football Edit

Tuesdays with Gorney: Ten questions for the next rankings refresh

Arch Manning
Arch Manning (Sam Spiegelman)

In today’s Tuesdays with Gorney, Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney looks at 10 questions as the analyst team heads into rankings for the 2023 and 2024 classes this week:

*****

MORE: How the SEC's best players would be rated in Madden

CLASS OF 2023 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Team | Position | State

CLASS OF 2024 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Team | Position | State

TRANSFER PORTAL: Stories/coverage | Message board

*****

1. WILL ARCH MANNING STAY NO. 1?

I get the arguments on both sides. In the “yes” camp, Arch Manning is a fantastic talent with a phenomenal football pedigree that cannot be beaten and so those two considerations should keep him as the No. 1 football player in the class since rankings are about projection to college and the NFL Draft.

The “no” camp is that Manning might not even be the best quarterback in a class loaded at the position let alone the top overall player, he doesn’t compete in national events for an apples-to-apples comparison and it’s unlikely he will play in a national all-star game so he’s getting the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his ranking.

The only argument I don’t understand is that if Manning’s name was “Arch Smith” he wouldn’t be the No. 1 prospect in the class. Well, it isn’t and you can use any hypothetical argument to make any point you like.

*****  

2. IF NOT MANNING, WHO?

Cormani McClain
Cormani McClain (Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)

The last cornerback to be No. 1 was Derek Stingley Jr. who was such an impressive physical specimen and while Cormani McClain isn’t there yet, the Lakeland, Fla. standout might even be better in coverage. Samuel M’Pemba looks like a million bucks and is playing that all-important edge rusher role.

USC commit Malachi Nelson had a great summer and looked really solid at the Elite 11 but Oregon commit Dante Moore was slightly better at that event and Tennessee pledge Nico Iamaleava was outstanding at numerous events. How the quarterback rankings shake out will be really interesting especially after most of them were seen numerous times this summer.

Those would be the main contenders for the top spot but five-star defensive end Nyckoles Harbor might be in the conversation as well since he’s a legit elite track star, too.

*****  

3. WHAT TO DO AT WIDE RECEIVER?

Zachariah Branch
Zachariah Branch

The last time we refreshed the rankings, we flipped Carnell Tate to No. 1 and Brandon Inniss to second among the five-stars with Hykeem Williams third and Zachariah Branch fourth as the five-stars. That order could get turned on its head.

Tate has been solid if not spectacular this summer. Inniss gets open on almost every play and never, ever drops a pass. Williams is the best-looking physical specimen of a receiver and that should count for something. And Branch is undersized but so dynamic and such a playmaker that he’s exactly what many NFL teams are looking for in their offenses

*****  

4. INTERESTING DISCUSSION AT OT

Kadyn Proctor
Kadyn Proctor (Rivals.com)

Iowa commit Kadyn Proctor remains the No. 1 offensive tackle in the class but he’s going to get pushed hard especially by the three below him in five-star Samson Okunlola and then high four-stars Francis Mauigoa and Cayden Green.

Okunlola has been dominant at every event he’s attended this offseason and he’s hidden from no one. His mix of athletic ability and physical power is impressive. Mauigoa, who’s committed to Miami, might not be getting the respect he deserves and Green, an Oklahoma pledge, was excellent at the Future 50 and has been great at Rivals events before.

Proctor is an outstanding talent and he’s going to the program that arguably develops the best offensive linemen in the country but there are some major contenders right behind him in the rankings that could move up.

*****  

5. SDE COULD GET INTERESTING

Jayden Wayne
Jayden Wayne (Rivals.com)

The strongside and weakside defensive end groups are absolutely loaded this year and we’re not locked in one way or another with how the rankings shake out there. On the strong-side, David Hicks Jr. leads the way and we’re interested to see how new Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy DE Jayden Wayne does against national competition. That could determine a lot of these final rankings.

We’re not sure if Notre Dame commit Brenan Vernon is the next Jack Sawyer or Bosa Bros. or if he’s something else entirely and then four-star Kelby Collins is someone I love on film. The player at that spot who might not be getting the respect he deserves is Venice, Fla., recruit Damon Wilson, who’s currently ranked seventh at the position.

*****  

6. WDE MOVES COULD BE COMING

Keon Keeley
Keon Keeley (Rivals.com)

If strongside defensive end is loaded then the weakside is even more filled with elite players and there could be some significant changes coming down the line.

Samuel M’Pemba leads the way but Notre Dame commit Keon Keeley, who is being targeted by Alabama, has incredible length and range coming off the edge. Four-star Matayo Uiagalelei could be a special talent but he’s been dealing with a lower-body injury this offseason so a big senior season could be ahead.

Here’s where it gets especially interesting: Florida State commit Keldric Faulk and Oklahoma commits Colton Vasek and Adepoju Adebawore have been especially impressive this offseason while Tennessee pledge Chandavian Bradley did not dominate as much at Future 50. That discussion could still go a lot of ways especially since Bradley’s projection could be off the charts but it’s an interesting position to watch.

*****  

7. IS ANTHONY HILL TOO LOW?

Anthony Hill
Anthony Hill (Rivals.com)

In the 2020 class, Oregon signees Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell were ranked in the top 10 at inside linebacker but before that and since that time not many players at that position were ranked so high.

Flowe and Sewell were special. Anthony Hill could deserve that high of a ranking as well. The new Texas A&M commit is an absolute tackling machine and as he continues to develop his frame into being college-ready, the Denton (Texas) Ryan standout is someone who can orchestrate a defense and then make nearly every tackle on the field.

I remember watching Flowe and Sewell in high school and thinking there’s nearly no way both aren’t going to have superstar potential down the road. There is the same feeling around Hill as he enters his senior season ranked No. 11 nationally now.

*****  

8. CB COULD BE WIDE OPEN

AJ Harris
AJ Harris (Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)

After Cormani McClain and fellow five-star Javien Toviano, who might project as a safety at the next level so we’ll see about that, the cornerback position is basically wide open

Georgia commit AJ Harris has been solid every time we’ve seen him but he hasn’t been at many national events this offseason. Alabama pledges Jahlil Hurley and Tony Mitchell are different types of defensive backs and Mitchell is another one who could end up moving to safety down the road.

Texas A&M commit Jayvon Thomas could move up because he is elite and ranked No. 39 in the country so he's well-respected but could move even higher.

*****  

9. IS THERE A FIVE-STAR SAFETY?

Caleb Downs
Caleb Downs

This debate has been going on for a few rankings cycle about whether Caleb Downs should be a five-star and since he hasn’t done much this offseason it might be tough to justify until we see the new Alabama commit during his senior season.

But others could be moving up. New Georgia commit Joenel Aguero is definitely someone I’m watching and he had a good Future 50 so he could be in the discussion to get bumped in the positional rankings. Notre Dame pledge Peyton Bowen is also one to watch after good reports this summer.

As for a five-star safety, the wait continues.

*****

10. MORE FIVE-STARS AT ATHLETE?

Nyckoles Harbor
Nyckoles Harbor (Rivals.com)

Right now, we’re sitting at 19 five-star prospects in the 2023 class and we will try to get to 32 to mimic the first round of the NFL Draft although we won’t necessarily force it if it isn’t there. Still, there are many potential five-star candidates out there and athlete is a good spot to look.

Nyckoles Harbor is a complete no-brainer even if he isn’t completely there from a football perspective since he’s such a rare athlete he will absolutely blow away everyone at the NFL Combine.

After that, Lincoln (Neb.) East’s Malachi Coleman could be under consideration. Another rare athlete (not to Harbor’s level but still very good) Coleman could play wide receiver or edge rusher in college which speaks to his rare ability. We don’t know a ton about new Texas A&M commit Dalton Brooks because he plays in small-town Shiner, Texas but we will learn more as the recruiting cycle continues.

It’s a start as we look to add some through their senior seasons and especially into the all-star events which are so crucial from an evaluation standpoint.