Three-point stance: Inside the rankings
Earlier evaluations mean more and more players each year will drop from five-star status down the charts into four and potentially three-star final ratings because of stunted development.
Looking back at our first ranking back in July of 2014 for this class, players like defensive end Shavar Manuel (now a defensive tackle), linebacker Keion Joyner and linebacker Breland Brandt all looked like future stars at the college level, but none of the three have taken that next step to be elite.
On the flip side, players like new five-star defensive end Terrell Hall (pictured above), new five-star linebacker Curtis Robinson, athlete Mecole Hardman Jr., offensive tackle Jonah Williams and wide receiver N'Keal Harry were either outside the national Top 200 or even three stars at the beginning of the process.
The current five-star that started off ranked the lowest? That's a tie between Hall and Robinson, neither of whom were ranked in our initial release and ended up getting their first stars in our second edition in December. Harry started off as a three-star while Hardman, Jr. and Williams were near the end of our initial Rivals250.
The biggest drop? That's currently Joyner, who has fallen off the rails and is outside the Rivals250. So those who freak out about rankings, especially the early ones, please take note. Plenty can change through seven ranking cycles, which is now the average number of releases per class, up from four as recently as 2011 when Clowney went bell-to-bell.
3. Assorted thoughts
Future Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (above) has made some of the biggest strides for a quarterback that I've seen in recent years. Keep in mind this was a kid who had numerous offers before starting a high school game and the quarterback he is today was only a projected vision of college coaches a few years ago.
Patterson or Eason? That's a question I ask myself quite a bit as Eason closes the gap in the rankings but it's still Patterson for now. I think the safer bet projecting to the NFL is Eason, based on his size, frame and arm strength, but Patterson has that Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers swagger about him, which is something hard to project. I'd take last year's No. 2 player, Josh Rosen, over both at the same stage and history tells us that somewhere at three stars a first-rounder or two lurks (Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel in 2011, Blake Bortles in 2010, Ryan Tannehill in 2007, Christian Ponder in 2006, etc). And don't ask me who that three-star might be, because if I knew, he'd be a five-star right now. See how that works?
Who's the one skill position player in the Rivals100 that could end up accelerating his development upon arrival at college a la Ezekiel Elliott (ranked No. 84 in 2013)? I'll take a shot in the dark and say Memphis wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, who scored 43 touchdowns this past season and fits exactly what Oregon loves to do on offense with his ability in space. My answer could change following the final eval, however, as someone else could emerge.
This year at running back doesn't thrill me that much overall, but we know someone from this class will emerge as a Heisman candidate down the line and B.J. Emmons is a guy to watch. Not only is he committed to Alabama, and we all know pretty much every 'Bama feature back gets a longer look from Heisman voters, but he's a big, physical back with good speed that the Tide loves to feed the ball. You thought I was going to say Tavien Feaster, right? He could be a guy to watch as well, but only if Clemson uses him much better than they did C.J. Spiller, who could have won it if he was given more touches.
Guys the closest to five stars to me are WR DeKaylin Metcalf (needs to show speed), DT Derrick Brown (needs to dominate on big stage), CB Nigel Knott (needs to show he can handle big receivers) and Feaster (has to be electric), but there are many others. The 23 five-stars heading into the final rankings are 10 fewer than last year, so this could be one of our smaller five-star classes ever. This class, as a whole, doesn't match up well with 2015 at this point. Those closest to losing a fifth star? Linebacker Daelin Hayes won't play in Army Bowl it appears, so he's somewhat safe but WR N'Keal Harry has to prove he can run away from elite defensive backs.
National Recruiting Director