In the 17 years ESPN has ranked college football recruits, our update for the Class of 2023 may be the most scrutinized iteration.
There were many opportunities over the spring and summer to evaluate the 2023 recruiting class from college and select camps in May and June. Most recently, we spent two days in July scouting some of the most talented prospects at Under Armour’s Future 50 event.
This release features 18 new ESPN 300 entries and three players who ascended to five-star status. But perhaps the most notable change is the reshuffling of the quarterback position: Arch Manning, the nephew of Peyton and Eli who recently committed to Texas, is no longer the No. 1 overall prospect.
Strongest quarterback class ever?
Going back to the first ESPN Junior 300 rankings for the 2023 class around a year ago, the focus revolved around a quarterback from Louisiana with the last name Manning — and rightfully so. As always, player evaluation is fluid and subjective. So while prospects like Dante Moore and Malachi Nelson also emerged early, others like JJ Kohl, Marcel Reed and even Jackson Arnold flew under the radar.
Fast forward to this summer, and this quarterback class has developed into one of the deepest and most talented groups we have seen in years.
As a result of televised high school broadcasts during Manning’s underclassman years, it was relatively clear to settle in on him as the No. 1 overall player and quarterback in the cycle. But after two more seasons, it became apparent that while Manning is extremely talented, he is not undoubtedly head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.
We have always been cautious with high quarterback rankings. After all, many don’t pan out. In fact, there are several quarterbacks who are legitimate candidates for the No. 1 QB in the class and a top five ranking. That said, Nelson, who followed Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma to USC, supplants Manning for the top overall spot in the ESPN 300 entering their senior high school seasons.
With Nelson, we have seen a larger sample size (you can find previous scouting reports of ours here and here), and the 6-foot-3, 185-pound quarterback has faced a higher level of competition for Los Alamitos High School (California ). He has also developed physically, which has lead to more arm velocity. In our multiple in-person evaluations this spring and summer, our biggest observation from Nelson has been the growth beyond physical maturity as we see a more seasoned leader. His abilities in game, as well as his performances at camps and combines, make us confident he is now the No. 1 quarterback in the class. (Manning is still No. 2.)
Nelson and Manning are the first quarterbacks to occupy the Nos. 1 and 2 overall rankings since 2018, when Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence were the top two prospects. Safe to say, they panned out pretty well.
But the two seniors are not the only signal callers to move up. Take Eli Holstein, for example. He played sparingly until his junior season, and after prioritizing his size, strength and playmaking abilities over the past couple of months, the Alabama commit moves from No. 59 to No. 13 in the ESPN 300.
Oregon commits Dante Moore, who has had three seasons as a varsity starter and a very strong sample size, remains in the top 10, going from No. 8 overall to No. 3. Oklahoma commit Jackson Arnold may have shown the most competitive temperament of any quarterback in this class, demonstrating the intangibles and swagger (as well as the on-field abilities) to move from No. 39 to No. 15
A second Alabama commit in Dylan Lonergan (No. 62 to No. 23) and Miami commit Jaden Rashada (No. 22 to No. 25) round out the top 25 overall. Tennessee commit Nicholaus Iamaleava dropped from No. 13 overall to No. 27 but still possesses a lot of talent. Clemson commits Christopher Vizzina jumps from No. 79 to No. 40. JJ Kohl, an Iowa State commit, and Ole Miss commit Marcel Reed enter the ESPN 300 for the first time this cycle at Nos. 172 and 176, respectively. Austin Novosad, a Baylor commit, went from a three-star rating to four stars, though he just missed out on the top 300 overall.
OT Samson Okunlola
Previous ESPN 300 ranking: 34 (four stars)
New ESPN 300 ranking: 12 (five stars)
Miami commit Francis Mauigoa and Iowa commit Kadyn Proctor established themselves early as five-star tackle prospects, but there is a new and very deserving big man in that group. Okunlola, also a talented wrestler, has continually shown improvement and desire to maximize his ability. Since fall 2020, he has shed roughly 20 pounds. Not only did he secure MVP honors at the New Jersey Underclassman camp, but he also was consistently the first guy in line for drills and embraced any opportunity to compete. That hard-working mindset, with his blend of size (6-5, 300), strength, flexibility and body quickness, equates to the makings of an elite Power 5 offensive lineman. Thus far, Okunlola has taken official visits to Alabama, Miami and Michigan State.
WR Zachariah Branch
Previous ESPN 300 ranking: 12 (four stars)
New ESPN 300 ranking: 6 (five stars)
Committed to: USC
Pound for pound, there may not be a more electric playmaker in this class. Branch lacks some of the desired size (5-10, 172 pounds) that his older brother, Zion Branch (6-2, 198), a 2022 USC safety signee, possessed, but beyond that, Zachariah is a big play waiting to happen . One of the fastest players in this class, he has run sub-10.5 100-meter times and 4.4 40-yard dashes. He also has outstanding quickness and body control to separate from defenders. He has the tools and the competitive nature to quickly become a difference maker for the Trojans’ offense.
EN Adepoju Adebawore
Previous ESPN 300 ranking: 275 (four stars)
New ESPN 300 ranking: 74 (four stars)
Committed to: Oklahoma
A lengthy edge defender with an 84-inch wingspan, Adebawore is a versatile defensive presence. With a 6-4, 210-pound frame to further develop and support more good mass, he possesses a unique blend of quickness and agility, notching a 7.35 three-cone drill this spring on the camp circuit. The Sooners picked up a player who can be a disruptive pass-rusher and a factor in pursuit, as well as in coverage. He is reminiscent of former Oklahoma defender Nik Bonitto with even more length and upside.
RB Dylan Edwards
New ESPN 300 ranking: 234 (four stars)
Committed to: Kansas State
Want to see the two fastest football players in the country square off? 👀
40-yard times from Future50
🔥 Dylan Edwards – 4.39
🔥 Zachariah Branch – 4.40
— The Underclassman Report (@TheUCReport) July 22, 2022
While diminutive in stature (5-8, 155), Edwards does not lack big-play potential and has proven himself worthy of a bump into the ESPN 300. A runner with good vision, excellent lateral quickness and elite top-end speed, Edwards can rip off yards in a hurry when he gets just the slightest crease. He recently created buzz by winning the fastest man competition at the Under Armor Future 50 event, knocking off fellow speedster Branch and notching a 4.39 40. A Kansas State commit, he has also demonstrated good ball skills. The Wildcats can utilize him as a target out of the backfield to get into space.
OG Iapani Laloulu
New ESPN 300 ranking: 292 (four stars)
After one of the most dominant performances during this year’s camp series, Laloulu made the jump from four-star into the ESPN 300. He’s a powerful, wide body who he needs to watch his weight (6-2, 350), but he still has good quickness and balance. When Laloulu is locked on defenders, he does his most damage, as he possesses outstanding strength and plays with an aggressive demeanor in finishing opponents. Still uncommitted and with no announcement expected soon, the leading suitors appear to be Arizona, Oregon and Miami.