Who's No. 1?
The key to this class is depth. I don't know that there's a Ricky Seals-Jones or an A'Shawn Robinson at the top of the class, where you have absolute no-brainer guys who will impact the game right out of the gate. Guys like Malik Jefferson and Kendall Sheffield aren't far off, though and the depth of this class indicates that there are probably about eight guys who could make a run at No. 1 throughout the year.
Jefferson is the best in-state high school linebacker that I've scouted since coming to LonghornDigest.com, with Steve Edmond ranking No. 2. Sheffield isn't quite as put together as 2014 star Tony Brown, but he brings similar athleticism and is significantly better as a cover guy. Remember when Cayleb Jones was a five-star receiver? DaMarkus Lodge brings the benefits of Jones's game (winning jump balls, soft hands, big frame), but with more explosiveness. Daylon Mack is an play-making athlete for a 310-pound defensive tackle, and Maea Teuhema has the feet to play right tackle, but is dominant as a road-grading guard.
Some of the other players need a bit more projection, or have an 'if or but' attached to their game. Kyler Murray is the best football player in the state, and could put up video game numbers in college, but he's 5-foot-11. Jarrett Stidham doesn't just have an NFL arm, he has a high-level NFL arm that can squeeze footballs into unbelievable spots, but he needs more polish after playing wide receiver as a sophomore. And Chris Warren has the size/speed to be a top-ranked back — he's both bigger and faster than Malcolm Brown when Brown was a top-five in-state prospect coming out — but he's coming off an ACL tear.
All of which makes this class so much fun to watch. I could rearrange the top five and not feel bad about it, and I'm looking forward to seeing which of those other guys makes a play to jump up into that group. Undoubtedly, colleges are even more excited, thinking about the depth of stars that they could add to their program.
Who's The Best Running Back?
Judging by the rankings, it's not an easy question to answer. Running backs sit at No. 7, 9 and 10 on the list, with four more clustered between No. 18 and No. 29. That's a fifth of the top 30.
The separation between top back Ronald Jones II, No. 2 Chris Warren and No. 3 Sotonye Jamabo is pretty much nil, and their differences in running style make them more difficult to separate. Jones is the most explosive of the three, with home-run hitting speed on every touch. Warren is a bulldozer who can run away from people at the second level. And Jamabo might be the most interesting one at all because of his tall 6-foot-3 frame and his gait. Jamabo, for me, is the biggest boom or bust prospect in this class. He could go to the right place as a one-cut back and run for 1,600 yards early in his career, with everybody saying "see, it's not that complicated, he's just good." Or, he could struggle to put on the weight necessary to cover his upright running style and have durability issues. He's not quite as natural a runner as Jones and Warren.
Even moving down from those guys, Jay Bradford is a legit 4.3-flat type guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Jordan Stevenson and JaMycal Hasty are smaller scatbacks, with Stevenson being tougher between the tackles and Hasty showing more gliding, natural athleticism. And Rodney Anderson is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type, though he does have the vision and balance to hit it big at the next level.
Maybe the best example of how stacked this running back class is that one of my favorites, Patrick Carr of the Woodlands, is outside the top 50. In most classes, he'd be getting even more attention, though he does have offers from Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State and in-staters TCU and Texas Tech.
How Do You Account For Injuries?
If someone looks at the injured players on the list, they could come away surprised by the way that certain guys moved around. By my count, there are three players who suffered season-ending injuries a year ago who are in the top 50: Warren, Justin Dunning and Quinten Dormady. And each case is different.
With Warren, he showed me enough as a junior to keep a spot similar to where he was at before. ACL tears are commonplace to come back from now, and Warren's skills should be just fine. Plus, like I said, he performed well on the field in his limited time before getting injured. So he dropped one spot, from eight to nine. Four players who were ranked below him leap-frogged him: Lodge, Murray, Jones and Stidham. All had big junior years as well. The three who dropped below him were Jamabo, Larry Pryor and Jay Bradford.
Dunning saw the biggest drop by far. He fell from No. 15 to No. 38 after tearing his ACL early on in the year. But my problems with Dunning were starting to sprout before the injury. He's a freak athlete who recorded a 40-inch vertical and a 4.41 40-yard dash at the ETSN.fm Football Recruiting Combine. But he isn't nearly as good a football player. Dunning doesn't seem as instinctual as a guy like Pryor, and for a bigger guy, he's not really willing to mix it up. As somebody who will likely bulk into a 210-to-220-pound guy, and who some might want to turn into a linebacker, that lack of physicality can be a bit scary. Could he play something else, like receiver? Sure, though he doesn't have natural hands at this point. Dunning will always have a freakish ceiling because of that athletic ability. But where does he fit?
Dormady dropped from No. 32 to No. 42. I'm still high on his potential … his drop was mostly to facilitate others jumping into the rankings as opposed to his stock plummeting at all. There's certainly a market for 6-4 quarterbacks who can dice up opposing defenses out of the spread, and that's precisely what Dormady brings with his combination of anticipation and accuracy.