The class of the 2023 SI99 Preseason Football Recruit Rankings was released Tuesday, led by quarterback Dante Moore.
The way from the blank slate to the complete ranking is not small sports illustrated Employees, so this feature pulls back the curtain on how some of the processes have come together. Recruits by the numbers, trends and tight calls pollute the discussion about the nation’s best every cycle, and this one is no different.
The great QB debate
The initial questions leading to the release of SI99 concerned the pecking order of passers-by, even after Monday’s story that Dante Moore was the top overall candidate (and QB1 by default). Most have referred to the 2023 cycle as a variation on the “Year of the Quarterback,” to the point where we were prepared for the hairsplitting of making the final call for Moore over Nico Iamaleava, Jaden Rashada, Malachi Nelson, and Arch Manning , among other things.
Earlier this summer, we broke down those five as QB prospects appear to have split from the rest in the race. The position has a lot of depth considering 11 made the SI99 quarterback. We went category by category and at this point Iamaleava and Manning seemed like the best bets. The Tennessee obligation is the prospect with the highest ceiling, and the future Longhorn has the strongest floor in the division. But with more research over the last two months – from reviewing more videos, sourcing, and of course the Elite 11 Finals at the end of the month – things started to change.
Moore forced his hand for the remainder of the offseason and captured SI’s MVP honor at the Elite 11 to crown it, reminding the country of his consistency, skill and performance in any quarterback environment. Just last week, Moore’s own head coach admitted he’d seen more of his QB than he had in the past three years as he went through some of the situations Elite 11 staff went through. Combine that with his 2021 state title run, which also came with some banging production (3,000 yards, 40 TDs, three INTs), and his run over the last year was simply better than his peers.
The fun part is that we’ll be starting the process all over again later this fall, since many of these top passers — all ranked in the top 10 nationally — are working as seniors. Manning will work on a more open offense, Iamaleava made two rotations between his junior and senior seasons, and both Rashada and Nelson are working with a new variance among pass catchers around them. Moore is now working with a theoretical target on his back to avoid becoming the first preseason SI99 No. 1 who fails to hold the top spot from wire to wire (Bryce Young in 2020, Caleb Williams ’21, Travis Hunter ’22).
As you can imagine, when it comes to breaking down the top classes to a certain point, the number of SI99 recruits that are directed to a program is large. The first ranking includes only 21 prospects who have yet to go public with verbal college acceptance, meaning 78 have already resigned from the board.
Notre Dame from the latter part of the country is traveling with eight SI99 recruits, including No. 1 talent on defense and No. 3 overall contender Keon Keeley. Alabama and Ohio are hot on their heels with seven pledges each. The Crimson Tide’s catch includes Caleb Downs, #1 safety, #2 running back Richard Young, and #1 Nickel Jahlil Hurley, among others. OSU’s group includes #1 wide receiver Brandon Inniss, one of four future Buckeyes in that position (Carnell Tate, Noah Rogers, Bryson Rodgers) in the rankings. Texas and Miami each sit with six dedicated SI99 recruits, including top 10 QBs Manning and Rashada.
Defending champion Georgia is next with five SI99s already on board, followed by LSU, Tennessee and USC with four. Clemson, Oregon and Oklahoma have three each, while defending recruiting champion Texas A&M, Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Penn State have two each. Baylor, Iowa, Iowa State, Louisville, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Pitt and Stanford round out the programs that come with a promise to make the cut.
The latest fisticuffs in the ongoing debate over which state is the best talent-producing state, in this example at least, is backtracking on the state of Florida. Even excluding the four prospective IMG Academy boarders who made it, the state is the most represented in SI99 with 20 natives listed. Texas is hot on their heels with 19 players on the list calling it home.
Alabama, with nine members who call Yellowhammer State home, is ahead of states better known for their talent production, like California, Georgia and Louisiana, each represented by seven players. Somewhat surprisingly, Massachusetts comes in at No. 7 in the theoretical “state ranking” with a trio of recruits including top offensive tackle projection in Samson Okunlola. Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, and Tennessee each have two natives in the ranking.
To round out the states represented, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, DC each had a state recruit making the cut. Overall, the SI99 includes prospects from 25 of the 50 states.
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As the sport of college football evolves, certain positions appear to continue to be elevated, usually around the passing game itself. The SI99 reflects this as well, with pass rushers and pass catchers (wide receivers) holding the most projections at 17 each. Quarterbacks occupy the third-most spots in the rankings, naming 11 future faces of a given program. Next up are offensive tackle and linebackers with nine each.
Defensive defenders, of course, rose in value in today’s game as well, with 15 listed on the SI99, including seven cornerbacks, five safety recruits and three at the nickel position. Unlike the rest of the industry, SI ranks on the nickel position and vice versa slot receivers (an average of five this year). Interior defensive linemen and running backs each had five tight end (four) and interior offensive line (two) selections, rounding out the 13 different positions in the rankings.
This or that
Compiling a leaderboard at any position is difficult enough, often as the process begins each cycle. But in the nature of true athletics in the varsity athletic landscape, multiple recruits may project at various positions depending on preference, program chosen, or even growth before ever arriving on their college campus.
Francis Mauigoa was a critical study for SI. The IMG Academy Miami commitment has experience across the offense before playing left tackle as a senior for the Ascenders. While we think he can be perfectly content with left tackle in college, his frame combined with right tackle or even guard upside could be second to none in class, hence the reputation as the top interior prospect in class.
Qua Russaw is another one where we went back and forth between edge and off-ball linebacker. Seeing him in person in late July, at 6’3″, 235 pounds, there’s little doubt he could exclusively push the passer to the next level, but his game has so much all-round potential. The Montgomery (Ala.) carver Standout could be an all-around backer in college, occasionally charging the passer a la a sporting and physical contest by former NFL first-rounder Rashaan Evans, Russaw opening as the No. 1 LB in class as a result.
Jahlil Hurley, holding it at Alabama State, could make a case for being a senior cornerback or safety and shift our minds to nickel due to versatility. The Alabama commitment already has experience in cornering, safety and a hybrid mix of both against stiff competition – with success everywhere. If you throw in his awesome length of 6ft 1in, he could be the next big underback in Tuscaloosa, so he gets the nod here as the No. 1 nickel in the class.
Other near position calls included Ronan Hanafin as we lean wide receivers over linebackers, Jason Moore (IDL via DE), Peter Woods (DE via IDL), Johntay Cook (WR via Slot), Nyckoles Harbor (DE via TE) and Roderick Kearney ( OT via IOL) etc
on the bubble
Likewise, in determining the final numbers and position predictions, there is inevitably a group of very good prospects that need to be eliminated from the SI99 rankings. In the last cycle, seven prospects outside of the first cut ended up changing our minds, putting the January ranking ahead of National Signing Day.
The first few candidates looking to try and increase the number in the 2023 cycle were spot on in the first leaderboard including (in no particular order) OT Zalance Heard, OT DJ Chester, IOL TJ Shanahan, TE Ty Lockwood, TE Jelani Thurman , CB Caleb Pressley, RB Jeremiyah Love, DE Tausili Akana, WR Jaquaize Pettway, IDL Hunter Osborne, DB King Mack, IDL Brenan Vernon, S Dalton Brooks, CB Dijon Johnson and RB Cole Cabana.
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