July 28, 2014

Top of the Class: First 2016 five-stars revealed

The Rivals100 Presented by Under Armour for the class of 2016 will be released in numerical order earlier than ever, and with it, a record 16 prospects will debut as five-stars. As colleges scout and offer prospects earlier and earlier, the industry follows suit; and we know more about rising juniors than ever before. With that said, below is a look at the newly minted five-stars.
Complete rankings for the class of 2016
Rivals100: Hayes, Patterson emerge in rankings
PHOTOS: See the five-stars in action
PHOTOS: Rivals100 No. 1s (2002-2016)
1 WR
Nate Craig
Tampa, Fla. - Tampa Catholic
Craig is a special player who has the size, speed, elusiveness and strength to be an elite receiver at the next level and beyond. We've had wide receivers at No. 1 before like Dorial Green-Beckham and Derrick Williams, but he reminds me the most of a bigger, stronger Percy Harvin, who was No. 1 in 2006. He can take any pass -- slant, screen, post, fade, you name it -- and score in so many different ways. -- Mike Farrell, National Recruiting Director

Craig has great size and athleticism and he's long and can cover a lot of ground in a single stride. He can do a lot with a little in the short passing game and once he gets going, he's hard to bring down. He has excellent hand-eye coordination that's prominent in the deep passing game with over-the-shoulder catches and he has surprising wiggle in traffic. He can make people miss for a large receiver. -- Adam Krohn, Southeast analyst

VIDEO: Farrell on why Craig is No. 1
VIDEO: Nate Craig highlights
2 QB
Jacob Eason
Lake Stevens, Wash. - Lake Stevens
Eason reminded me of Matthew Stafford, our No. 1 quarterback in 2006, the moment I laid eyes on him and it's a bit ironic he committed to Georgia a few months after. He doesn't have quite the cannon of Stafford, but he is bigger at the same stage and has all the intangibles needed to be a great one at the next level and beyond. He has the arm, the feet, the vision and the mechanics and will just get better with additional experience. -- Farrell

Eason has an unusually strong arm and he's really confident in his ability to deliver any pass on the field. In his sophomore season, he threw for nearly 3,000 yards, including more than 500 yards in one game and it's easy to see why. The Georgia commit has excellent size and he can throw the seam route, the slant, across the middle, to the sideline, in tight windows. He can do pretty much everything from the pocket. A comparison to Matthew Stafford at the same stage is not far off. -- Adam Gorney, West Coast analyst

VIDEO: Farrell on Eason, Cleveland and Walker
3 OT
Ben Cleveland
Toccoa, Ga. - Stephens County
There is no one to compare Cleveland to at the same stage because I've never seen such an impressive physical specimen at his age. He's only 15 and could easily pass for an NFL lineman in uniform getting off the bus. He also moves better than I expected and has light feet for a big man. He also has impressive power. He's still raw, but he has everything needed to become an elite left tackle. -- Farrell

All it takes is one look at Cleveland to realize he won the genetic lottery. At 6-foot-7 and more than 300 pounds, Cleveland has turned heads at pretty much every event he has attended during his high school career. But what's more impressive about Cleveland is just how quickly he can get his big body in motion. He moves tremendously well for a lineman of any size and his highlight tape is him dominating one opponent after another. There's no doubt that Cleveland's work as a pass blocker will need to continue to improve, but he's willing to work and takes coaching well, so with his ceiling and upside, it's hard to see a scenario where he's not one of the class's top prospects. -- Woody Wommack, Southeast analyst

4 DT
Dexter Lawrence
Wake Forest, N.C. - Wake Forest
Lawrence is a massive defensive tackle with great quickness off the snap. He has the ability to shoot the gap quickly and can change direction quickly to pursue the quarterback like a much smaller prospect. He is also active against the run as he's strong at the point of attack and can chase things down. His frame and athletic ability allow him to be a defensive tackle in a 4-3 or even an end in 3-4 sets. -- Farrell

Lawrence is an absolute monster and moves surprisingly well for how big he is. He has very aggressive hands and is a punishing hitter. Lawrence is the type of defensive lineman that can beat the double team and chase down a running back to the outside. -- Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic analyst

Demetris Robertson
Savannah, Ga. - Savannah Country Day School
Robertson is a great athlete who could play wide receiver or cornerback, but I think his strength is on offense because of his ability to create separation and excellent ball skills. He's a dynamic route runner, very sudden in his cuts and has an extra gear. He can be a dynamic outside or slot receiver at the next level or a big cornerback. His versatility is intriguing. -- Farrell

Over the past two years, we've essentially watched Robertson grow up before our eyes. He's added weight and continues to grow, while not losing the explosion that makes him a standout at most camps. What put Robertson over the top, though, is his willingness to play on both sides of the ball. If there are concerns about his size as a wide receiver, he's shown that he can be just as dominant as a defensive back. Even though he plays in a smaller classification, Robertson's work on the field is equally impressive as his work in camps and he'll be moving into even a larger role this upcoming season as a junior. -- Wommack

VIDEO: Farrell on Robertson, Wilson, Taylor and Smith
6 OT
Gregory Little
Allen, Texas - Allen
Little has a tremendous frame to build on, very good feet and he's a smart, instinctual lineman. What I like best about him is his ability to take to coaching and how quickly he learns his opponents' tendencies. He has the size, footwork and smarts to be an elite left tackle and I love that he's a student of the game who gets better each time he hits the field. -- Farrell

At 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds, Gregory Little has plenty of room for growth. He has very little bad weight and once he improves his strength, he is going to be an impact player on the next level. Between his footwork, athleticism, size, and intelligence, he has as high a ceiling as anyone in the country. -- Jason Howell, Mid-South analyst

7 DE
Shavar Manuel
Tampa, Fla. - Blake
Manuel is an elite outside pass rusher who also has the size and strength to string things out in the run game and take on multiple blockers at the point of attack. He has a great first step, dips his shoulder well and explodes to the quarterback in pursuit. He's a relentless lineman who can run things down to the opposite side of the field or double back and get in on a tackle even if the ball has passed him. -- Farrell

Manuel is a tremendous athlete given his size. He's very agile and has above-average get off for a big defensive end. He's incredibly strong, plays with good leverage and uses his power to knock offensive linemen off balance. In the run game, he's stout at the point of attack and holds the edge well. He's a big, multi-faceted end who could play strongside or weakside defensive end. -- Krohn

8 DT
Rashan Gary
Paramus, N.J. - Paramus Catholic
Gary is a tremendous physical specimen who explodes off the snap and plays with a tremendous amount of power. He has good feet for a big man and avoids getting caught in traffic, but his strength is disengaging from blocks to make plays either at the line of scrimmage or to the outside. He's an active defensive tackle who can take on double teams and he clogs the middle. -- Farrell

Gary, much like Lawrence, is an exceptional athlete. His explosiveness is matched only by his aggressiveness and his hand technique is improving very quickly. Gary's sky-high potential can't be ignored and it is one of the reason he is one of the initial five-stars in the 2016 class. -- Friedman

9 QB
Malik Henry
Westlake Village, Calif. - Westlake
Henry is a very smooth quarterback who can work from the shotgun or under center and feels the rush very well. He is very accurate, throws a nice, catchable ball and leads his receivers well. He can also throw back shoulder passes at this stage very well, a rarity for a young signalcaller. He reminds me a bit of Tajh Boyd at the same stage, with everything appearing effortless from his throwing motion to rolling out and ball fakes. -- Farrell

Henry is probably the smoothest thrower in this class. The ball comes out so easily and he can bomb it down the field with great accuracy. One of the most impressive aspects of Henry's game is that many times his receivers did not create much separation, yet he was able to deliver the ball on a dime. Mainly working from the shotgun, Henry is also good at not locking in on receivers so cornerbacks cannot get a read on where the ball is going. -- Gorney

10 LB
Lyndell Wilson
Montgomery, Ala. - Carver
Wilson is an extremely smart linebacker who diagnoses plays very well and rarely takes a false step. He's the prototypical weakside linebacker who can blitz off the edge but also drop in coverage and even line up over the flex or slot receiver. He's physical when he arrives at the ball and has very good tackling form. He reads run/pass very well and always seems to be in the proper position. -- Farrell

Wilson is very quick off the edge and shows good hips and balance when dropping into coverage. He's a good athlete with good balls skills, great closing speed and is a sure and physical tackler. He's also very smart and patient, reading plays well and always finding the football. -- Krohn

11 RB
Kareem Walker
Wayne, N.J. - De Paul Catholic
Walker is a big, upright running back who has tremendous burst through the hole and the straightline speed to outrun second level defenders at 210 pounds. He has very good feet and balance and has a great combination of size and elusiveness. If you try to tackle him low, he can cut and keep his balance and if you try to tackle him high, he can brush you off. He's a complete first- and second-down back who can score from anywhere but also get tough yards when needed. His receiving skills are improving all the time. He's a workhorse. -- Farrell

Walker is a bigger back with great speed and vision. He is a load in the open field, but one of the best things about Walker is the way he runs with power; he delivers the hit instead of being hit. Walker is one of those few running backs that can make an immediate impact at the college level. -- Friedman

12 LB
Caleb Kelly
Fresno, CA - Clovis West
Kelly is a huge strongside linebacker who can be disruptive in the passing game in many ways and does a good job of stringing out the run or forcing the back to cut inside to help. He's an excellent pass rusher who takes good angles to the ball and has an extra gear when closing. He also gets good depth in his drops in pass coverage. He could end up as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end in the right scheme or even a big middle once he learns to take on blockers a bit better. His ceiling is high and he has a lot of versatility. -- Farrell

Kelly does an excellent job of dropping back in coverage and making plays -- interceptions or pass deflections - because of his length, athleticism and instincts. That's not his only strength. He can also line up and blitz, either going after the quarterback or tracking down running backs trying to get to the edge. His length is outstanding and even though he's probably not as athletic, a comparison to five-star John Houston makes some sense. -- Gorney

13 LB
Keion Joyner
Havelock, NC - Havelock
Joyner is at his best moving forward and he's extremely disruptive in both the pass and run game. He gets skinny when he needs to, take on blocks and disengages well and always seems to read the play properly. He's an extremely physical linebacker who squares up well and uses his length to his advantage to make plays other linebackers couldn't make. Once he learns to drop a bit more, he will be the complete package and his frame is perfect for filling out. -- Farrell

Joyner has amazing film. He runs like a deer and hits like a ton of bricks, but he can also read and react very quickly. Joyner still has a lot of room to pack muscle onto his lean frame. With his natural abilities, that will be a scary sight. -- Friedman

14 CB
Levonta Taylor
Virginia Beach, VA - Ocean Lakes
Taylor is an aggressive, physical corner with excellent hips, elite closing speed and impressive instincts. In run support, he targets accurately and is a sure tackler and in coverage he reads routes well, changes direction quickly and never loses site of his opponent. Taylor gets his head around with the ball in the air often, has a knack for tipping the ball away at the last moment and has the confidence to be left on an island. He plays bigger than his size and does a great job getting opponents off their game. -- Farrell

Taylor has that 'it' factor where the ball just seems to find him. He is extremely fast, has good footwork and plays much bigger than he is. Taylor also has the anticipation and the vision to be able to trick quarterbacks into bad passes. -- Friedman

15 DE
Rahshaun Smith
Baltimore, MD - St. Frances
Smith has the ability to play both standup linebacker and down defensive end at the next level as he comes off the edge quickly, dips his shoulder well and has impressive balance and agility. He's very patient and doesn't bite on misdirection. He does a great job of hustling downfield to make plays when the ball has passed him or the play is on the opposite side. Smith is also very good at disengaging at the right time to make a play, especially against the run. -- Farrell

Smith has been on the scene for a long time now and everyone that has seen him knows how much potential he has. He is a dynamic defensive end that can be a deadly pass rusher, but he also has the ability to drop into pass coverage. Expect to see Smith be used in a variety of different ways at the college level. -- Friedman

16 DE
Breland Brandt
Los Angeles, CA - Windward
Brandt is a superior athlete who could play linebacker, defensive end or even tight end in college if he wanted to. He's a physical force on defense, especially against the run, and he has exceptional closing speed in space. He, like Kelly and Smith, could be a hybrid defensive player who gets after the passing in long yardage situations but stands up as a strongside linebacker or outside edge rusher on first and second down. He's versatile, extremely agile and has a good frame to add weight. -- Farrell

Brandt is a jack of all trades on both sides of the ball. He can line up at defensive end and shut down his side of the field, move to outside linebacker or even play some safety because of his athleticism. At tight end, he has good hands and he's fast so it's difficult to track him down. I like him most on defense, whether it's at DE or OLB long term is still undecided but he's such a phenomenal athlete that he makes an impact all the time. -- Gorney

Complete rankings for the class of 2016
Rivals250: A deeper look at the class
VIDEO: Rivals250 LBs bringing the heat
Top prospects outside the Rivals250
VIDEO: Farrell details a few players that could eventually make the Rivals250
Complete ranks by position for 2016
Position Rankings: Headliners and players to watch
PHOTOS: Top player at each position
Early Top 10 for 2016
PHOTOS: Top 10 recruiting classes

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