The Battle For No. 1
I had Ricky Seals-Jones No. 1 back in July, and after watching him this season and seeing him in person at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, I didn't see any reason to drop him. If anything, Seals-Jones showed me that he does have the qualities to be a wideout. He doesn't necessarily wow you with straight-line speed, but he consistently gets behind defensive backs who might run faster 40-yard dash times. His hands can be inconsistent, but that's a concentration issue. Still, it wound up being close with A'Shawn Robinson making a late push. Robinson is freakishly strong (in any class that didn't include Andrew Billings, he might be the strongest player in the class), and has outstanding athleticism for his size. He could be an NFL player at either defensive tackle (his chosen position), or on the offensive line.
Injuries Having an Impact
I can't remember a year where we saw more injuries to key players. At least a fifth of the top-50 saw their senior years affected by injury. Some, like J.T. Barrett and Erik Huhn, lost a full season. Others like Darius James lost almost the whole year. And still more like Seals-Jones missed significant portions of the season.
Grading those players, of course, became difficult. James likely would have been in the running for No. 1 if he had a full season. Instead, he was passed by Kent Perkins and Robbie Rhodes, both of whom had full seasons to show their craft. Barrett slid a few spots behind players who had the benefit of senior years. Huhn didn't fall because I was able to see him in pads as a senior before he went down with an injury. But Jacorey Warrick and Eldridge Massington both saw significant drops. Warrick didn't perform as well at The Opening, then didn't have a senior season to try and turn opinion. Nor did Massington get a chance to prove that he belonged among the state's top wideouts.
The Quarterback Debate
One of the most difficult parts of the ranking was trying to figure out how to rank the quarterbacks in a stacked year for signal callers. Seven QBs made the final 50, and several of them were packed awfully close. Certainly clustered closely enough for argument. Certainly, not even Tyrone Swoopes versus Barrett is a slam-dunk debate, and the two are separated by 12 spots with two other quarterbacks between them. I was able to see most of those quarterbacks in person, and I came away with the opinion that Swoopes was the best of the bunch (ever-so-slightly above Cody Thomas). In fact, I actually had Thomas ranked one spot ahead of Swoopes before catching the latter player at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. It was that close. Kenny Hill takes the third spot after a monster senior season. Barrett, who didn't have a senior year, was fourth. The last of the seven is Bryan's Chris Johnson, headed to Baylor, though he has the potential to be the best of the bunch. It was a great year for quarterbacks in the Lone Star State, and though multiple quarterbacks are big-time baseball prospects, it will be interesting to see how this debate plays out over their college careers.
The biggest jump might be Hill, who moved up from No. 45 to No. 15 from the summer rankings. But Billings is another one who merits mention. I saw Billings in person first at a tri-scrimmage just before the season started, and he was the strongest high school player I've ever seen. I saw him later in the year as well and came out with the same impression. He also has some surprising mobility for his size, and, though he wants to play defensive tackle at the next level, Billings might be best right now as an offensive lineman.
The biggest drop was Christian Lacouture, though that isn't exactly fair to say, with the defensive lineman dropping out of the rankings simply because of a change in state. Out of those who stayed, Jamar Gibson had the highest fall. Gibson was ranked 27th over the summer, but when it became apparent that he was going to play safety, rather than wide receiver, it was imperative to rank him as such. And while Gibson could be an excellent safety at the next level, I couldn't put him with the Huhns and Austin Jupes of the world at this point.
State's Top Classes
What's better — having more players at the very top, or having more players overall? Where you stand on that question likely answers the next one: who had the state's top in-state class?
Texas owns three of the top five players on the LonghornDigest.com Top 50, Nos. 2 (A'Shawn Robinson), 3 (Kent Perkins) and 5 (Darius James). The Longhorns also have another in the top 10, six of the top 20 (7-of-21) and 11 players overall.
Texas A&M has the No. 1 overall player (Ricky Seals-Jones), and three total in the top 10 (one less than Texas). But the Aggies have seven in the top 20 (one more than Texas) and 12 players overall.
This one could be settled in the last week before National Signing Day. Both teams have soft commitments who are looking elsewhere, and both have a few recruits on the line. Can Texas pull in Billings? What about A&M with guys like Torrodney Prevot and Daeshon Hall? Either way, it's a pretty close race.
An underrated in-state pull is Baylor, which pulled in two top-35 skill position guys in Robbie Rhodes and Chris Johnson. But the Bears, who are always trying to improve their defense, should be just as excited for the two top-50 defensive prospects they've brought in, defensive back Austin Jupe and linebacker Raaquan Davis.
Which out-of-state school did the best job? As usual, it's the Oklahoma Sooners. OU landed potentially the state's best backfield combination with Keith Ford and Cody Thomas, two of the state's top 12 prospects. Defensive linemen Matt Dimon (No. 28, after a huge senior year) and No. 40 Kerrick Huggins lend help at need spots for the Sooners. Don't sleep on Ohio State, either. Not only did the Buckeyes haul in the state's top linebacker in Mike Mitchell (No. 7), but J.T. Barrett (No. 22) was considered by many to be the state's top quarterback before his injury. With Ohio State also looking like a potential landing spot for speedster Dontre Wilson, the Buckeyes could wind up stealing three top-22 guys.