The initial Rivals.com prospect rankings for the class of 2014 were released this week. We asked our analysts to share some insights based on what they learned during early evaluations:
Question No. 1: Which prospect who missed out on five-star status generated the most discussion/argument among the analysts?
Mike Farrell, National/Mid-Atlantic: There were plenty of them, but I'll say running back Jalen Hurd was probably one of the ones discussed the most. He's a great athlete and a terrific running back, but he has that upright style that makes you wonder if he'll be a star at the next level. And five-stars are projected as sure-fire talents at their positions and Hurd could be in a discussion like we had with Derrick Henry this past year.
Jason Howell, Southwest: I honestly don't remember much argument, but it seems like there was quite a bit of discussion about Bo Scarbrough, Allen Lazard and Braden Smith. Scarborough can do so many things on the field, and he looks like a grown man. Lazard has a chance to really vault up the list, in my opinion, as he puts his talents on display. Then there is the man-child who is Braden Smith. He's another who has the drive and potential to really push himself up the list. From my region, Hoza Scott was the guy who was debated more than any other. I think there's a good possibility of him receiving that fifth star before it's all said and done.
Josh Helmholdt, Midwest: There was certainly a long discussion about linebacker Raekwon McMillan, because he had started as a five-star when the Watch List was released.
Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic: There was a long talk about whether Raekwon McMillan should be a five-star. We decided against that and, for now, he is the second-highest-rated four-star player in the country. Depending on his performance during the camp season, there is a good chance he could gain his five-star status
Kynon Codrington, Southeast:Allen Lazard came closest to earning a fifth star. A few of the analysts made a strong case for him, and he narrowly missed the cut. Lazard is the No. 1 receiver in this class, and he has a chance to move up to the coveted five-star range. We are looking forward to seeing him in person against some of the premier defensive backs at the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour and other elite events this spring and summer.
Woody Wommack, Southeast: There's no question it was Jalen Hurd. He's ranked as the No. 1 four-star in the country for good reason. Because of his size, there's some question as to whether he is a college running back. I think he is, and I think he's on par with some of the top backs in the country. He'll have his opportunity to go head-to-head with the five-star backs during the upcoming camp season.
Adam Gorney, West:Braden Smith was a guy we had a lengthy discussion on for five-star status. He has outstanding film on which he dominates the competition and the offer list is definitely impressive, but we decided to hold off for a little while. The highlight tape is tough to read because it's not against top-level competition, so we really want to see him on the national stage to compare him against some other offensive linemen. Smith could be a special prospect, though.
Rob Cassidy, West: On my end, it was tackle Braden Smith. Smith's build is unparalleled in this class. Body-wise he's college ready right now -- like, today. His film is impressive, and so is his motor. Smith is a machine in the weight room and one of those players who trains around the clock. Ultimately, he fell short because he plays out of position (at guard) for his high school team, which rarely passes the ball. There isn't enough known about his pass blocking to warrant five stars as of yet, but at least in my opinion it's only a matter of time. Smith has shined in every situation he's seen, and there's no reason to think he isn't the dominant force he appears to be.
Question No. 2: Which position looks like it should be strong in 2014? Which one looks like it is in for a down year?
Mike Farrell, National/Mid-Atlantic: Cornerback looks strong, as does running back this year, and I think it's a good year for defensive ends as well, especially big ones. It's down for offensive tackles aside from a few at the very top, and linebacker appears to be a very weak position overall, inside and outside.
Jason Howell, Southwest: Cornerback is flat-out loaded, and if you throw in safeties it should be a feeding frenzy for secondary coaches across the country. There are four five-star cornerbacks already and several more prospects sprinkled throughout the Rivals100. In Texas, the class is as deep as it has ever been. Louisiana is also bringing some heat, with Laurence Jones leading the way. No doubt about it, this is a great year for defensive backs. I am also liking the D-ends I have seen in my region. It seems like they're starting to pop up everywhere. It seems like it is a bit of a down year for defensive tackles. There is only one defensive tackle in the top 35. In the Southwest, only two made the top 250. DeShawn Washington is a guy to keep an eye on out of the state of Texas, and a few more Texas guys have made noise recently, but overall it's a bit light. The offensive line group in the Southwest is also down.
Josh Helmholdt, Midwest: With five defensive backs in the top 13, there is top-end talent and depth at that position in 2013. Defensive end is another that is talented at the top. Where are all the sure things at the pro-style quarterback position, though?
Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic: Secondary coaches should be excited again this year. As in the 2013 class, the cornerbacks in the 2014 class are exceptional. The group is led by five-stars Jabrill Peppers, Adoree' Jackson, Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown. The class is deep as well, with high four-stars Jalen Tabor, Damon Webb and Michiah Quick.
There aren't nearly the numbers of quality defensive tackles in 2014 as there were in 2013. There were four five-star defensive tackles last year, but as of now there is only one five-star defensive tackle, Andrew Brown. Not only is Brown the only five-star, he is the only defensive tackle in the top 37.
Kynon Codrington, Southeast: I'm going with the cornerback spot. There are four five-star corners among the 14 five-star prospects in the Rivals100. Top to bottom, the position is loaded with talent. This should be another big year for the back end defenders as they continue to add value to defenses facing more spread passing attacks. Inside linebacker is down across the landscape. One guy at the top of the list is Kain Daub, but he is learning the position and is raw at this stage in his career. Daub could move to defensive end down the road. There isn't a Reuben Foster-type 'backer in this year's class.
Woody Wommack, Southeast: It could be another great year for defensive ends, with Da'Shawn Hand, Lorenzo Carter and Kentavious Street earning five-star status in our initial 2014 rankings. Linebacker is a position we're watching closely because not many of the guys have separated themselves from the pack as of yet.
Adam Gorney, West: Defensive back is absolutely loaded again. When Tony Brown is a five-star and the third-best cornerback, that says something about the position. I've never seen him in person, but Jabrill Peppers has a great tape. Adoree' Jackson is a human highlight reel who is also a track star, and Quin Blanding at safety looked great last summer at the Rivals Five-Star Challenge. Wide receiver looks a little down again. Only two receiver prospects -- Allen Lazard at No. 24 and Ermon Lane at No. 29 -- are in the top 50.
Rob Cassidy, West: It's another good year at cornerback. The top of the class is, once again, loaded. The position includes four early five-stars, including the No. 2 player in the entire class, Jabrill Peppers. The depth is there, too. The initial Rivals100 includes eight corners. On the flip side of that sit the linebackers … again. I'm not sure what is happening to the position, but for a third straight year it seems to be slim pickings.
Question No. 3:Based on where the talent lies geographically, which school looks to have an advantage recruiting the class of 2014?
Mike Farrell, National/Mid-Atlantic: I'd say LSU is in good shape because Louisiana looks loaded and it usually keeps kids home. I'd also say Virginia Tech and Virginia have a great advantage with it being so loaded in state, but they will probably split on some of them and a few others could head out of state. Aside from the big three of Texas, Florida and California, I would say Louisiana and Virginia seem to be the two states that are loaded, along with perhaps North Carolina.
Jason Howell, Southwest: It is hard not to notice that Virginia is flat-out ridiculous at the top this year. If UVa and Va Tech cannot capitalize on that, it's going to be bad news. The nation's No. 1, No. 4, and No. 6 players are from Virginia, and the nation's top two defensive tackles can also be found in Virginia. In the Southwest, Louisiana is stacked. Leonard Fournette and Cameron Robinson are five-star talents and are the region's top two prospects in this early point in the process. Then there are guys like Laurence Jones, Malachi Dupre and Gerald Willis III, who lead a strong group of four-stars.
Josh Helmholdt, Midwest: It is an exceptionally deep year in Virginia and Tennessee, which should help the Hokies, Cavaliers, Volunteers and Commodores.
Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic:Virginia and Virginia Tech should be salivating over the 2014 class. Their state is loaded with three top 10 players and nine players in the top 250. The Hokies have made excellent progress with Da'Shawn Hand and Andrew Brown, while the Cavaliers should be feeling good about their chances with Quin Blanding because he goes to the same school as 2013 five-star running back Taquan Mizzell. Both of those schools should watch out for North Carolina because the Tar Heels made Brown's and Blanding's top 10s and are considered the sixth favorite for Hand.
Kynon Codrington, Southeast: Geographically, you have to start with the Commonwealth of Virginia. Three of the top 10 prospects in the Rivals100 are from the backyard of the Cavs and Hokies. The ACC should have an early advantage among the BCS conferences. Da'Shawn Hand is the No. 1 player in the country, and Virginia and Virginia Tech will put the full-court press on him stay close to home. Each in-state school landed a five-star prospect in last year's recruiting cycle, and both are hoping that will pay off in 2014 for Hand, Quin Blanding, and Andrew Brown. Sprinkle in Jalen Tabor and Jalyn Holmes, and the Beltway area is ripe for elite-level talent.
Woody Wommack, Southeast: It's another great year for talent in the Southeast, positioning the usual suspects, Alabama, Florida and Georgia, to have great years. South Carolina also has a nice crop of talent, and Clemson and South Carolina should reap the benefits if they can keep the top talents in state.
Adam Gorney, West: I don't think it matters. Sure, some players prefer staying closer to home but there are numerous examples in the 2013 class -- Laquon Treadwell and Kenny Bigelow come to mind -- of players who decided that geography didn't matter. Maybe the ACC schools have an edge with the Virginia kids and LSU does with the top Louisiana prospects in 2014 but I'm not entirely sure geography plays as big of a role as it used to.
Rob Cassidy, West: This is a bit of a copout, but how about Texas A&M? As always, there is serious talent in Texas and the Aggies are suddenly a recruiting hotshot. The draw of the SEC is alive and well in College Station, as it's the only place that Texas players can stay in state and compete in the nation's best football league. A&M is in perfect position to get yet another recruiting bump in 2014.