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January 20, 2013

Roundtable: Previewing the final rankings

MORE: Rivals100 | Rivals250

We will release our final prospect rankings for the class of 2013 this week, beginning Monday with the final Rivals100. The Rivals.com analysts tackle some questions about the final rankings process in a roundtable format.

1. Name a player who fared surprisingly well during all-star season to earn a bump in the rankings.

Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic: It wasn't necessarily a surprise that Al-Quadin Muhammad did well at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but I didn't think he would do as well as he did. Being as skinny as he is, I thought Muhammad would have a tough time with the big offensive linemen in San Antonio. That wasn't the case. In reality, Muhammad's quickness off the line, overall speed and surprising strength gave the offensive linemen fits. We underestimated Muhammad at first, but he has earned a bump in the rankings every time we updated them since August for good reason.

Kynon Codrington, Southeast: Houston (Miss.) DL Chris Jones was the player that surprised me the most on the all-star circuit. I had a chance to see him twice in person at the AL-MS All Star Classic and the Under Armour All-American Game. He was the top player on on the field in Montgomery for the border war all-star contest, and that included Reuben Foster and Antonio Conner. At UA, Jones proved he can play with the nation's best players. He is excellent rushing the passer and solid against the run. At 6-foot-6, 250-pounds he has elite size and athletic ability to be a premier end at the next level. He needs to develop some more pass rush moves and improve his leverage coming low off the ball to give opposing linemen a smaller target to punch.

Woody Wommack, Southeast: Vonn Bell is a guy who impressed on film during his senior season and backed it up while at Under Armour earlier this month. He's a tremendous playmaker at the safety position and more than held his own against the top talent in the country. There's a reason the best college programs in the land are after him, and he's going to be a great late addition for someone down the stretch.

Josh Helmholdt, Midwest: A player who jumped out and surprised me, and went from the bottom portion of the Rivals100 well into the top half of that ranking, was Memphis (Tenn.) Central defensive end Frank Herron. Even amongst a loaded East defensive line, and going head-to-head with some of the top offensive linemen in the country, Herron was a noticeably impactful player at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Another pleasant surprise was Herron came in looking taller and bigger than his listed 6-foot-5, 236 pounds. Normally, listed weights tend to be inflated, but Herron's numbers were underreported.

Jason Howell, Southwest: From the Southwest/Midlands region the answer has to be Irving (Texas) offensive guard Rami Hammad. I have been a big fan of Hammad's nasty play in the trenches. He earned a reputation as a mauler and someone who did not mind getting dirt on his hands. At the Semper Fi All-American game, he showed that and more. As a senior, Hammad showed improved footwork and athleticism and he put that on full display for everyone to see at Semper Fi. Word spread quickly and college coaches came running with around 20 offers rolling in over two weeks.

Rob Cassidy, West: I'm not beating my own chest here. Really, I'm not. Ok, maybe a little. But Priest Willis played safety at the Under-Armour All-American Game and was nothing short of incredible. I've been saying he's more suited to play inside than to play corner all along, and he proved me correct during the all-star season. Willis is a very good cornerback, but he's a top-tier safety. He runs well and closes with speed and aggression. His performance at the position was enough to earn him a serious bump in the final rankings.

Adam Gorney, West: I wasn't necessarily surprised Chris Hawkins did so well at the Army game, but he was really outstanding and was even discussed for five-star recognition. Hawkins has competed all over the country and proved time and again he is one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Already on campus at USC, Hawkins was great during one-on-one drills in practice breaking on the ball, then in the game he made a nice play on a deep ball and had a really impressive kickoff return. Moving up was definitely deserved.

2. When we last did rankings, each analyst named a player with the most to prove before the final rankings. Let's re-visit those names and find out how they fared:

Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic: There aren't many offensive lineman that look better on the hoof than Derwin Gray. In the last rankings, he dropped because of poor pass blocking technique, but during the all-star season Gray showed progress. His footwork was more fluid, and his punches had better timing and were much more effective. That improved technique combined with his great strength and aggressiveness allowed Gray to handle some of the best talent in the entire country during the all-star games.

Kynon Codrington, Southeast: Joey Bosa turned in a solid performance at the UA game. He was good in practice showing his power and flexibility getting up field in pass rush drills. During the game he made a few plays and had a pass break up on a perfectly timed jump to get his hands on the ball nearly coming down with an interception. His athleticism is off the charts. He can do a standing back flip and his explosiveness allows him to make plays consistently behind the line of scrimmage.

Woody Wommack, Southeast: We had some concerns about Robert Nkemdiche because he didn't quite live up our expectations during his senior season, but those were all washed away after seeing him dominate some of the nation's best while at Under Armour. There's no doubt he's a special player and the school that lands him will be in very good shape at defensive end for at least the next three years.

Josh Helmholdt, Midwest: Alliance (Ohio) Marlington defensive back Dymonte Thomas was the prospect I felt had the most to prove at the all-star games because we had not seen him in coverage yet. Thomas started out with a rough first day of practices at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and his lack of experience in coverage was evident. But as the week progressed Thomas adjusted well, and by the Army Bowl he was in on a lot of plays and was able to show off his speed. At the end of the day, where we had Thomas ranked going into the Army Bowl was pretty accurate.

Jason Howell, Southwest: There have been a lot of questions surrounding the play of Whitewright (Texas) quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. The thing I was hoping to see was consistency. When Swoopes puts it all together he can throw some pretty passes. He also has size and athleticism on his side along with a strong work ethic. We knew going into All-American season the potential was there, but we also knew there were a lot of valid questions surrounding his abilities. During the week I saw him zip some passes, but for every good came twice as many bad. Regardless of the tools, he has a lot of work to do.

Rob Cassidy, West: To borrow a tired term, Chans Cox was what we thought he was. He held his own against elite-level competition at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but didn't stand out as a top performer. He proved he belongs among the top players in the country but didn't earn a massive bump by dominating. That said, Cox is a big, strong fast athlete that never looked overmatched or out of place on afield filled with top prospects.

Adam Gorney, West: Carl Lawson had numerous opportunities to become the No. 1 player in the country but it did not happen. His biggest opportunity was at the Under Armour game, and Nkemdiche outplayed him there and proved to be the top player in this class. This is no real knock on Lawson because he's still a fantastic defensive end with a great motor but others played better during the all-star events and moved ahead of him. I still think Lawson can have a fantastic college career wherever he ends up.

3. Coming out of the final rankings meetings, which player from your region do you still feel deserved a bigger bump?

Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic: To me, Garrett Sickels deserved to be higher in the Rivals250. There were a lot of questions about his strength and aggressiveness before the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and Sickels answered all of those questions. He still showed quickness off the line and was able to beat offensive linemen with violent arms and good technique. At times during the week in San Antonio, Sickels also played some defensive tackle and was vey surprisingly effective. He would have had a sack in the game if it weren't for an obvious holding penalty.

Kynon Codrington, Southeast: This is a tough one. Although he made a nice jump, I think Alvin Kamara put himself in the discussion for the top running back in the country. Kamara may not have the size that Derrick Green or Kelvin Taylor possess, but he is faster with better burst and more of a big-play threat in the passing game. He can be a home run threat in the kick return game. It's that versatility that makes him the most complete back in this class in my opinion.

Woody Wommack, Southeast: The guy I really like after we saw him perform well at two different all-star events is Lewis Neal. The only thing that kept him from making a big move up the rankings is concern about where exactly he'll play at the next level. I think he has the talent to play defensive end or perhaps a hybrid linebacker position; but in the end, he didn't quite get the bump that I fought for because he doesn't have a true position.

Josh Helmholdt, Midwest: He is not in my region, but I was on the side of the discussion that had Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy's Jalen Ramsey over fellow five-star Kendall Fuller at the cornerback rankings. I believe both are clear five-stars, but after seeing them go head-to-head at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge and again at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Ramsey rates highest among cornerbacks in my view.

Jason Howell, Southwest: Katy (Texas) running back Adam Taylor took a fall to three-stars in November. He may not have been paying attention to the rankings, but he certainly sent a statement as his senior season went along. In the state championship game he showed top end speed, strength, patience, and vision, and on the season he put up video game numbers while sharing time in the Katy backfield. Nebraska has a gem and even though he received a significant bump, a case can be made for him to move up even further.

Rob Cassidy, West: In practice and the Semper-Fi Bowl alike, Johnny Johnson impressed. The four-star cornerback was a force on every snap and took as many practice reps as anyone on the West team. Often times, he forced quarterbacks to look to the other side of the field because there was not so much as an eyehole in his coverage. On the rare occasion that he was tested, Johnson responded. He showed the speed and the physicality necessary to be a successful college cornerback. He does so many different things so well, I would not have been opposed to sliding him up the rankings even further.

Adam Gorney, West: I'm worried Steven Mitchell is still too low despite really having a good Army week. He is virtually unstoppable in one-on-one situations and rarely, if ever, drops a pass. He has great speed, great athleticism and great moves when he has the ball in his hands in the open field. One concern is that USC doesn't really utilize slot receivers much and that might be an issue, but Mitchell will get open in the Pac-12 and he could catch a lot of passes in his career.



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