Top 10 storylines heading into Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge
ATLANTA -- Storylines abound heading into this weekend's Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge at Atlanta's Lakewood Stadium. Which prospects will contend for the coveted No. 1 overall ranking? How will the nation's best quarterback since Matt Barkley fare under pressure? Which big man will emerge as king of the titans? Our experts break it all down.
1. The battle for No. 1: Numerous prospects are within striking distance of the No. 1 overall ranking, but to attain it they'll have to knock Clemson commit and current No. 1 Robert Nkemdiche from his perch, which is no small task. Auburn (Ala.) linebacker Reuben Foster is next in line at No. 2, but Olney (Md.) Good Counsel cornerback Kendall Fuller, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers linebacker Jaylon Smith, Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline quarterback Max Browne and Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy defensive end Kenny Bigelow are all national top 10 players ready to make a push.
2. Browne vs. Barkley: Browne is the top-rated quarterback and No. 5 overall prospect in our 2013 rankings. The Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline prospect and USC pledge was arguably the best quarterback at the Stanford Elite 11 last year and could have competed with Gunner Kiel and Jameis Winston, both five-stars from the class of 2012. Browne has special talent, put up huge numbers and looked great at the Oakland Elite 11, but this weekend will be the first time he has faced this kind of competition. If he blends in rather than excels, it could open the door for other quarterbacks. If he lives up to his promise, we'll continue to wonder if he might be better than Barkley, the last five-star quarterback to pledge to USC.
3. Swoopes states his case: There is no question that Whitewright (Texas) five-star quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is a dynamic playmaker. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound dual-threat quarterback rushed for more than 500 yards in a game this past season, but it's still debatable if the Texas commit is an equally capable passer. Of the four quarterbacks who'll be in Atlanta, he is the least polished. The Challenge will give Swoopes a chance to prove he has the tools to become a college quarterback. With a very good group of wide receivers and tight ends on hand, Swoopes will face pressure to get them the ball. He looked better than expected at a recent Nike Camp, so the hope is that he will show even more improvement. If he can throw as well as the other three attendees, he would make a case for being the top quarterback prospect in the country.
4. Possible five-star tight end: Autauga (Ala.) Autauga Academy four-star tight end O.J. Howard enters the Challenge as the No. 2 ranked tight end in the nation and No. 30 overall prospect. At his position, he ranks behind only Camp Hill (Pa.) Cedar Cliff four-star tight end Adam Breneman, who is the No. 27 overall prospect in the nation. With Breneman sidelined due to an injury that will force him to miss his junior season, the door is open for Howard to make his case for top honors at tight end. More importantly, Howard will also have a chance to prove he's the first five-star tight end since Kyle Rudolph.
5. Future five-stars: While the majority of the prospects on hand are from the 2013 class, the 2014 class is also well represented. We already know Woodbridge (Va.) Woodbridge Senior defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, Chesapeake (Va.) Indian River defensive tackle Andrew Brown, New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette and Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside defensive back Quin Blanding are all either locks to be five-stars next year or are very close. But who else will emerge and show that potential against older players at the camp? The most likely candidates are Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan, Detroit (Mich.) Loyola defensive lineman Malik McDowell and LaPorte, Texas linebacker Hoza Scott. See below for more on McDowell, one of the more intriguing prospects in his class.
6. Prove it at receiver: Currently, Ricky Seals-Jones of Sealy, Texas, is the nation's No. 1 wide receiver prospect. However, the 6-5, 220-pound standout plays quarterback and safety for his high school team, and like Swoopes, he has something to prove regarding his future position. The top receiver in the country should probably be a five-star prospect, but it's hard to rank Seals-Jones as one without seeing him at the position. This will be an opportunity for him to shine and earn that fifth star, as he is currently the nation's No. 18 overall prospect and one spot outside five-star status. However, if he struggles with routes and speed, he could end up as a tight end. If that happens, it will be hard to rank him nearly as high.
7. Prove it at receiver Part II: Rivals100 athlete Jalin Marshall has played quarterback almost exclusively for his Middletown (Ohio) team, but the 6-foot, 190-pound prospect is expected to transition to wide receiver in college and will be playing there during the Challenge. From a size and skill standpoint, Marshall strongly resembles current NFL wide receiver Percy Harvin, and he is headed to play for Harvin's former coach, Urban Meyer, at Ohio State. Marshall went out and had a very strong showing at last month's Nike Camp while playing wide receiver, but the defensive back talent in Atlanta this weekend will be noticeably more impressive. Marshall is extremely fast and has displayed soft hands, but we will find out exactly where he is in his development as a wide receiver in this setting.
8. Western promises: A lot of prospects from out West are saying they're under-ranked. This is the weekend to back it up. Neither Joe Mathis nor Tahaan Goodman have expressed that, but both could continue moving up the rankings with outstanding weekends. Mathis has trimmed down, looking faster than ever at the Southern Cal Rivals.com Showcase, and is definitely motivated coming into this event. Some swear Goodman is the best safety in California, and he will have his chance to prove it against some outstanding competition. Goodman has looked excellent in numerous 7-on-7 events this spring and has great junior film.
9. McDowell seeks to steal spotlight: Class of 2014 defensive linemen Hand and Brown of Virginia have competed against one another several times already. This weekend, the duo will be joined by another class of 2014 defensive lineman who is generating huge national attention early on: Detroit Loyola's McDowell. McDowell has not seen defensive linemen his caliber in the 2014 class, but he has faced some of the best offensive linemen in the Midwest and should be able to handle the competition in Atlanta. The question is, will he prove he is in the same conversation as Hand and Brown? Overshadowed so far, this is his chance to grab the spotlight.
10. Attack of the Southeast linebackers: Linebackers rarely grab the spotlight in a camp setting, but it will be tough to keep it off the group playing for the Southeast squad. The foursome is led by the top player at the event, Auburn (Ala.) five-star inside linebacker Foster, who is ranked No. 2 overall. Foster is complimented by Lawrenceville (Ga.) Central Gwinnett four-star outside linebacker Trey Johnson. That duo is joined by a pair of rising juniors in Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan and Bamberg (S.C.) Bamberg-Ernhardt inside linebacker Kevin Crosby. While they won't be able to show off their physicality in a camp setting, the players should grab plenty of attention for their size and athletic ability as they try to prove they are the best group of linebackers at the event.
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