LonghornDigest.com Texas Top 50

LonghornDigest.com is counting down the top-50 in-state players for 2013. To find the final five, and the No. 1, come inside.

1) WR Ricky Seals-Jones, 6-5 225, Sealy (Texas)

The first time that Scout.com National Recruiting Analyst Greg Powers approached me with the idea of Seals-Jones as the No. 1 player, I was skeptical. I liked any one of several players better, and probably projected RS-J as around the No. 5-6 guy in-state. Then I watched more film. And more film. And more film. And it seemed like every time I did, he moved up a spot over a guy I previously graded out over him. Eventually, there weren't any other guys to jump. Seals-Jones is first-and-foremost an outstanding athlete, somebody who can "two-step" (cover five yards in just two strides). He has great size, and speed for that size. He's a legitimate Division 1 basketball prospect. And he could wind up excelling at any one of several spots in college. He'll start off as a wide receiver, which is where I have him graded here. And as a wide receiver he has everything you look for: ball skills, an ability to transition smoothly in-and-out of cuts and soft hands. It doesn't hurt that he's 6-foot-5, 225 pounds and has clocked a 4.41 40-yard dash either. He's the complete package in a class where so many of the top prospects have question marks … and that's what gets him No. 1.


2) DT Justin Manning, 6-3 275, Dallas Kimball

If you've followed LonghornDigest.com for a while, you'll know that Manning has stood atop this list for probably around a year. He's been challenged for that top spot, but rarely surpassed, and typically on a whim that put Manning back on top immediately afterward. Here's the skinny on the state's top lineman: while so many people want to compare him to his brother, DeMarcus Granger, he actually caused me to think of another former Sooner: Tommie Harris. I'm not saying Manning is as good as Harris is, but he's as cat-quick off the ball as any lineman I can remember since Harris. There are plays on his tape where he's making plays in the backfield seemingly as the ball is snapped. Some of that is anticipation. More of it is an insane get-off, an ability to make himself slender to shoot through gaps and the ability to use his hands to fight free of potential blockers. Manning moves like a defensive end. So what's the issue? As good as Manning is, there are two major question marks. The first revolves around his size: while other tackles in this class like A'Shawn Robinson and Isaiah Golden are already big enough, Manning has to add significant bulk. Can he do so and keep his main gift, his uncanny explosion? And the other is that Manning already has an injury history. Players who are oft-injured in high school don't typically get healthier when the bodies colliding with them get bigger and faster. Manning is an outstanding high school player, but answering those two questions will determine how good he will be in college and beyond.


3) WR Derrick Griffin, 6-7 220, Rosenberg Terry (Texas A&M)

Somebody once asked me whether I thought Griffin would be a wide receiver or a tight end at the next level. My response: "Does it really matter?" I probably think of Griffin as more of a receiver. Powers sees him as a potential Jermaine Gresham. And either way, he has a chance to become a dominant force on the offensive end. There are pretty few 6-7 receiving threats in college football, and none that also have Griffin's package of athletic gifts. While Seals-Jones is a Division 1 basketball prospect, Griffin is an elite one, a potential top-50 player who will play both basketball and football in the SEC for A&M. He's an explosive leaper and uses his length and athleticism to win rebounds and post battles on the court. And all of those skills translate to football. Griffin probably isn't quite as fast as Seals-Jones is. He's more of a glider on the football field than somebody who just dusts off the guy guarding him. But Griffin is still a freak athletically, somebody who probably runs in the 4.5-second range in the 40-yard dash. Think about this: coaches have expressed concern about lining up 5-9 cornerbacks against 6-3 wide receivers. Griffin has a 10-inch advantage over those same players. And that's without adding in his reach advantage or his jumping ability. If Griffin polishes up a bit more as a route-runner, the sky is the limit. One of the few question marks here is whether Griffin will qualify.


4) C Darius James, 6-4 310, Killeen Harker Heights (TEXAS)

People often debate whether "love-at-first-sight" exists. And while you might fall on one side or the other of the age-old debate, it's an absolute truism when going out to see prospects. There are some guys that you only need to see once to know exactly what they're capable of. That was James for me. Seeing him in person is to marvel at a player who, by all rights probably should have been playing a tackle position, is dominating games at center. Because James is the rare center with tackle size. But because he attended school with left tackle and current Longhorn Camrhon Hughes, James took a spot in the middle of the line. And it's because of that spot that some people tend to downgrade James, stating that a center shouldn't be ranked as highly as a tackle like Kent Perkins. But James grades out as the best offensive lineman in the state to these eyes, and is a more dominating presence at center than Perkins is at tackle. James destroys nose tackles at times, but seems to be an even better player in space, representing the "dancing bear" analogy that people look for out of their offensive linemen. He shows no problems tracking down players at the second and third levels and making those key, difficult blocks that so often spring big plays. James has been a bit heavy in the past, and he needs to work on his stamina at times. But put him into a good strength and conditioning program, and James should develop into an NFL mainstay as an interior offensive lineman.


5) QB Tyrone Swoopes, 6-5 225, Whitewright (TEXAS)

There's been a bit of a backlash to Swoopes as the No. 1 quarterback in the state, a lot like an indie music fan decrying a popular music group and labeling people as sheep for going along with the popular opinion. And certainly, in some cases that's true. While we work hard at Scout.com to avoid groupthink and have everyone make their own evaluations, nobody's perfect. Having said that, sometimes things — be they 6-5 mobile quarterbacks or the Rolling Stones — are popular for one simple reason: they're just really good. And that's the case with Swoopes. There isn't any illusion here, no man standing behind the curtain. Here are the facts, for the jury: Swoopes has an ideal frame at 6-5 225. He has ideal mobility. He has ideal arm strength. And anybody who has gotten to coach him either for his career, or for a one-day camp, has come away raving about his ability to pick up concepts and display rapid improvement. Look up what college coaches are looking for in their quarterbacks, and you might just see a picture of Swoopes. That's not to say that he's a perfect prospect. He's still raw, and his accuracy could use some work at times. And there's the quality of competition argument, which is also valid. But Swoopes possesses an elite tool belt and the willingness and intelligence to learn. Texas coaches had their choice of in-state quarterbacks, and only extended an offer to Swoopes. And while J.T. Barrett, the state's consensus No. 2 signal caller, committed to Ohio State, the Buckeyes extended an offer to Swoopes first. We don't rely on coaches for our evaluations. But it's worth noting that guys whose jobs depend greatly on those same evaluations preferred Swoopes.


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