Ten recruiting storylines to watch in the Rivals Five-Star Challenge
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The Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge Presented by Under Armour is just days away, and the entire Rivals.com recruiting analyst team will be on hand to draft, evaluate and debate about the top players in the country. Last year in Chicago, it was defensive end Da'Shawn Hand with a shaky grasp on the No. 1 ranking in the country heading into the competition. He emerged unscathed after a top performance, but can our new No. 1, defensive end Byron Cowart, do the same? Here's a list of some of the storylines that Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell will be watching.
1. All eyes will be on No. 1.
Unlike Hand last summer, this time the top player in the country is newly crowned. Seffner (Fla.) Armwood defensive end Byron Cowart jumped both quarterback Josh Rosen and defensive tackle Trenton Thompson for No. 1 during our May evaluation rankings. Now he has to hang onto it. Rosen, Thompson and running back Damien Harris aren't here for the Five-Star Challenge, so it will be skill-position prospects such as cornerbacks Iman Marshall from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, Kevin Toliver II from Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian and Minkah Fitzpatrick from Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep, wide receiver Tyron Johnson from New Orleans (La.) Warren Easton Senior and athlete Terry Godwin from Hogansville (Ga.) Callaway who could be the biggest threats. Big men CeCe Jefferson from Glen St. Mary (Fla.) Baker County, Daron Payne from Birmingham (Ala.) Shades Valley and Rasheem Green from Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra all seem to be within range as well. And how about this option? What if offensive tackle Chuma Edoga from Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern dominates all comers including Cowart? Does he become the second offensive tackle to be named No. 1 (Seantrel Henderson was the first but eventually lost the title) in Rivals.com history?
2. The search for the top prospect in the class of 2016 is also on.
Allen (Texas) offensive tackle Gregory Little, Sugar Hill (Ga.) Lanier defensive tackle Derrick Brown, Havelock, N.C. linebacker Keion Joyner and fellow linebacker Lyndell Wilson from Montgomery (Ala.) Carver and Toccoa (Ga.) Stephens Country offensive tackle Ben Cleveland are all guys to keep an eye on. And let's not forget the quarterbacks, especially Lake Stevens (Wash.) standout Jacob Eason and Westlake Village (Calif.) Westlake dual-threat Malik Henry. Just like 2015, the top spot for 2016 is up for grabs without an early favorite, and this weekend could help or hurt someone's cause.
3. The cornerback battle should be epic.
The top six cornerbacks in the country will be on hand: Marshall, Toliver II, Fitzpatrick, Tarvarus McFadden from Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage, Kendall Sheffield from Missouri City (Texas) Fort Bend Marshall and Tyrek Cole from Miramar (Fla.). Marshall tweeted that he was "offended" when I picked Johnson to beat him in the one-on-one battle between the two, so he's clearly ready to roll. Toliver II has to rebound from a sub-par (by his standards) 2014 so far, and Fitzpatrick wasn't at his best at the New Jersey Rivals Camp. In the meantime, McFadden will look to silence doubters who feel he is a safety and not a corner, and Sheffield and Cole will be looking for that fifth star. This should be fun to watch.
4. The top four receivers in the country will be in attendance.
Remember that the Five-Star Challenge was where Travis Rudolph made his first big jump from outside the 2014 Rivals100 to his eventual No. 1 ranking at wide receiver, and there could be someone else out there who could do the same. Johnson is currently No. 1; Coconut Creek (Fla.) Monarch wideout Calvin Ridley and fellow Floridian Da'Vante Phillips from Miami (Fla.) Miami Central will be battling for top honors in the Sunshine State; and Christian Kirk from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro wants to become the smallest wide receiver to ever earn five-star honors. But if history is any indicator, someone will jump from way outside the current rankings into the mix as well. Perhaps three from this next storyline?
5. There will be plenty of intrigue surrounding some recruits.
While some prospects on hand are veterans of the camp world or even of this event itself, others will be brand new, at least to our world. Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln wide receiver John Burt and Columbia (Mo.) Rock Bridge wide receiver Alex Ofodile are two guys we are all excited to see, and the same can be said for McKinney (Texas) McKinney North running back Ronald Jones II, Jefferson City (Mo.) Helias tight end Hale Hentges, Keller (Texas) offensive tackle Maea Teuhema, Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier linebacker Justin Hilliard and some others. At least, seeing these prospects in a camp setting against the best of the best will be exciting for many of us.
6. The Southeast shuffle could be extremely interesting.
What am I talking about? More than half of the prospects expected to attend the event are from the Southeast states, led by 20 from Georgia and 19 from Florida. That means the potential for a whole lot of rankings changes in certain states and in the region itself. There will be jockeying for positions in many of the states, but we'll be keeping an eye out especially in the Southeast for obvious reasons.
7. There will be both risers ... and fallers.
This is an equal-opportunity event where prospects can improve their stock or damage it. Interestingly enough, the three prospects that lost their fifth star this past ranking cycle decided they didn't want to try to earn it back, at least not at this event, while many current five stars know there is little room to move up but plenty of space below them. The competitive nature of all 18 of the current five stars is off the charts, but will someone be exposed like Lorenzo Carter was last year? It's very possible.
8. Don't sleep on the battles at tight end.
Alize Jones currently stands at No. 1, but Houston (Texas) Clear Lake big man Jordan Davis is right there at No. 2, and Avon (Conn.) Avon Old Farms standout Chris Clark and Hentges are fourth and sixth, respectively. The high ankle sprain suffered by Orlando (Fla.) The First Academy tight end Garrett Williams is unfortunate, because he doesn't get to show off his receiving skills much in his high school offense, but that opens the door for Washington (D.C.) St. John's 2016 tight end Devante Brooks to get a leg up on the competition for next year.
9. Who's the best safety in the country?
Right now it's Haines City, Fla. Stud Derwin James at No. 16 overall, but Evans (Ga.) Lakeside safety Rashad Roundtree is right there at No. 20 overall. And what if McFadden gets moved to safety? And how much can Deionte Thompson from Orange (Texas) West Orange-Stark push? This will be a battle to keep an eye on.
10. Will there be a five-star performance at quarterback?
Last year, Kyle Allen was simply amazing and earned that fifth star. Rosen essentially locked up his fifth star by being the best quarterback on the field regardless of age on day one. Can Eason or Henry repeat Rosen's performance? Can Blake Barnett from Corona (Calif.) Santiago, Brady White from Newhall (Calif.) Hart or Brandon Wimbush from Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep make the big jump? The quarterback position essentially determines who wins the 7-on-7 tournament, and with Allen and Christian Hackenberg the previous two winners, the lineage is impressive