CHICAGO -- Players are set to arrive Friday for the second annual Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour, and with a host of recruiting analysts on hand in Chicago many hairs will be split in the debate to find the nation's best high school football player.
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that having live evaluations is always preferred to film but the added benefit of having all the players in one location takes the process to another level.
Can Woodbridge (Va.) Senior defensive end Da'Shawn Hand maintain the top spot, or will he be overtaken? The defensive line group will have its own focus as Norcross (Ga.) High defensive end Lorenzo Carter is just behind Hand at No. 5 in the Rivals100 and Chesapeake (Va.) High defensive tackle Andrew Brown is lurking at No. 7 overall. Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara offensive lineman Damian Prince might be in a great spot to move up from No. 10 if he can slow down that trio. Could New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine prospect Leonard Fournette become just the third running back to stake a claim to the No. 1 spot and climb up two spots, or will it be another back, Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage prospect Sony Michel, who pushes from No. 6? Don't sleep on the defensive backs. Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra cornerback Adoree' Jackson checks in at No. 9, and Hoover (Ala.) High product Marlon Humphrey might jump everyone from No. 11.
2. Leader of the pack
While the top of the national rankings will receive the most speculation, the picture should get more clear in the running back group. Fournette and Michel are the two prospects inside the Top 10 nationally, but the next two highest-rated players at the position are Elijah Hood of Charlotte (N.C.) Catholic and Joe Mixon from Oakley (Calif.) Freedom at Nos. 13 and 15, respectively. Mixon has been one of the hottest prospects on the circuit, making a meteoric climb since the Rivals Camp Series event near Los Angeles. Hood was just recently reclassified as a running back -- from being an athlete -- and could provide a strong argument to become the prize of the class.
3. Wide open at WR
For the second consecutive season, there is not a five-star receiver in the national rankings entering the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge. Laquon Treadwell was the first to gain that ranking last season during the post-regular season evaluations in November. Several of the highest-ranked WR prospects in the Rivals100 will be competing on Solider Field, and each could present the analysts with enough to make a move. Urbandale (Iowa) High prospect Allen Lazard, the No. 1 receiver, is No. 25 overall, with Homestead (Fla.) High athlete Ermon Lane at No. 32 and Gallatin (Tenn.) Station Camp player Josh Malone at No. 38. Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe receiver Jalen Brown is ranked No. 50, and Mount Pleasant (Texas) prospect KD Cannon is at No. 53 and could leapfrog them all.
4. Signaling a change
With limited spots on the roster for signal-callers, the battle for rankings is focused on the top two players. Gainesville (Ga.) High dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson enters as the No. 12 player in the country, with a sizeable lead on his competition. Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain's Kyle Allen recently moved to the top spot in the pro-style quarterback rankings and up to No. 27 nationally, ahead of Davidson (N.C.) Day's Will Grier and Keller Chryst of Palo Alto (Calif.) High.
It might be unlikely for Allen to make a run at Watson, but he could cut into the lead and put a gap between himself and the other pro-style players.
5. Battle for Virginia
Da'Shawn Hand and Andrew Brown won't battle only for the No. 1 ranking but also the top player from Virginia. They have different skills, but the comparisons will keep coming.
Hand will have to tangle with the long arms of Damian Prince on the outside, while Brown must deal with the nasty disposition and power of Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe offensive guard Natrell Curtis. A third-party candidate is Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi. The No. 34 player in the Rivals100 performed well at the Rivals Camp Series event and could make his way up the ladder.
6. Iron Bowl preview
On the Auburn side of the battle will be Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul's offensive lineman Joshua Casher and his teammate, linebacker Tre Williams. Alabama will be represented by Galena Park (Texas) North Shore linebacker Zach Whitley and Montgomery (Ala.) Carver prospect Shaun Dion Hamilton. Three of the four will be in the same drills, which will just add to the trash talk. This could be a preview of an SEC feud to come.
7. Cornering the market
The top two cornerbacks will be competing in the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, with Jackson and Humphrey on hand. Jackson and Humphrey are two of Rivals' three five-star CBs, but which of the two comes out ahead could be secondary to which player emerges from the shadows. It was at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge last year that Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy player Jalen Ramsey made a major jump in the rankings. Could the same happen for Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway player Montae Nicholson, Jenks (Okla.) High prospect Steven Parker or El Cerrito (Calif.) athlete Adarius Pickett? The three are ranked from No. 121 to No. 127 in the Rivals250.
8. Finding the next No. 1
Almost a quarter of the players in participation at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge represent the Class of 2015, with several top-tier prospects.
Will any of the players invited this year enter next year as the top recruiting target in the country? Gladewater (Texas) High defensive lineman Daylon Mack, Baton Rouge (La.) University Lab running back Nicholas Brossette, Suwannee (Ga.) North Gwinnett offensive lineman Mitch Hyatt, Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian defensive back Kevin Toliver II and Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco quarterback Josh Rosen will all be in attendance.
9. Sparkle and fade
Receiving a fifth star from Rivals.com is quite an accomplishment. Losing one, not as much. With almost all of the top-rated players in attendance, some could get exposed as perhaps not as deserving. As the event wears on the talk will become who should -- or shouldn't -- be among the rare five-stars.
10. Keeping it on lock
Of the 16 defensive backs asked to participate, nine are from the Class of 2015. It will be interesting to see how they keep pace with an older receiving corps. Looking to show they have what it takes will be Shawn Burgess-Becker of Coconut Creek (Fla.) Monarch, Minkah Fitzpatrick of Jersey City (N.J) St. Peter's Prep, Iman Marshall from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, Tarvarus McFadden, who hails from Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage, Rico McGraw of Nashville (Tenn.) Ensworth, Kendall Sheffield of Missouri City (Texas) Fort Bend Marshall, Marvell Tell of Encino (Calif.) Crespi and Kevin Tolliver II of Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian.