August is right around the corner, so is the true return of football at every level.
From the college football recruiting standpoint, most of the attention turns to the actual field, part of the reason Sports Illustrated's team and prospect rankings debut early in the month.
Ahead of the 2022 release, there has been late contention on where the top spot should stand. Just about two weeks out, there are still up to five prospects in the discussion for No. 1 overall, joining the likes of Bryce Young, Caleb Williams and Travis Hunter to hold the honor since SI All-American was launched in 2019.
Prospects are listed in alphabetical order.
QB Nico Iamaleava, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly
The case for Iamaleava: The biggest riser among the candidates is the Tennessee verbal commitment, who broke out in 2021 at Downey (Calif.) Warren High School to the tune of 2,244 yards and 33 touchdowns against only one interception. Iamaleava followed it up with a torrid offseason, impressing onlookers at various events with his raw arm talent, frame and athleticism while working in different settings. Few would push back against the thought of the 6'6" Californian, who also proves as athletic as any passer on this list, possessing the strongest arm in the class.
Counterpoint: The rise of Iamaleava is still fresh, creating a potential recency bias in the process. There is clearly still mechanical work to be done in the purity of the throwing motion, and the same applies for other elements of what some consider to be a relatively raw game at the sport's most important position. Should he sustain the production against elevated competition at Long Beach Poly this fall, he could be worth the top spot during the final SI99 release in January.
QB Arch Manning, New Orleans (La.) Isidore Newman
The case for Manning: The world's most famous recruit is also a very good, experienced and ascending quarterback. Manning has held the mantle at Newman High since his freshman season in 2019 and should see an increase in production as a senior with a more modern tweak to the offense having been implemented this spring. The Texas commitment has a great, filled-out frame, improved mobility, strong footwork and one of the quicker motions in the field. Beyond the name, there is a reason he was the quarterback domino most programs were waiting to see fall before moving on to other passers.
Counterpoint: Manning's hype and name have pushed his ranking atop more lists than his body of work may warrant. The level of competition he faces and lack of supplemental showings at offseason events raises too many questions for the top spot. Every other prospect on the list has competed against another perceived elite at the position several times this offseason and prior.
CB Cormani McClain, Lakeland (Fla.) High School
The case for McClain: It's the year of the quarterback to the point where No. 1 is in so much contention – so why not throw a skill position player in the mix? Outside of the QB spot, few would argue that McClain is the most intriguing raw talent considering a wide receiver background that has transitioned to cornerback well enough to account for 19 interceptions over the past two varsity seasons. Throw in elite length at 6'2", speed and a frame that can and will carry more weight and add strength, and the ceiling for the two-way Floridian seems limitless.
Counterpoint: While the cornerback position has increased in value across the sport, even reflected in the NFL Draft of late, cornerbacks with more athleticism than true technical polish are bigger risks than other premium positions like QB, left tackle and pass rusher. McClain is also very slight, physically, making some wonder just how he will fill out and maintain his game at cornerback or perhaps safety at the collegiate level.
QB Dante Moore, Detroit (Mich.) Martin Luther King
The case for Moore: Like Manning, this is a soon-to-be four-year varsity starter who has improved his efficiency every year at the helm. Unlike the NFL legacy, Moore has been able to take his team to the state championship and secure the victory thereafter. Moore also boasts more 2021 production than most of the top players in the mix, throwing for 3,000 yards and 47 touchdowns against only three interceptions as a junior. With a strong arm, functional athleticism and true polish, not to mention SI's Elite 11 MVP award less than a month ago, there is a high floor if Moore gets the nod at No. 1.
Counterpoint: When ranking the depth of factors around traits for the top QB – not to mention top overall recruit – Moore isn't the runaway pick compared to others at the spot. We sampled some of the categories in June for a Thursday mailbag, and of the 10 categories, Moore came out on top in accuracy while finishing second in floor, frame and footwork. The balance of being No. 1 exists, but there isn't any one singular trait that stands so far ahead of the loaded field at this time.
QB Malachi Nelson, Los Alamitos (Calif.) High School
The case for Nelson: When it comes to the combination of physical traits, production and room to improve towards a high ceiling, Nelson may be the best quarterback bet in the class of 2023. The USC commitment has done it all at the prep level, and it has carried over onto the national stage time and time again with head-turning smooth spinning mixed in. Nelson can hit every route on the tree with relative ease, he is mobile and creative outside of the pocket, and yet there is so much physical growth potential on his 6'4" frame that we may not be seeing the end of his throwing evolution any time soon.
Counterpoint: Nelson is another four-year starter that's an easy sell, but there are still some what-ifs surrounding his frame, footwork and athletic ceiling to a degree. Do we get lost in the third-level stroke that comes off his hands like you draw it up and overlook the gray area with him more than others? Or have we already over-scouted the SoCal star because he has been in the spotlight as long as any 2023 recruit in the country?
There is still plenty to be sorted out between this group, but the initial stage of the race for No. 1 is set to come to a close soon.
The top prospect nationally will be named on Monday, Aug. 8, with the full SI99 rankings set to debut the following day. The final SI99 rankings will feature a postseason update in January, ahead of the traditional National Signing Day on the first Wednesday in February.
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