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January 18, 2011

Final Rivals100: The moves explained

MORE: The Rivals100 | Rivals100 chat transcript

The final Rivals100 has been released and a record number of 12 new five-star prospects have been added following a whirlwind two-month evaluation period of all-star games and senior film evaluation.

While the five-star additions will get plenty of attention it is the subtractions that will always get most of the attention, especially the drop of Russellville, Ala., linebacker Brent Calloway. Either way, the final Rivals100 for the class of 2011 will bring with it plenty of excitement, controversy and reaction from fan bases.

While these articles usually begin with the additions to the elite five-star group, the Calloway situation can't be ignored for many reasons. First, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder was one of the first five-star prospects of the year, checking in most recently at No. 12 in the country after beginning at No. 9 back in June. However, after competing in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic in December and then in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January, it became clear to numerous Rivals.com analysts that Calloway just wasn't in the same rarified air as the other five-star studs.

"Calloway is clearly rusty playing the linebacker position," said Rivals.com national analyst Barry Every, who was at both events that Calloway attended. "As a linebacker he is fairly lean and he must add at least 20 pounds of muscle mass to become an adequate tackler at the next level while improving tackling angles and learning to wrap up while driving through the ball carrier. He is not polished as a linebacker whatsoever. That being said he is very athletic for an outside linebacker with the ability to cover running backs in the flat."

Rivals.com Florida analyst Chris Nee, who was at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic with Every covering the action, agrees.

"While Calloway is a versatile athlete who can contribute at running back or outside linebacker, it is tough to make a case for him being amongst the elite five-star prospects at either position," Nee said. "At the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic, he had a good week of practice - working at linebacker - but showed some rust at the position and didn't compare to other prospects at the position seen over the last few months that moved ahead of him."

Calloway is such a controversial figure because his flip from Alabama to Auburn has Tigers fans feeling there is a bias against their favorite team and that the drop in stars was a result in his decision to switch schools. They also feel Calloway should be evaluated and ranked as a running back, the position he has been told he would play at Auburn and the main reason he flipped to the Tigers. Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell talked on both points.

"First off, we don't care where a prospect is going to school," Farrell said. "Two of our analysts came away thinking he wasn't in the same league as some other linebackers around the country after the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic but obviously the final decision would come after the Army Bowl. There we had even more analysts and we all came away with the same opinion, Brent is a very good player, a very good athlete but not big enough or special enough for five-star status at the linebacker position.

"Then it goes back to running back, so we go back and look at the film and we have someone who has seen him play both live. At this point we decided that his best position in college is still linebacker, that's where he projects the best and that even if we flipped him to running back he would fall well short of five-star status. This isn't a James Wilder Jr. situation here where he has an NFL body, long arms or off-the-charts physical skills. Brent is a very good player which is why he's still ranked in the top 40 in the nation, but he's just not in the five-star league in our opinion and Alabama, Auburn, Florida, USC, Ohio State or wherever he was going wouldn't change that."

Rivals.com Senior AMP Producer/Reporter/Analyst Gregg Peterson saw Calloway more than anyone this year and saw him at running back and linebacker.

"As a running back, Calloway is a big back that hits the hole hard and uses his tremendous leg drive to break tackles. He is not afraid to lower his shoulders and initiate contact and he runs with deceptive speed and quickness for a big back, but runs a bit too upright. He has great field vision and has the ability to make defenders miss in the open field, makes nice cuts, but like I said runs high. He is a guy that you must wrap up at the waist or he is going to run right through you. He is not a five-star running back because he hasn't shown the ball skills to be considered a three-down back. To me, he just doesn't look natural catching the ball, he kind of fights it and I'm not sure he can maintain his speed and quickness as he adds weight to his frame in the SEC.

Calloway falls from No. 12 to No. 38, a tumble of only 26 spots but also a loss of a coveted fifth star and a major controversy because of the rabid hatred between Auburn and Alabama fans. Just weeks ago 'Bama fans were in love with the highly-rated 'backer from the small Alabama town and Auburn fans couldn't stand him. Now the roles are reversed and he has become the story of the rankings just as he was the story of the U.S. Army All American Bowl with his decision to flip between rivals.

The other five-star to fall is Detroit (Mich.) Renaissance linebacker Lawrence Thomas, a 6-foot-4, 232-pounder who was previously ranked No. 13 in the country just behind Calloway but plummeted to No. 55 after a less-than-inspiring performance at the Under Armour All-American Game. While Thomas, a Michigan State commitment, won't draw as much ire as Calloway because he didn't flip commitments from one rival to another the week before the ranking, his drop will still draw some irate comments from Spartan and Big Ten fans. However, Nee was at Under Armour all week and felt Thomas didn't bring a lot to the table.

"Thomas definitely looks the part from a physical and athletic standpoint, checking in at 6 feet 4, 250 pounds and exhibiting solid speed from the middle linebacker spot," said Nee. "But in a week of watching him at Under Armour practices and then the game, you simply were left wanting more. Thomas was nearly non-existent in the game making little to no impact and never showed flashes of being amongst the nation's top 20 players."

ON TO THE ADDITIONS

Enough of the negativity, let's finally talk about the five-star additions. The only new five-star to crack the top 10 is Thomasville (Ga.) Thomas County Central defensive end Ray Drew who entered the U.S. Army All-American Bowl with something to prove.

"Drew like earlier in the season at Badger Elite Lineman Camp raised his level of play to not only match but overmatch his competition," said Every. "He displayed the ability to overpower much larger offensive linemen by getting underneath their shoulder pads while driving them straight back into the pocket. Drew also showed excellent quickness off the snap of the ball and his consistency throughout the week at the U.S. Army Bowl proved that when push comes to shove he has what it takes to be a difference maker."

Fort Myers (Fla.) South Fort Myers wide receiver Sammy Watkins is the next in line to earn his fifth star, checking in at No. 15. Watkins was dominant during practice at the U.S. Army All American Bowl.

"Watkins was clearly the best receiver on the East squad from the start of practice," said Farrell. "He ran great routes, showed excellent body control, reliable hands and got consistent separation. He was dynamic all week in practice and he was actually wide open for a touchdown in the game but was just overthrown by Teddy Bridgewater during the game. Watkins is a little bigger and thicker than we thought he was and it was clear he was a five-star kid."

Following Watkins is a string of nine additional new five stars in a row. Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln defensive end Ishaq Williams is another prospect who dominated from day one at the Army Bowl. He checks in at No. 16.

"There was a question about whether or not Ishaq would be able to handle the level of competition coming from Brooklyn and all, but that was answered right away," said Farrell. "His first step, his ability to take on bigger blockers and the ease in which he shed blocks and strung out plays was evident from the start and he was clearly one of the most athletic players on the field right away. He can stand up or play with his hand down, it doesn't matter."

New Orleans (La.) O. Perry Walker defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, nicknamed "Freak", lived up to that billing at the Under Armour All-American Game. His play during the week and in the game, not to mention his senior film, earned him his fifth star and the No. 17 overall ranking.

"Johnson's nickname is fitting. The 6-foot-4, 300-plus pound defensive tackle prospect has all the makings of being the next great LSU defensive tackle. He has great explosion at the line of scrimmage and uses his strength to easily knock offensive linemen off balance," said Nee. "Once in the backfield, he is quick on the attack and capable of tracking down the play laterally. He has a motor that doesn't slow down and a competitive fire that drives him to be great on every snap."

Rivals.com Midlands analyst Brian Perroni agrees.

"He came close to setting the national career sack record at O.P. Walker and continued to show that dominance all week at Under Armour practices," he said. "He has a quick first step off the ball but is also incredibly strong. He uses his athleticism and strength to constantly make his way into the backfield while also being a big run stuffer in the middle."

Next up, at No. 18, is fellow Louisianan Jarvis Landry from Lutcher, La.

"Landry is an elite wide receiver prospect. He isn't the tallest or the fastest wide receiver you will find in the nation, but when it comes to doing his job and making plays happen down the field he is arguably the best in the country," said Nee. "Landry possesses great hands and outstanding body control that allows him to make difficult receptions in tough positions. He is also an outstanding route runner who is well developed and prepared to contribute immediately at the next level."

No. 19 is Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips all-purpose back Demetrius Hart who was the MVP of the Army Bowl.

"Hart was a guy who was very close to getting his fifth star when we last ranked but we held off to see how he did at the Army Bowl," said Farrell. "He was solid during practice but his MVP performance in the game put him over the top. He was the only running back ever to rush for more than 100 yards in the game, he showed his elusiveness in space and he flashed his hands out of the backfield all week. He's a three-down back even though he's not very big. There really wasn't a reason to hold back on giving him that fifth star."

Kris Frost from Matthews (N.C.) Butler is No. 20 overall and next in line of the new five stars.

"Frost is an undersized linebacker but between the week he had at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas where he was the Defensive MVP for his team and had three tackles for a loss and the Army Bowl week where he was all over the field, he just had to be bumped up," said Farrell. "He's a vocal leader, he's so quick off the edge, he runs things down, he sheds and avoids blocks well and he is very active and instinctual that he's going to be a star someplace. He's only played linebacker for two years so he's just starting to scratch the surface of his potential and he loves the game. Forget the receiver thing, this kid is a linebacker and could be a great one."

Next up is another linebacker, Philadelphia, Miss., big man C.J. Johnson who was a terror at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic and held his own at the Army Bowl. He checks in at No. 21 overall.

"Johnson plays with the eyes and affinity for contact that a young Mike Singletary did for the Bears," said Every. "He is athletic enough and fast enough to play outside and over power tight ends and running backs but big enough and strong enough to deter ball carriers from running between the tackles. He verbally and physically intimidated his teammates Classic and followed that up by making 17 tackles versus the Alabama squad in the game."

Rounding out the 10-player string of new five stars is Monroe (Ga.) Monroe Area defensive end Stephon Tuitt, Columbus (Ga.) Carver running back Isaiah Crowell and Wadesboro (N.C.) Anson linebacker Stephone Anthony who rank 22, 23 and 24 respectively. Every, Nee and Perroni break down each.

"Tuitt has a rare combination of size and athleticism for a defensive end. I can guarantee you that the offensive tackles on his team and on the West squad at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl have never seen a defensive end his size," said Every. "He, like Drew, was able to use his long arms to drive less athletic lineman straight back into the pocket. Tuitt also has excellent speed for a big guy and can catch players from behind."

"Crowell battled injuries throughout his senior year, but upon arriving at the Under Armour All-American Game in early January, he was back at full strength. Crowell's week of practice allowed him to show why schools around the nation extended an offer to him and why he is so heavily pursued by some of the nation's top programs," said Nee. "The 5-foot-11 running back possesses great strength and speed that makes him a difficult opponent between the tackles, but his speed also allows him to run to the outside, turn the corner, and out-race the defense. Defenders will struggle to take him down with a basic tackle and he can wear down a defense over four quarters."

"Anthony was simply a guy who was in on seemingly every play during the Under Armour week," said Perroni. "He plays sideline-to-sideline and has great lateral movement. Anytime the runner tried to cut it to the outside he was there to make the play. He is going to be a guy who racks up a ton of tackles every week in college."

Hillsboro, Ore., athlete Colt Lyerla is the last of the new five stars, checking in at No. 26 overall. Rivals.com west analyst Adam Gorney came away from Army week blown away by Lyerla's athletic ability.

"Lyerla is one of the best athletes that we've seen in a long time and he has great instincts playing linebacker. There isn't much not to like about Lyerla on the field from his size to his play-making ability to his intensity," said Gorney. "He can get out in pass coverage or stay in the middle and attack the run. Some people have compared him to a young Brian Urlacher and while he might not be as bulky, Lyerla certainly has the speed and the power to make a difference early on the college level."

CHANGING PLACES

In addition to the new five stars, there was some shuffling amongst the top 26 players in the county (all the five stars). It's no surprise that Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe defensive end Jadeveon Clowney remains as the No. 1 player in the country, but Richmond (Va.) Hermitage linebacker Curtis Grant made a move up to No. 2 after a strong Army week.

"Grant has an NFL body now, he led his team in tackles during the game itself and he is simply a terror at middle linebacker," said Farrell. "No one was going to pull ahead of Clowney but I can guarantee you that Grant won't simply be the answer to a trivia question. He's going to be a college and NFL standout."

The biggest flip in the top 10 was at offensive tackle where Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha standout Cyrus Kouandjio pushed ahead of Baton Rouge (La.) Redemptorist tackle La'El Collins for the No. 1 slot at his position.

"Kouandjio was the most impressive offensive tackle prospect at the Under Armour All-American Game. He competed against the nation's No. 1 prospect, Jadeveon Clowney, during the entire week of practice and performed admirably," said Nee. "The 6-foot-7, 322-pound lineman possesses a great frame, long arms, and is extremely athletic. His athleticism is what puts him in his own class at the position."

Perroni agrees.

"Kouandijo may not be as polished as some of the other tackles right now but he has all the tools colleges are looking for. He is incredibly athletic and moves his feet well. When going up against Jadeveon Clowney he showed flashes of what he has the potential to be."

While Kouandjio moved up to No. 4 overall and Collins dipped to No. 6, Punta Gorda (Fla.) Charlotte running back Mike Bellamy took the biggest tumble of anyone who held onto their fifth star, falling from No. 14 overall to No. 25. Bellamy was at the Under Armour week.

"There is no question that Bellamy may possess the most elite speed of any prospect in the 2011 class. He is a back entirely capable of breaking off huge runs in space and quickly outracing the defense. His top-end speed is untouched," said Nee. "The reason for his slide though is that he doesn't exhibit the willingness to battle for yards. Bellamy regularly runs to the outside and attempts to avoid tacklers and when contact is made, shows a tendency to shrivel up and play small."

"Bellamy is a homerun hitter and can score from anywhere on the field," Perroni said. "However, there are questions about how complete a back he is compared to those ranked above him. He struggles to run between the tackles at times and can be a bit injury prone. He is a lot like Lache Seastrunk a year ago in that, if he gets in space, he is gone."

BIG MOVERS

Outside the five stars, plenty of prospects made big moves either into the Rivals100 or within it. Just missing out on five-star status is Cape Coral (Fla.) Island Coast defensive end Aaron Lynch who was dominant in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Lynch jumped from No. 90 all the way up to No. 28, but fell two spots short of five star status.

"Lynch was impressive all week when rushing the passer," said Farrell. "His first step was very impressive and he got off the ball very quickly. He was in the backfield so fast that the quarterback barely had time to set up at times. There is no question he's one of the best pass rushers in the country. What held him back from five stars is his ability against the run. Lynch is a looper which means he has one move, an outside loop move where he simply speed rushes around the tackle which makes him susceptible to inside handoffs or a mobile quarterback that can step up in the pocket. When the ball is run at him he struggles so he will need to work on that, but his potential is impressive. He has tremendous upside."

Valdosta, Ga., defensive back Malcolm Mitchell also made a big jump from outside the Rivals100 (No. 177) up to No. 30 in the country. He was outstanding on offense during Under Armour week.

"Mitchell is likely to play defensive back at whichever college he opts for, but throughout his prep career he has shown the ability to be a major contributor on either side of the ball," said Nee. "He has excellent top-end speed and the athleticism to be a standout wide receiver or defensive back at the next level. On the defensive side of the ball, he possesses the hips to turn and run with any wide receiver and is a rangy player that can cover a lot of space."

Another huge jump came from Tampa (Fla.) Alonso defensive end Anthony Chickillo who was also a standout at Under Armour. Chickillo jumped from No. 205 to No. 44 after dominating in the game.

"Chickillo was a bit of an undersized defensive end at this time last year and there were thoughts that he could even possibly end up as a linebacker," said Perroni. "However, he has added a ton of muscle mass without losing a step. He gave the opposing offensive tackles fits in both the Under Armour practices and game. He is an ideal pass rushing end in a 4-3 front."

Two other defenders at Under Armour, Griffin, Ga, defensive end Xzavier Dickson and Tucker, Ga. linebacker James Vaughters, also made big jumps after strong performances. Both went from Rivals250 performers to Rivals100 this time around.

"Dickson is a thick, strong defensive prospect who can contribute as an outside linebacker or defensive end. He plays the game of football at a very tough level and is a punishing defender," said Nee. "He is very quick at the line of scrimmage playing north-south but has the ability to move laterally effectively. He is an outstanding defender against the run who can contribute in every defensive situation."

"Vaughters has a combination of a great physical skillset that is combined with an advanced mental approach to the game. Vaughters is a very talented defender who is versatile. While he likely starts his career at inside linebacker or even defensive end, he is athletic enough to move around in the front seven," said Nee. "He is excellent against the run doing a good job of quickly attacking and filling gaps and making a play on the ball. When forced to move away from the line of scrimmage he is comfortable in space and capable of reading and reacting to the play. When making the tackle, Vaughters is explosive and punishing making every hit count."

Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville offensive guard Aundrey Walker is another prospect who moved into the Rivals100 from the Rivals250. He impressed everyone at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

"Walker may be the widest, thickest, strongest offensive lineman I have ever seen," said Every. "On top of that he can move his feet after he's engaged with a defender. Interior defensive linemen are going to find it hard to move this mammoth off the line of scrimmage. Walker's skill set makes him ideal for a power running game because he is a natural knee bender that can uncoil knocking defenders off balance."

Three quarterbacks also made nice moves, two of them within the 100 and one from outside. Chandler, Ariz., quarterback Brett Hundley and West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer dual-threat Jacoby Brissett both moved up within the Rivals100 while Santa Ana, Calif. gunslinger Max Wittek moved into the 100 from the 250.

"Hundley, who has only played quarterback for the past two years for his high school, showed one of the strongest arms overall at the Under Armour practices. He is a big presence in the pocket but can also scramble for first downs if needed," said Perroni. "Most impressive though is his mental makeup. He does not get too down when he throws an interception or when something else goes wrong. He just seems to put it out of his mind and goes about his business. He is a true leader on the field."

"Brissett has tremendous upside as a passer and as an athlete," said Farrell. "He has a very strong arm, he's accurate and he stands tall in the pocket and if he decides to tuck and run he can really take off. In this day and age of Cam Newton and Terrelle Pryor, that kind of guy can lead you to big things and Brissett can be that kind of guy. He's not as big as those two nor as dominant and he doesn't like to run the ball as much, but he is as athletic if he wants to utilize it."

"Wittek is an incredibly consistent quarterback. He makes very smart decisions with the ball and is as fundamentally sound of a passer as you will find. He has a strong arm but his best strength is his ability to throw a ball to the right spot and execute timing routes," said Nee. "Wittek quickly got on the same page with his wide receivers at the Under Armour All-American Game and regularly earned compliments from that group."

Three defensive linemen round out the big movers in the final Rivals100 led by McKeesport, Pa., tackle Delvon Simmons. Simmons moved from No. 165 to No. 80.

"Simmons was a late addition to the East squad and he made the most of his opportunity," said Farrell. "He has a solid base, is well proportioned and has room to add to his frame. He comes off the ball well, is athletic and quick and shoots the gap quickly which allows him to make plays in the backfield. He's also good at the point of attack and is active and hustles to the outside to get in on plays."

Asheville (N.C.) A.C. Reynolds defensive end Ben Councell will be playing linebacker in college and got a chance to show that ability at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. Councell went from a three-star to the Rivals100.

"Councell is an instinctive, heady and physical kid," said Farrell. "He diagnoses the play quickly, reacts well and takes the quickest path to the football wasting little effort. He's a sure tackler, has a very active motor and loves to hit. He's perfect for a 3-4 defense but he can also play with his hand down."

Finally, San Diego (Calif.) Point Loma defensive tackle Christian Heyward made a nice move from No. 170 to No. 94.

"Heyward is a bit of an undersized defensive tackle prospect at this point in his career, but he has all the tools to develop into a dominant player on the middle of the defensive front," said Nee. "He checks in around 6-foot-2, 275 pounds but has great strength and speed that allows him to shed defenders and get into the backfield to create havoc. He is a prospect that could easily play inside or outside on the defensive line at the next level and would contribute in either spot."



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