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November 12, 2012

Rivals250 to Watch: Plenty of 5-stars in waiting


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The first Rivals.com Rivals250 To Watch for the class of 2014 followed our release of the first 10 five-stars last week.

It is loaded with prospects who will jockey for position and push for that elite five-star status for the next 15 months.

Led by players such as Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy cornerback Jalen Tabor, Rivals.com released our alphabetical list of top juniors with star and Rivals Rankings earlier than ever before.

"This is the earliest we have released a list this comprehensive, so it's very specific," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "However, it's an alpha list because it is still very early in the process and there is still junior year football to be played. We have always been and always will be the industry leader in prospect rankings and players, coaches and fans look to us for that accuracy so we will never rush lists out.

"This is a very good list, but is also the first of many for this 2014 class, but now fans have an earlier handle on who the top kids are. I can say, without hesitation, that this is the most accurate assessment out there regarding stars for this class."

Last week, Rivals.com rolled out its first 10 five-stars of the class of 2014 and this list revealed numerous prospects who were either discussed for that lofty status or could end up in the discussion down the line.

In our Sunday rountable, players such as Tabor, Olathe (Kan.) South offensive tackle Braden Smith, Palo Alto, Calif., quarterback Keller Chryst, Hendersonville (Tenn.) Beech Senior athlete Jalen Hurd, West Monroe, La., offensive tackle Cameron Robinson and La Porte, Texas, linebacker Hoza Scott were all brought up as five-star candidates in the initial rankings meetings. Our team of analysts chimes in on this group.

"Tabor's great ball skills, instincts and footwork are five-star caliber," said Rivals.com Mid-Atlantic analyst Adam Friedman. "Before he earns a coveted fifth star, Tabor needs to become more physical and a better tackler but he obviously has impressive upside. You're not going to find a better defensive back when it comes to natural instincts, he's making the adjustment from a safety prospect to a cornerback for us."

"Smith just missed landing a fifth star out of the gate, and it's hard to imagine that he won't add one eventually," said Rivals.com West analyst Rob Cassidy, who also handles the JUCO prospects as well as prospects in Kansas and Missouri.

"He moves tremendously for his impressive size and plays with the sort of aggression that coaches love. Strangely, the only real knock on Smith has nothing to do with Smith. Playing out of position at guard has restricted him from showcasing his full range of talent."

"Chryst is the best West quarterback I've seen in the 2014 class so far as he greatly impressed me at the Oakland Elite 11 this past spring," said Rivals.com West analyst Adam Gorney. "He has also been impressive on film, showing off a strong arm that can accurately throw the deep ball. He's good in three or five-step drops, (it) doesn't look down his receivers and just seems to have a lot of comfort sitting in the pocket and picking apart defenses."

"Hurd is a dynamic playmaker at the running back position who set school records for rushing yards and touchdowns this season," said Rivals.com Southeast Analyst Woody Wommack. "At 6-foot-3 there are some questions about his future at the position, but his athletic ability will translate well, no matter where he ends up on the field."

"Robinson already has an NFL body and light, quick feet. He has all the tools college coaches look for in an offensive tackle. I would like to see him add a little more in the strength department but he's right on the verge," said Rivals.com Southwest analyst Jason Howell. "As for Scott, he is not far away from receiving his fifth star. He is one of the most explosive playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. His lateral speed and ball skills make him a threat to anyone on the field at anytime."

In addition to these prospects, many others were near the top of our analysts lists and are broken down by regional expert. Rivals.com Southeast analyst Kynon Codrington has two prospects in Florida and one in Alabama he is especially high on. "Palm Beach (Fla.) Bayside defensive tackle Travonte Valentine is a four-star for plenty of reasons. At 6-foot-3, 296 pounds he offers scheme versatility lining up at the tackle spot and defensive end," he said. "The Florida commit does a nice job getting consistent push upfront and has a quick first step. In addition, he does a nice job reading keys by opposing linemen.

"Also in Florida is Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas. The Florida State pledge plays low, knifes through on penetration, and has great technique. Christmas sheds and uses his hands well along the interior and rarely gets caught in the wash. He has superb run-stuffing ability and can get pressure on the quarterback from his tackle position."

"In Alabama, we have Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Northridge running back/athlete Bo Scarbrough. The power back reminds of current Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon in this year's class. Scarbrough has excellent size, speed, and deceptive lateral quickness. He is a move-the-chains type back with home run ability. He is the kind of back that Nick Saban covets at that position."

Meanwhile, Rivals.com Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt has three prospects at the top of his list from Michigan, Illinois and Iowa, respectively.

"Detroit (Mich.) Loyola big man Malik McDowell was 6-foot-6, 290-plus pounds before his junior season even began. Kids that size tend to get projected at offensive tackle, but McDowell is being universally recruited as a defensive end because of how explosive he is at that size," said Helmholdt. "His length, his strength and his ability to rush the passer are a rare combination."

"Over the summer, I saw Joliet (Ill.) Plainfield South linebacker Clifton Garrett on the summer camp circuit and was impressed with how fluidly he moves for a big linebacker. On junior film, we see him flying to the football, making plays in the backfield and sideline to sideline.

"Physically, Garrett looks like a man already and his game is starting to catch up to his potential," Helmholdt said. "And I saw many of the top class of 2014 wide receivers in the country this past offseason, but no receiver I have seen in-person thus far impresses me more than Urbandale, Iowa's Allen Lazard. His basketball background really comes through in his athleticism and ability to elevate and come down with the football. He has the speed to get behind cornerbacks and the agility to take short passes and make defenders miss in the open field -- rare for a player of his size."

Wommack has two others in addition to Hurd that stand out to him.

"Nashville (Tenn.) Montgomery Bell Academy offensive tackle Alex Bars comes from a great football family, with his two older brothers, uncle and father all having played Division 1. At 6-foot-7 he has great length, perfect for a tackle, and has a frame that can still add muscle without sacrificing his quickness," Wommack said. "And Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek wide receiver Demarre Kittis very polished for a prospect of his age. He has some of the best hands in 2014 class and he has tremendous concentration and isn't afraid to go up and get the ball in traffic."

With Howell already boasting two near five-stars, he has a third in his sights as well from his region.

"Monroe (La.) Neville safety Laurence Jones has linebacker size, cornerback ability, and projects to safety," said Howell. "At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he is able to handle bigger receivers in one-on-one situations and does a great job of running with them."

From his perch in the Mid-Atlantic, two prospects have emerged for Friedman in addition to Tabor.

"Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara offensive tackle Damian Prince already has an NFL-type body to go along with quick, light feet and pretty good strength for his age. He would be a five-star candidate if he improves his technique and is more aggressive.

"Norfolk (Va.) Lake Taylor defensive end Jalyn Holmes is physically gifted and comes off the edge very well and he has a really good frame and great motor. He's a natural pass rusher but could also play standup linebacker and he could be this year's Jonathan Allen if he adds weight and strength."

Finally, things always seem to develop a little slower out West when it comes to junior-year hype for prospects. But Gorney and Cassidy can point to a few prospects that could be stars down the line.

"In addition to Chryst in California, I am really high on Sacramento (Cali.) Capital Christian defensive end Nifae Lealao," Gorney said. "He has great size and he's also incredibly fast off the snap getting into the backfield without any problems. He is really active, too, fighting off blocks, having active hands, using an impressive spin move and always looking to knock down a pass.

"La Miranda, Cali. athlete Tyler Luatua is an excellent prospect who has thrived at tight end and defensive end this season. He can line up and block along the offensive line but because he's so athletic, is best when he splits out and then uses his size to his advantage. He has good speed either running routes or coming off the defensive line to make plays."

"Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman athlete Nathan Starks is known as a hard-charging power runner that doesn't shy away from contact," Cassidy said. "All of that is true, but he has a finesse side to him as well. Starks has caught more passes out of the backfield as a junior and is broadening his skill set.

"Some top-level players are prone to take plays off at the high school level, but not Jalen Brown. Playing at Arizona's top level of high school football, the Phoenix Mountain Pointe junior never fades into the periphery. Even as a junior, he's almost always the most impressive player in the field and shines at both safety and wide receiver."

Overall, Farrell feels this is a strong crop at certain positions but a bit weak early on at others.

"Athletically this is a strong 2014 class, especially at cornerback, along the defensive line and with multiple players like Hurd and Starks who are big kids who can play different positions," he said. "I also like the offensive line group early but again it's not top heavy at wide receiver like 2013 and the depth at tight end is an issue. What's also interesting is that, for the first time in a few years, we could be more loaded at inside linebacker than we are at outside and I think that's a good thing. We know more players will emerge as we continue to do our homework, but this will be a very exciting class, especially near the top."



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