Tuesdays with Gorney: New Rivals250 released
The final release of the 2023 Rivals250 has happened so in this week’s Tuesdays with Gorney, Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney gives his thoughts by position on how things played out.
RIVALS RANKINGS WEEK
Wednesday: Offensive position rankings released
Thursday: Defensive position rankings released
Friday: State rankings released
I understand the controversy that Arch Manning finished No. 1 in the 2023 rankings after doing no national events but I come down on the side of this is a projection to college and the NFL Draft. The Texas signee is still an incredible talent who also has the family pedigree unlike any other prospect in Rivals' history.
There was significant discussion, though, about others pushing him at the top. Tennessee signee Nico Iamaleava is also incredibly special and the early reports out of him working in Knoxville with the team – and then his showing during the week at the Polynesian Bowl – put him toward that No. 1 spot.
My feeling is that no one has proved it more than UCLA signee Dante Moore from the Elite 11 this past summer to his awesome showing in the All-American Bowl. His feel at the position is phenomenal and that could carry him a long way.
USC signee Malachi Nelson stays as a five-star although he did no all-star events after offseason surgery. There was some debate about Jackson Arnold moving down but I love him and think he can be awesome at Oklahoma. After those five it feels like a significant drop-off.
There was no longer or a more heated debate than whether we should have a five-star running back in this class. While most of the discussion centered around Texas A&M signee Rueben Owens II, I actually thought Alabama signee Justice Haynes and Texas signee Cedric Baxter were more deserving and had a better argument.
Coming down on the side of no five-star running backs was a tough decision because there are many good ones in this class but the trend of not drafting that position in the first round – and the difficulty of projecting which ones will stand out in college and which ones won’t – made me hesitant to go with one.
There was another factor, too: The defensive line class is so incredibly loaded and that position value is so high, I wanted to load up on players there and keep the running backs highly rated but not at the five-star level.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END
USC signee Zachariah Branch was outstanding at both the Under Armour Game and the Polynesian Bowl and he showed the country what he has been doing regionally for years. A single defensive back has no prayer of staying with him and he’s electric in the open field. We could be seeing the next Tyreek Hill before our eyes.
But we decided that Ohio State signee Brandon Inniss would stay No. 1. He doesn’t have the highlight-reel playmaking ability but Inniss is so productive and so reliable that it would be shocking if he didn’t put up huge numbers for the Buckeyes and follow in the footsteps of so many other elite receivers in Columbus.
The guy who could be really special who moved up but still isn’t being talked about enough is Texas signee Ryan Niblett as coach Steve Sarkisian continues to load up on weapons with elite speed.
At tight end, it’s a loaded group. Five-star Duce Robinson is as natural as they come with Georgia, USC and Texas battling it out for the two-sport star. Nyckoles Harbor, while not the purest football player, has so much upside and his track background makes him elite. Georgia signee Pearce Spurlin has added good weight and looks like a future star and Miami signee Riley Williams is another great-looking tight end who produces when he gets the ball.
Over the all-star season, Alabama signee Kadyn Proctor and Miami signee Francis Mauigoa separated themselves from the pack. Proctor was so massive and more than held his own at the All-American Bowl. Mauigoa was great in Hawaii, completely dominating elite defensive linemen all week.
New five-star Zalance Heard is a projection but he’s so big and when he was good at the Under Armour Game he was really good. In that LSU system, he should be a perfect fit. Samson Okunlola stayed as a five-star as well based on his body of work but was a little anonymous during All-American Bowl week.
At offensive guard, we were more torn on this group because TJ Shanahan Jr. has been injured and Alex Birchmeier chose not to participate in any all-star events but both were in the five-star discussion. After that, it was a mixed bag that could have gone in different directions.
This could go down as one of the best defensive line groups as a whole in the Rivals era because weakside, strongside and defensive tackle is all loaded and all three position groups performed incredibly well during the all-star season. If others showed up, more five-stars could’ve been named in this group, too.
At weakside defensive end, Alabama signee Keon Keeley took the top spot because with his size, length and production it was hard to not move him up. Georgia signee Samuel M’Pemba is one of the best-looking prospects in the class but he didn’t dominate at the same level as Keeley. Oklahoma signee Adepoju Adebawore and Alabama signee Yhonzae Pierre were so sudden and twitched up, both deserved a bump to elite status as well. I wish Qua Russaw showed up to Under Armour because his speed and ability to cover ground is unique and a bump could have been coming there as well.
Strongside is also very impressive led by Georgia signee Damon Wilson, Auburn signee Keldric Faulk and Oregon signee Matayo Uiagalelei as the five-stars but it’s Faulk that has the highest upside to me. He has grown so much in the last year or two and looks destined for greatness on The Plains after flipping late from Florida State. Clemson signee Tomarrion Parker is another one who has shot up and he was right in the discussion for five-star status after dominating the all-star game. I still think Miami signee Jayden Wayne fell too far but it’s something we’ll have to live with.
Defensive tackle was a position that I wasn’t crazy about all recruiting cycle but now with some changes and some outstanding performances, it looks like a much stronger group than I first suspected. Texas A&M signee David Hicks Jr. leads the way and he’s such a powerful force in the middle, it’s tough to stop him. Clemson signee Peter Woods was great especially at Alabama/Mississippi and Georgia signee Jordan Hall was one of the biggest surprises of the all-star circuit in how much he absolutely dominated. Miami commit Rueben Bain does not have the frame of an elite defensive tackle but he wins almost every rep, it’s pretty impressive to see.
Linebackers traditionally don’t do much at all-star settings but there were some significant changes we wanted to make along the way here, too. Five-star Anthony Hill still leads the way followed by Drayk Bowen and Tackett Curtis inside but Michigan State signee Jordan Hall might still be a little underrated and I think Georgia signees Raylen Wilson, CJ Allen and Troy Bowles could end up being some of the best in this bunch.
Ole Miss signee Suntarine Perkins takes the top spot at outside linebacker as he’s built exactly what we’re looking for - long, rangy, athletic, covers ground, just an excellent player who shined on both sides of the ball in his senior season. After that, the group could have gone a bunch of different ways and I was especially impressed with Oklahoma signee Samuel Omosigho, who’s extra twitched-up and can cover.
I’ve actually wondered over the last few weeks whether we have it wrong at cornerback and that while Cormani McClain and Desmond Ricks are both very talented if Texas signee Malik Muhammad, Georgia signee AJ Harris (who didn’t participate in an all-star game) or Calvin Simpson-Hunt, who was great in San Antonio. McClain has all the length and skill in the world but this is a list that could have been turned upside down and I would’ve been fine with it. Auburn signee Kayin Lee had a phenomenal week at the All-American Bowl and could have actually been higher than eighth at the position.
What’s different about five-star safeties Caleb Downs and Peyton Bowen is that neither is a physical specimen that wows you when they just walk on the field. But both are such sharp, incredible playmakers that it didn’t feel right to keep them in four-star status. We went Downs and then Bowen but an argument could be made that Bowen is the best one.
In the final rankings, a lot of former players designated as athletes moved to their respective future positions and now leading the group is Texas signee Jelani McDonald, who played cornerback in San Antonio but could easily transition over to safety. Fifth at the position, Oklahoma signee Jacobe Johnson could be the sleeper of this group. I just wish we saw him of him throughout the recruiting cycle.