The questions, opinions – and half-truths – are abundant. Game film and highlights sometimes tell only part of the story. How does the prospect perform in practice? Is he a player that is motivated to get better, or is he relying on natural ability?
The only way to sort fact from fiction is to hit the road and see the prospects in person. One player in particular impressed us in our latest round of scouting trips.
We believe North Charleston (S.C.) Fort Dorchester defensive end Carlos Dunlap is good enough to be considered among the nation's elite. Dunlap makes his debut in the Rivals100 at No. 7 nationally and is the No. 1 overall prospect in the state of South Carolina.
Dunlap's excellent frame, strength (he has maxed out at 370 pounds on the bench press) quick hands, good change of direction and big-time speed were evident when we visited him last week. Those qualities give him the potential to develop not only into a dominant defensive lineman at the collegiate level, but also potentially in the National Football League.
While Dunlap's jump in the rankings is significant, we made a point to acknowledge his huge upside in our previous Rivals250. Dunlap appears to have gained a significant amount of "good weight" (muscle) since an in-person scouting trip to his school last March. He looks much larger now than he did during the previous times he had been scouted.
We feel so strongly that he is going to reach his amazing potential that we're putting him in our top 10. We think he belongs.
Our confidence comes in part from his past performances. As a junior against rival Summerville High, Dunlap held 2008 prospect A.J. Green to two catches. This year, a special teams highlight marked Dunlap's outing against Summerville. He returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
We witnessed Dunlap tip nearly a half-dozen passes in a regular season-ending victory against Beaufort (S.C.) Battery Creek last Friday night.
Dunlap could end up being dominant as a "seven" or "five" technique defensive end. However, with a frame that could carry up to 300 pounds without losing much speed or athleticism, he could play a "three" technique on the interior of the defensive line. College programs always are looking to bring in prospects that can potentially fill needs at multiple positions, so it's this kind of versatility that makes his value skyrocket.
Many times, taller, athletic prospects with the gifts Dunlap has don't play the game tough. They don't play physical and they don't hit hard – not Dunlap. He thrives on contact and has a knack for making big hits. He also doesn't give up, using his speed to frequently run down ballcarriers from behind.
On the recruiting front, Dunlap was entertaining coaches from Auburn at his school last Friday. The Tigers, along with Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and Clemson remain in the hunt for his services.
Three forthcoming events will give Dunlap the chance to further showcase his skills. First, Fort Dorchester will participate in the South Carolina Class 4A "Big 16" playoffs. Then, Dunlap will participate in the South Carolina North-South All-Star Game on Dec. 8 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Dunlap also has accepted an invitation to the inaugural offense-defense All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In addition to Dunlap, several other players made big moves up and down the Rivals100.
Cincinnati (Ohio) Colerain safety Eugene Clifford impressed in person, but didn't rank as high as fellow Cincinnati prospect and strongside defensive end Ben Martin.
Another prospect who moved down a few spots was Norcross (Ga.) Greater Atlanta Christian running back Caleb King. After taking a second look at him in person, King has put on weight – which will make him more ready for the next level. However, the added bulk has caused him to lose some of his quickness. He has also moved down a classification after transferring from Parkview to Greater Atlanta Christian, but hasn't been as productive despite the switch.
After comparing him to other prospects in South Carolina and across the country, cornerback Gary Gray moved out of the top 25. Several other defensive backs projected higher.
After a second look at five-star prospect Curtis Brown, it's obvious that he brings something special to the table. He should have no problem being a standout corner at the next level. The ability Brown has displayed to excel at that position has him ranked as a cornerback prospect rather than an athlete.
Muskegon, Mich., five-star cornerback Ronald Johnson may have been considered a possible defensive player at the next level. After further evaluation, his abilities may be better utilized on offense – at the wide receiver spot. Johnson made a big jump up in the rankings after showing he has overcome a serious injury as a junior. He is now in our top 10, and he'll be ranked as a wide receiver.