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June 13, 2011

Line groups stand out in position rankings

Offensive Position Rankings: PQB | DQB | RB | APB | FB | WR | TE | OT | OG | OC
Defensive Position Rankings: DT | WDE | SDE | ILB | OLB | CB | S | ATH | K

The Rivals.com positional rankings have been released and it is clear that some positions are very deep in 2012 while others are lacking both depth and star power. While the argument is a subjective one, it appears that the big uglies dominate initially for 2012 with a stellar crop of defensive and offensive linemen, led by the nation's No. 2 player, Florida State commitment Mario Edwards from Denton (Texas) Ryan.

Offensive line or defensive line? The debate over which position group is stronger and deeper will be a good one this year. Right now the slight edge goes to the pass rushers. Edwards, a 6-foot-4, 275-pounder, is joined in the five-star ranks by Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep defensive end Darius Hamilton, Monrovia, Calif., defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Lakewood defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., Atwater (Calif.) Buhach defensive tackle Aziz Shittu, Harrisburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt defensive end Noah Spence and Shelby (N.C.) Crest defensive end Jonathan Bullard.

While the defensive line position is loaded with star power, it is also very deep with 35 prospects at weakside defensive end pulling in a Rivals Rating of 5.7 or higher and 40 at strongside defensive end boasting the same. At defensive tackle, 39 players have that coveted 5.7 or higher tag, bringing the total to 114 alone for the three defensive line positions. Players such as Nashville (Tenn.) McGavock defensive end Caleb Azubike, Toledo (Ohio) Whitmer defensive end Christopher Wormley and Lago Vista, Texas defensive tackle Donald Hopkins are all talented players with high ceilings who just fell below four-star status.

And while the defensive line has star power and depth, the offensive line isn't far behind. Five stars D.J. Humphries from Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek, John Theus from Jacksonville (Fla.) Bolles and Andrus Peat from Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol headline the group with prospects like Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward standout Kyle Kalis, Puyallup, Wash., tackle Joshua Garnett and San Clemente, Calif., stud Kyle Murphy are all well within five star range. Encino (Calif.) Crespi's Jordan Simmons is the top guard in the country followed by Texarkana (Texas) Texas star John Michael McGee and Apopka, Fla., center Ty Darlington is No. 1 at his position.

The tackle position is very deep, with 67 prospects rating 5.7 or higher while at guard there are 22 players earning the honor and three centers. Not as deep overall as the defensive line, but still talented players like Paris (Tenn.) Henry County tackle Andrew Jelks, Mobile (Ala.) Davidson guard Alphonse Taylor and Atwater (Calif.) Buhach center Matt Cochran are all pushing for that fourth star.

OTHER STRONG POSITIONS

In addition to the big men in the trenches, a few other positions seem especially deep this year while still boasting tremendous star power. The safety position has some serious star power up top and pretty good depth with 30 players early a 5.7 or higher. Sacramento (Calif.) Grant stud Shaq Thompson and Geismar (La.) Dutchtown safety Landon Collins are both five stars while Panama City (Fla.) Arnold star Eddie Williams is well within striking range. And players like Hemingway, S.C., safety Jabril Solomon, Missouri City (Texas) Elkins star Corey Thompson and others seem to be close to earning a fourth star.

Another position that appears to be deep is at cornerback. While there isn't yet a five star in the mix, Miramar, Fla., speedster Tracy Howard and Tallahassee (Fla.) North Florida Christian lockdown Travis Blanks are on the verge while numerous players like Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep's Yuri Wright, Atlanta (Ga.) St. Pius X School athlete Geno Smith and Fresno (Calif.) Central East corner Tee Shepard are also ranked high. With 47 players ranked 5.7 or higher, this is an especially deep year at the position with players like Miami (Fla.) Edison's Donaldven Manning and DeSoto, Texas corner Bryson Echols battling for a fourth star.

AS EXPECTED

There are many position groups in the class of 2012 that are as deep and talented as expected, no more and no less. The first is at wide receiver. While Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is the No. 1 player in the nation and Olney (Md.) Good Counsel slot Stefon Diggs is in the national top 10, the star power and depth at wide receiver is average overall. 76 wide outs rate 5.7 or higher compared to 78 the last two years, so the depth is as expected but this year won't be confused with the standard bearer of 2008 with six five stars - Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Devier Posey, DeAndre Brown, Jonathan Baldwin and Michael Floyd. Homestead, Fla., wide receiver Herb Waters, Dillon, S.C., standout Kwinton Smith and Cincinnati (Ohio) Moeller star Monty Madaris look to swell the four star ranks if they continue to move up the rankings.

Running back is also as expected when it comes to depth and potential star power. While the position initially is way down compared to 2011, a year that boasted five different five-star prospects, it appears to be in line with most years. Aledo, Texas star Johnathan Gray leads the way as the lone five star so far with Spring (Texas) Dekaney speedster Trey Williams not far behind. Prospects like Aliquippa (Pa.) Hopewell's Rushel Shell, Cape Coral (Fla.) Island Coast's Mario Pender and Daphne, Ala., back T.J. Yeldon are in good position as well early on. All in all there are 40 pure running backs ranked 5.7 or higher with eight more from the all-purpose back rankings boasting the same and three fullbacks. Raleigh (N.C.) Millbrook burner Keith Marshall is the top all-purpose back in the country and has a chance to move up and the same can be said for Memphis (Tenn.) Memphis East scat back Brian Kimbrow, who can also scoot.

The athlete category is on par this year compared to previous years with 19 four stars and 37 players ranked 5.7 or higher. After boasting at least two five stars every year since 2008, the position will need someone to step up and join Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep stud Nelson Agholor. Devin Fuller from Old Tappan, N.J., and Joel Caleb from Midlothian (Va.) Clover Hill are within striking range and the position appears deep, although some of these prospects will be re-categorized at different positions along the way.

Finally, the pro-style quarterbacks appear to be on par with recent seasons, although the position itself remains down from the glory years of 2006-2009 where there were two five-star quarterbacks each year. A five star has not been named at pro-style quarterback but Columbus (Ind.) East gunslinger Gunner Kiel is in better position than anyone in the last two years to earn such status. Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley quarterback Zach Kline and Edgewood (Ky.) Dixie Heights signal caller Zeke Pike are also in good shape early. And quarterback Jake Rodrigues from Rocklin (Calif.) Whitney is ready to make a move to four stars if he continues to blow up. 22 pro-style quarterbacks check in ranked 5.7 or higher, so it seems to be an average year at this position.

DOWN THEY GO

While there are many positions looking stronger and deeper than ever and a few that are average based on years past, it is clear that certain positions are way down this year starting with linebacker. The outside linebacker position is clearly the stronger of the two, but the linebacker position as a whole is not stellar in 2012.

The top-ranked linebacker in the country right now is Leesburg, Fla., outside 'backer Noor Davis who checks in at No. 30, a ranking well below sure-fire studs like Curtis Grant (2011), Jordan Hicks (2010), Vontaze Burfict, Jelani Jenkins and Manti Te'o (2009) and Nigel Bradham (2008) in recent years. In fact, there's isn't one linebacker yet this year with a 6.0 rating much less the coveted 6.1 that comes with five star status and the top inside linebacker in the country, Norfolk (Va.) Norfolk Christian School's Kwontie Moore is not even in the Rivals100. The outside linebacker position has some depth at least, with 48 prospects ranked 5.7 or higher, but there are only 19 inside linebackers with such a ranking pretty much halfway through the evaluation process.

Another position that is down is tight end where schools are scrambling to find talented players to fill the position. Kyle Rudolph was the last five-star tight end prospect back in 2008 and Logan Thomas (2009, now a quarterback at Virginia Tech) and Nick O'Leary (2011) both made runs, but this year it doesn't look good for a five-star tight end. Land O'Lakes, Fla., pass catcher Kent Taylor and San Diego (Calif.) Westview tight end Taylor McNamara lead a group with 12 four stars and 24 players ranked 5.7 or higher. Westlake (Ohio) St. Ignatius tight end Blake Thomas, a recent Ohio State commitment, is the closest player to four star status right now at No. 13 in the nation.

And finally, the dual-threat quarterback group is also down this year in a big way. Hueytown, Ala., dual-threat Jameis Winston is the only one in the Rivals100 and there are only 7 four stars and 13 dual-threat quarterbacks that rank 5.7 or higher. Buffalo (N.Y.) St. Joseph's signal-caller Chad Kelly, the nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, is the closest three star to four-star status.

Mike Farrell can be reached at mfarrell01@cox.net. You can follow him on Twitter @rivalsmike.



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