An Intriguing Beginning to the Class of 2015 Rankings

I wrote this article just before George Campbell decommitted. Fitting.

All of the major scouting services have released initial or preliminary rankings for the current junior high school football class. There are plenty of interesting rankings to break down.

College football fans across the country anticipate football prospect rankings without fail every single cycle. The anticipation was no different this year, but one thing is: No one seems to agree on who the top player in the class is. Rivals.com released its initial rankings for the junior high school class this past week, giving us four sets of rankings to compare and contrast.

In the class of 2014, Da'Shawn Hand seemed to have a tight grip on the top overall spot early on in the process, only to see that grip loosen as time wore on; he's now the fourth player in 247 Sports' Composite rankings. Although Hand won't end up being a consensus top overall player like Jadeveon Clowney was, he was still part of an elite group -- Leonard Fournette, Jabrill Peppers and Cameron Robinson included -- that all hovered around the top of every set of major prospect rankings.

Things are a bit different this year. Rivals has Georgia defensive tackle Trenton Thompson atop its initial rankings; Thompson sits 5th on ESPN, 10th on Scout and 9th 247 Sports. Hawaii defensive end prospect Canton Kaumatule is atop 247 Sports' rankings; Canton is 49th per ESPN, 21st per Scout and not in Rivals' top 100 rankings at all. Scout has dubbed Virginia defensive tackle Tim Settle its top overall player; Settle is 52nd on Rivals, 10th on 247 Sports and 6th on ESPN. The Worldwide Leader In Sports -- the normal outlier of the four scouting services -- has Minnesota defensive end Jashon Cornell atop their junior 150; Cornell is 19th on 247 Sports, 39th on Scout and 74th overall per Rivals.

It's clear that defensive lineman are at a premium in this day and age, and it's also clear that no one wants to agree on who that top defensive lineman is. Do these scouting services value specific attributes differently, or are they just trying to separate themselves from the pack? The answer is probably the former, because the scouting services haven't been afraid to agree on top overall prospects in the past. There simply isn't a leading group of candidates for the top spot in this year's class -- yet. With no one player separating himself from the rest, it's hard to expect the services to be in agreement.

I fully expect the four services' rankings to merge down the line. All four of the top overall players listed above will get chances to play against elite competition at scouting camps, recruiting camps at universities, and All-American games, which will lead to the four websites trending toward ranking players more similarly than they originally did. Players who aren't in the top of of the original rankings will bust out and jump up in all four services, while others will suffer the opposite fate. Simply put, prospect exposure tends to bring rankings closer together.

Michigan Commitments and Targets in the Rankings

Interestingly enough, Michigan had top-ranked wide receiver George Campbell in its class until yesterday -- a player who will compete for the top overall spot in his class. Losing Campbell hurt, but the Wolverines still have five-star running back Damien Harris on board. And the intrigue doesn't stop there. Let's take a look at the position of each of Michigan's commitments, along with some of its top targets.

Commitments

CB Shaun Crawford - A four-star across the board, Crawford will remain one of the nation's top 200 prospects in the class until the cycle ends. His diminutive stature aside, Shaun is an elite athlete who also brings great football instincts to Michigan's class of 2015. Larger players with his explosiveness and instincts usually have five stars next to their names.

K/P Andrew David - David is a kicker and therefore won't ever reach four-star status. He's one of the more consistent kicker prospects in the country, but ratings can almost always be tossed aside at this position.

RB Damien Harris - With George Campbell off the board, it's up to Damien Harris to give Michigan its five-star prospect. Currently ranked as a five-star player in 247 Sports' Composite rankings, I expect Harris to fall slightly in the rankings before all is said and done. Every class sees one or two running backs get major bumps in the rankings, often into five-star status, but Harris is already hanging around the top 30 players in the country. I don't think he falls further than 50, but I don't see him ending as a consensus five-star.

S Tyree Kinnel - Kinnel is your prototypical borderline four-star defensive back, and he'll remain that until the end of the cycle. He has solid football instincts but lacks elite explosion and size, making him a three- to four-star player for the rest of his days.

OL Jon Runyan Jr. - Runyan looks like a lock to be a three-star player until graduation. He doesn't have elite size, standing at 6'4" and only weighing around 255 pounds, and offensive lineman that size rarely breach the top 250 players in the country. A growth spurt could change all of this, of course.

Targets

Enough information on the class of 2015 has come out to put a general board together. Many of these prospects will naturally outrank others; here's a breakdown of where many of Michigan's top prospects should fall in the rankings.

Nation's elite: QB Josh Rosen, WR George Campbell, DT Tim Settle, DE Jashon Cornell, ILB Justin Hilliard, CB iman Marshall, CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB Jordan Whitehead.

Four-star locks: RB Jacques Patrick, RB Mike Weber, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, Tyrone Wheatley Jr., OL Sterling Jenkins, OL Matt Burrell, DE Joshua Alabi, DE Keisean Lucier-South, OLB Osa Masina, CB John Reid, ATH Brian Cole.

Borderline four-stars: QB David Sills, QB Alex Malzone, RB Andrew Dowell, WR David Dowell, WR Irvin Charles, TE C.J. Conrad.

Three-star locks: DT Anthony Rush.

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Early on, it looks like Michigan is once again in good position with many of the best players in the class of 2015. That said, don't expect Michigan to meet its previous two classes in the class of 2015. Most of the players on this list are leaning toward other schools or have a plethora of elite schools alongside Michigan. The Wolverines were ahead of the curve in 2012 and 2013, but they've got work to do in this class. Hoke and his staff absolutely need a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to erase some doubt and build recruiting momentum heading into the spring and beyond.

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