fell nine slots overall," Farrell said. "Some thought we might move him to athlete as well, but he's going to be a quarterback in college. Swoopes is still pretty much what we thought he was, a very raw quarterback with great athletic upside. However, his field vision and mechanics really made us re-consider that fifth star and drop him down a peg. He's still a special prospect with an amazing ceiling, but he needs a lot of coaching."
Rivals.com now has 22 five-star prospects heading into the season.
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