Rivals.com has released its latest football recruiting rankings for the Class of 2016, and there is a new No. 1 again.
IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) quarterback Shea Patterson moves from No. 2 to No. 1 on the strength of an amazing summer. Dexter Lawrence, a defensive tackle from Winston Salem, N.C., dropped to No. 3 and Rashan Gary, a defensive tackle from Paramus Catholic in New Jersey, moved to No. 2.
Greg Little, the massive offensive tackle for Allen, Texas, is No. 4 and linebacker Mique Juarez (North High; Torrance, Calif.) rounds out the top 5.
There are two new five stars in the rankings and four players who lost the fifth star designation. Plus, a number of players made big moves. The most notable was receiver Nigel Knott (Germantown; Madison, Miss), who moved up 141 spots into the top 25, but his season is in jeopardy following a knee injury.
USA TODAY High School Sports caught up with Rivals.com national recruiting director Mike Farrell for the latest on the new rankings.
Q: Starting at the top, what led to the decision to push Shea Patterson to No. 1 overall?
The reason for the Patterson change is all he did was excel at everything he went to. The Cam Newton event, he was amazing. The 7 on 7 on IMG, he was outstanding. He went out to The Opening on a mission. He won the Elite 11. He led his team amazingly in the 7 on 7 out there. He’s just improving so much every time we see him. You get a feeling about him that there’s greatness there and each time we see him, we see a little more. He’s throwing to open spaces. He’s throwing to guys who aren’t even in the window of vision. He’s basically throwing people open and becoming pin point down the field with accuracy. He’s leading the receiver so well. Even without the separation, they are going to catch the ball.
Q: Jacob Eason is No. 10 after being No. 1 two releases ago. What is your latest evaluation on him?
The difference between (Eason and Patterson) is their difference in style of play in the way college and the NFL has been headed. Jacob Eason shifts around the pocket. Like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, he has a good feel for the rush and keeps the play alive in that way. Then there’s Patterson, who can extend the play. That means getting outside the tackles, drawing the defenses up, feigning, tucking the ball and running. A lot of the tricks that the Russell Wilsons and Johnny Manziels of the world can do are what Shea Patterson can do. … Quarterbacks like Patterson are coveted now.
Q: Dexter Lawrence made a bit of history as a defensive tackle being No. 1 overall in the last release. He drops to No. 3 overall and is now second at his position to Rashan Gary. What led to that shift?
A: That was a tough one. It really was a split decision. We saw Dexter in the spring and he was as quick as ever, tremendous rip move, awesome balance and huge. We saw Rashan in the spring and he’s also a massive kid. He comes off ball quicker than Lawrence and is more of a pure pass rusher who can beat you with quickness off the snap.
We saw them at marquee events in the summer and the thing that stood out more was Gary’s motor. It never ever stops. He just goes 100% every drill. Every play he does not stop until the whistle blows. He finishes plays as quickly as he starts them. Nothing against Dexter. He’s such a dominant a player … They are 1A and 1B at defensive tackle and both have a chance to be No. 1 in the end.
Q: The other newcomer to the top 5 is Juarez, who moves up from No. 8. What led to his move?
He’s a linebacker who covers like a safety. He had a tremendous Opening with interception after interception – the depth he gets in his drops and feel in coverage is impressive for a linebacker that big. He’s probably 245 and he doesn’t look it and he plays like he’s 215.
Q: More players lost the fifth star than gained it in this release with two new five stars and four kids dropping down. Can you talk about those two kids?
With the industry direction of ranking kids earlier, you see more kids who stop progressing, or there is a stunt in their progress or regress (and the stars reflect that).
Mecole Hardman, a wide receiver from Georgia, is No. 16 and picked up a fifth star. He plays both ways and is a dynamic slot receiver. You see the reemergence of the slot at the NFL level and how dominant they can be at the college level. He has versatility, speed, gets separation, his hands…that led to us bumping him.
I am very strict when it comes to five-star tight ends. There’s only been a handful over the years. Isaac Nauta proved in his junior year that he is like a five-tool player in baseball. He’s a triple tool tight end. He can block, which is completely ignored in scouting these days at tight end, he can flex out and he can get open in line or outside against a linebacker or safety. He’s got all three of those abilities.
Q: Let’s talk about the four players who dropped the fifth star.
A: Derrick Brown from Georgia moved to No. 26 from No. 10 and has stalled a bit in his development.
Saivion Smith, the safety from IMG, only moved three slots to No. 30, but he hasn’t shown enough consistency to be a five star.
Keion Joyner, the linebacker from North Carolina, dropped 25 spots to No. 45. The big red flag with him is injury. He was injured at every camp and was injured in the playoffs last season. We want to see him back on the field.
One of biggest drops I’ve seen is Darnell Salomon, who dropped 123 spots to 139 outside of the 100. He’s among the most Jekyl and Hyde at the wide receiver position that I’ve seen. I don’t know who we’ll see at Miami Central. I’m hoping it was the one we saw this spring instead of in the summer. He’s still very good at No. 139, but definitely not a top 30 talent in the country…He’s overcome a lot and I’m hoping he can focus on football because he can be an amazing football player.
Q: And how about the big movers?
Feliepe Franks from Florida moved 55 spots to No. 39. He’s starting to emerge as a guy that’s on the five-star radar at quarterback … Franks is starting to scratch the surface. He has the size you’re getting in Cam Newton or Terrelle Pryor without the same level of athleticism. Teams are going to have a difficult time handling that guy like a Ben Roethlisberger. He’s a guy we like a lot and is moving up.
Jeffrey Simmons, a defensive end from Mississippi, moved into the rankings at No. 56. We got our first chance to lay eyeballs on him. He’s an outstanding defensive end. He’s one of those Mississippi secrets, a guys who would have emerged around Alabama-Mississippi all-star time. Luckily enough, there are so many events and so many camps we were able to find him. He’s on his way up.