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2013 Recruiting: A Look at the Rivals Positional Rankings - Defense

Last week I went through the first Rivals positional rankings for the offensive side of the ball, and made notes on some players of interest that showed up on the various lists. Now, much later than I meant to, I'll do the same for the defensive players and "athletes".

Defensive Tackles:
1. Montravious Adams (Dooly County - Vienna, Georgia)
3. Isaiah Golden (Carthage, Texas) - committed to Texas A&M
4. A'Shawn Robinson (Arlington Heights - Fort Worth, Texas) - committed to Texas
9. Justin Manning (Kimball - Dallas, Texas)
12. Kerrick Huggins (Skyline - Dallas, Texas) - committed to Texas A&M
13. Christopher Robinson (Woodlawn - Shreveport, Louisiana) - committed to Mississippi

* Many observers, myself and Wescott included, were surprised to see Justin Manning ranked behind not only Isaiah Golden, but also A'Shawn Robinson among defensive tackles. Robinson's future is widely believed to be on the offensive line anyway, but judging by the available film of his snaps on defense, he does not appear to be on Manning's level. For that matter, I think Darius James (who has never been talked about as a defensive player for Texas) looked more impressive on defense in his junior highlights than Robinson did in his. However, Robinson competed as a defensive tackle at last month's Nike Football Training Camp in Dallas and reports of his performance were quite glowing, so depending on how the staff allocates the remaining offers to future trench warriors, Robinson could find himself playing on defense after all. (See: Wescott's recap of the Dallas Nike Camp.)

* Manning, as most readers of this site know by now, is the younger brother of Oklahoma defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, who Rivals ranked as the best DT in the 2005 class.

* Isaiah Golden at #3 and Manning at #9 is a bit questionable. Golden is the more versatile defensive line prospect and looks like he'd be equally at home playing tackle in the 4-3 or end in a 3-4 scheme, which might have lead to him being rated higher than he would be if only measured against pure 4-3 defensive tackles, but I think Manning is clearly a quicker player and better gap penetrator, and though his school plays in one of the weakest 4A districts in the Metroplex, he faced better opposition than the class 2A lines Golden dominated in his last two seasons.

* Golden attended class 2A Elysian Fields, but has since transferred to Class 3A powerhouse Carthage, state champions in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Carthage finished 9-4 in 2011, but their four losses were against teams that finished with a combined record of 52-5 (strength of schedule, baby!) Carthage lost three games by a combined five points to: Gilmer (whose only loss of the season came in the 4th round of the playoffs), eventual 3A Division I state champion Tyler Chapel Hill, and eventual 3A Division II state runner-up Argyle in a one-point playoff defeat that ended Carthage's season. So Golden will spend his senior season playing for a much better team and against far better competition than what he has been used to. We'll see what that does for his ranking and reputation.

* No defensive tackles have been awarded five stars at this time, while 18 have received four star grades. The number of four-star DTs in each class from 2009 to 2012 was: 33, 30, 29, and 22.

* Rivals has graded eight Texas defensive tackles, with the top four getting four stars and being part of the rankings at their position. After the top four, the Rivals ratings drop two tenths of a point from Kerrick Huggins's 5.8 to the 5.6 shared by the four Texas tackles currently graded at three stars.

* Waco's Andrew Billings is my favorite among the in-state three-star tackles. I wrote about him in a Fan Post in February, back when he had offers from TCU, UNT, and UT-San Antonio. He has since added Baylor, Minnesota, SMU, Texas Tech, and Tulsa to his offer list, and Texas A&M has invited him for a campus visit as well. Billings recently won the championship for the super heavyweight (276+ lbs.) class at the Division I State Powerlifting meet, recording a bench press of 470 lbs. and a squat of 700 lbs. Finishing 2nd in the same weight class was Waco University's Ben Hughes, another three-star defensive tackle who has offers from Kansas and Tulsa. If Texas loses out on Justin Manning, will they target another offensive lineman so they can play A'Shawn Robinson on defense, hold out hope that erstwhile 2011 signee Quincy Russell will keep his grades up at Trinity Valley Community College so he can enroll in January, or might the staff take a look at one of the lesser-regarded in-state DTs? It seems unlikely to happen, but I'd love to see Billings in burnt orange because he and Desmond Jackson would not only stage the most epic arm-wrestling matches since Over The Top, they would form the best (or at least the strongest) 6'1" and under DT duo to take the field for Texas since Casey Hampton and his shadow. (See: Billings' 2011 highlights.)

* Christopher Robinson (#13 DT) was a high school teammate of 2012 signee Torshiro Davis. He named Texas as his top school in February and was invited to UT's 2nd Junior Day but was unable to attend. He committed to Ole Miss on Thursday.

Weakside Defensive Ends:
1. Robert Nkemdiche (Grayson - Loganville, Georgia)
3. D.J. Ward (Lawton, Oklahoma)
11. Torrodney Prevot (Alief Taylor - Houston, Texas)
13. Daeshon Hall (Lancaster, Texas) - committed to Texas

Strongside Defensive Ends:
1. Kenny Bigelow (Eastern Christian Academy - Elkton, Maryland) - committed to USC
18. Vincent Taylor (Madison - San Antonio, Texas)
25. Christian Lacouture (A&M Consolidated - College Station, Texas)
29. Matt Dimon (Katy, Texas) - committed to Oklahoma

* Torrodney Prevot and his junior film have lit the recruiting scene up since February. His Rivals page lists his weight at 220 but he has weighed in closer to 205 at camps he has recently attended. Still, he dominated one-on-one drills at the Dallas Nike Camp and was named defensive line MVP at the event. Recently he was believed to be close to committing, but he has decided to extend his recruitment longer. Texas is still seen as being in a good position with him, while USC is another of his favorites and Oklahoma State is probably the top dark horse candidate with his sister attending there already.

* At one point D.J. Ward was believed to be UT's top target at defensive end and potentially the 2013 version of Demarco Cobbs and Josh Turner (both top Oklahoma defensive players signed away from Bob Stoops), but then Daeshon Hall and Prevot came out of nowhere. Hall committed in February and Prevot hasn't but still may (see: previous paragraph), so it remains to be seen if the staff will still pursue Ward. He is listed by Rivals as a weakside DE but he might be a better fit for the strong side, where he is shown in the majority of his junior highlights anyway. He doesn't have an elite first step like Prevot but is good with his hands and defends the run well.

* Vincent Taylor being listed as a strongside DE could be a result of longstanding concerns about his ability to put on weight. He was listed in the 250 range for most of his sophomore and junior seasons, though he reportedly weighed in at 277 at the Dallas Nike camp. He's been a defensive tackle throughout his high school career and is very much keen on playing there in college. He has the requisite aggressiveness in attacking the line of scrimmage and pursuing ballcarriers, but he'll have to develop and maintain the requisite weight to play inside at the next level. He's a known Texas fan and has said he will commit if he gets an offer, but the staff will probably want to continue evaluating DT and DE options while monitoring Taylor's progress and seeing how he handles his weight during his senior season.

* Robert Nkemdiche (Rivals' #1 overall prospect in the class) and Kenny Bigelow are the only DEs to receive five stars so far. 9 others on the weak side and 21 others on the strong side have received four stars.

* Christian Lacouture committed to Texas A&M in January 2011 when the previous coaching staff was in place, but the staff turnover in the wake of Mike Sherman's firing and Kevin Sumlin's hiring resulted in Lacouture becoming the Aggies first de-commit for the class of 2013. Lacouture is uncommitted now, but could still end up in College Station if he likes the new staff and how the Aggies adapt to the SEC. Like Vincent Taylor, he's listed as a DE but could end up at DT by the time his career is over. He was another top performer among the linemen at the Dallas Nike Camp.

* Matt Dimon from Katy somehow flew almost completely under the radar despite playing for one of Texas's most successful high school programs of the past two decades. (How successful? Katy High has recorded at least one playoff win in 18 consecutive seasons, during which time the school has made 9 state championship game appearances, winning 5 times.) In March, Dimon became Oklahoma's 2nd commit for the 2013 class, joining Keith Ford. I really wish Texas had pursued him but he was probably a Sooner all the way. Right now he's graded at three stars, rated the 29th best strongside DE in the nation, and unranked in the LSR Top 100 for 2013. I'd be shocked if he wasn't a four star player and ranked in the top 50 in the state when his senior season is over. He's a beast in the pass rush, a fumble-forcing machine, and arguably the top strongside DE in the state.

* Under-the-radar strongside DE you'll be hearing more about: Mansfield Summit's Bryson Henderson. Listed as 6'4" and 245 lbs. and graded as a three-star player, Henderson plays inside at tackle for his team's defense but has a very quick first step and doesn't give up on plays. On his highlights he can be seen catching up to and finishing off a ballcarrier after a 15 or 20 yard run. Despite playing inside he finished the 2011 season with double-digit sacks. As a junior he was named Defensive MVP of district 7-4A, impressive considering that his district included class of 2012 defensive players that signed with Texas Tech, Missouri, SMU, Houston, UTEP, and Colorado State. TCU is the only school that has offered him and he is very high on the Horned Frogs but told a Dallas Morning News reporter that he plans to take his time before committing, leading TCU fans to openly speculate that Henderson was just waiting for a Texas offer. TCU may have to fight a number of other schools to get him after his senior season anyway.

Inside Linebackers:
1. Trey Johnson (Central Gwinnett - Lawrenceville, Georgia) - committed to Auburn
10. Brett Wade (Kennedale, Texas)
11. Nick Ramirez (Lee's Summit West - Lee's Summit, Missouri)
20. Jordan Mastrogiovanni (Jesuit - Dallas, Texas)

Outside Linebackers:
1. Reuben Foster (Troup - LaGrange, Georgia) - committed to Alabama
12. Paul Whitmill (Bastrop, Texas)
14. Deon Hollins, Jr. (Fort Bend Marshall - Missouri City, Texas) - committed to UCLA
15. Deoundrei Davis (Cypress Woods - Cypress, Texas) - committed to Texas
20. Mike Mitchell (Prestonwood Christian Academy - Plano, Texas)
30. Raaquan Davis (Rockwall-Heath - Rockwall, Texas)

* Reuben Foster is the only linebacker to receive five stars so far. 16 inside linebackers and 21 outside linebackers have received four stars.

* Brett Wade is a favorite of UT fans who have fantasies of a bone-crushing MLB trio of Steve Edmond, Dalton Santos, and Wade filling the depth chart for the Longhorns. With the presence of the former two and the increasing usage of 4-2-5 looks to combat Big 12 spread offenses, having a Brett Wade as your third MLB might be a luxury current scholarship numbers can't afford. How he plays in coverage isn't shown on his highlights, but he looks fast enough that he might be able to make the move outside.

* Four-star inside LB Nick Ramirez (ranked one spot behind Brett Wade) has reportely had "interest" from Texas, but that's all I've got on him. His name hasn't popped up much and whether he remains in contact with Texas coaches is anyone's guess. He's a good wrap-up tackler but doesn't obliterate ballcarriers the way Wade does, and he isn't as fast.

* I like three-star ILB Jordan Mastrogiovanni more than Ramirez, and college coaches apparently agree because he has many more offers than Ramirez and largely from more prestigious schools. MastroG (I can only type his entire last name so many times) is a high school teammate of Texas commit Jake Oliver and Texas A&M commit J.J. Gustafson, who he calls his best friend. Gustafson is predictably selling him on committing to A&M, and he has named them among his favorites, along with Notre Dame and LSU (whose staff thinks he could play LB or fullback for them).

* Does anyone else watch Deoundrei Davis and see a guy who could bulk up and play the buck position ala Sergio Kindle?

* In his highlights, Paul Whitmill can be seen breaking off some impressive carries while lining up at running back. Are we sure he's a linebacker and not a fullback? His height is variously listed as being between 5'11" and 6'1". On film he appears to be on the shorter end of that range. He has picked up at least 9 offers and a month ago he named a top 3 of Mississippi, Baylor, and Houston. His father played at Houston and he has siblings who live in the city.

* I haven't been able to find junior highlights for Prestonwood Christian Academy's Mike Mitchell (a high school teammate of offered-by-everyone-except-Texas TE/DE Christian Morgan), but he has been impressive enough at camps that he got an invitation to The Opening and has offers from all over. He could be worth pursuing just to help the basketball team's chances of landing Julius Randle, or Mitchell's younger brother Mickey Mitchell, a stud freshman on the hardwood this season for Prestonwood Christian.

* He needs to add weight and quite a bit of it but three-star OLB Raaquan Davis is an impressive player. Rockwall-Heath's defense will be strong on the edges with Davis at OLB and three-star DEs Jay Arnold and Jordan Points (who sometimes lines up at tackle) on the line.

* Not ranked at this time is Texas commit Naashon Hughes, listed by Rivals as an outside linebacker. The OLB rankings include 35 players, and his Rivals rating of 5.6 puts him just outside of that group, but he'll be included as the rankings expand, as the OLB rankings will number 70 or so players by the end of the season.

* If you look at the hometowns of the top-ranked players, you'll notice that the state of Georgia is absolutely loaded with top prospects in 2013. The state is home to the current #1 prospects at defensive tackle, weakside defensive end, inside linebacker, and outside linebacker. Has there ever been a year where you would have taken the top five defensive players in Georgia in a heartbeat over the top five in Texas?

1. Kendall Fuller (Our Lady of Good Counsel - Olney, Maryland)
14. Antwuan Davis (Bastrop, Texas)
16. Stanvon Taylor (East Central - Tulsa, Oklahoma)
17. Cole Luke (Hamilton - Chandler, Arizona)
20. Maurice Smith (Dulles - Sugar Land, Texas)

1. Su'a Cravens (Vista Murrieta - Murrieta, California)
5. Marcell Harris (Dr. Phillips - Orlando, Florida)
10. Kameron Miles (West Mesquite - Mesquite, Texas)
19. Vonn Bell (Ridgeland - Rossville, Georgia)
24. George Baltimore (Mansfield, Texas)
26. Victor Davis (Terry - Rosenberg, Texas) - committed to Texas A&M

1. Derrick Henry (Yulee, Florida) - committed to Georgia
8. Laquvionte Gonzales (Cedar Hill, Texas) - committed to Texas A&M
24. Kyle Hicks (Martin - Arlington, Texas) - committed to Texas
33. Ty Slanina (East Bernard, Texas)

* 18 cornerbacks have received four stars at this time. Each of the last three recruiting classes had either 24 or 25 four-star CBs. 22 safeties have received four stars, which is already 6 more than did in the 2012 class. The secondary positions may be the hardest to rank because so many players who end up in the secondary in college will play other positions in high school, most often the offensive skill positions. Thus, for a lot of high school players whose future is believed to be at corner or safety, there will be little or no film of them lining up at those spots (see: Mykkele Thompson, Kendall Sanders, Duke Thomas, etc.) You'll find a lot of future corners and safeties in the "athletes" group.

* CB Cole Luke attended Texas's Spring Game over the weekend and surprisingly left without an offer. He was widely reported as being Duane Akina's top target at the position and he was thought to be a shoo-in to receive an offer during his visit. Then within two days, the staff offered Antwuan Davis and Maurice Smith, the top two in-state corners for 2013, who were both believed to be lower on the DB board than Luke. (Barking Carnival posted a good analysis of Antwuan Davis and Maurice Smith after news of their offers came out.) Luke looks like a real playmaker in the secondary, and anytime he gets his hands on a pass he's a threat to return it for a touchdown. I like Luke and Davis better than Smith.

* Su'a Cravens is the consensus top safety in this class. He has mentioned having interest in Texas, but most think he'll end up at USC, which makes him this year's version of what's becoming Texas's annual stud OOS athlete/DB pipe dream target (see: Agholor, Nelson). He's ranked as the #5 player overall in the class by Rivals, and though he's ranked as the top safety - and the only one with five stars - he looks like a player who would also be a very good prospect at running back or linebacker.

* Marcell Harris has been a favorite of UT fans and coaches for a while now. His father played at Florida but spoke very highly of the Texas program and its coaches and facilities when the family visited last year. Despite being on the radar for quite some time, not much has been said about Harris in recent weeks. Rivals's Southeast recruiting analyst Chris Nee said in a chat on Wednesday that Harris "is very high on Texas, Florida, and Florida State" and wants to visit Ohio State and others in the coming months. Also look for his high school teammate Matt Milano, currently a three-star safety, to show up on the rankings for their position at some point. Milano is a very physical player and looks like he'd be a great fit at safety for a team that runs a base 4-2-5 look. (See: Milano's junior highlights.)

* In his highlights, Vonn Bell can frequently be seen opportunistically pouncing on fumbles or intercepting overthrown and/or tipped passes and returning them the other way. He'll almost surely be ranked higher than he is now when the positional rankings are updated. 247 Sports ranks him as 2013's #16 overall prospect, and ahead of every safety not named Su'a Cravens. Of the DBs Texas has offered I like Harris best as a player, but Bell has the most imposing frame. Am I the only one who thinks he could actually play linebacker down the road?

* Kyle Hicks being rated an athlete is a little surprising; I would have expected him to show up with either the running backs or all-purpose backs. He played defense as a sophomore, but does anyone think he'll play anywhere other than running back in college? His Rivals rating would put him behind Keith Ford and outside of the top 13 running backs if he had been ranked with that group. Look for him to move up the rankings in the months to come.

* Three cornerbacks have received five stars. Kendall Fuller is the top corner and #4 player overall on the Rivals 100. His team might boast the best high school secondary in the country. Along with Fuller, the Our Lady of Good Counsel defensive back corps includes three-star Kirk Garner (#21 CB, ranked one spot behind Maurice Smith), who has around 20 offers, and unranked safety C.J. Jones, who has been offered by Virginia. In all, Fuller has five teammates who currently have three or four star grades from Rivals.

For anyone who managed to wade all the way to the end on this thing, I promise I'll post something one of these days that runs less than 3,000 words.