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January 21, 2013

Rivals100: Nkemdiche keeps the top spot


MORE RIVALS100: Meet the new five-stars | The List

This time around, the discussion was significantly shorter.

It was fun while it lasted. The doubt; The questions; The speculation. The question was, "Should Robert Nkemdiche hold on to become the wire-to-wire No. 1 player in the country?"

The answer, of course, is yes.

And it wasn't as close as expected. After a lengthy conversation about knocking the 260-pound defensive end from the top spot during the penultimate rankings meetings, things were much easier during the final conversation.

Then, a dominant performance in a top-level all-star game can have that kind of effect. Nkemdiche might as have cued up a Bart Scott-like speech after it was over.

"After he didn't put up the type of numbers we expected during the regular season, I think we were all prepared to drop Nkemdiche from the No. 1 spot if he didn't turn in a great week at Under Armour," said Rivals.com Southeast recruiting analyst Woody Womack. "But from the first rep of the first practice it was clear that he was the best player on the field. Physically he's just at a different level in terms of size, and the speed and explosiveness that he has off the line to go with it made him a nightmare matchup for offensive linemen all week."

And so it was decided. The Under Armour All-American Game placed Nkemdiche side by side with the man seen as the top threat to unseat him, fellow defensive end Carl Lawson. Lawson, the No. 4 player in America, was mostly as advertised.

Problem was, so was Nkemdiche. The king has his crown for a reason.

"Nkemdiche is going to be a massive end who can also play inside and I like that he could play in a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense equally," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "I think he'll be a Jared Allen type, a huge end who has a great motor and gets amped up more when the game is on the line. He'll be a guy you need to chip with a tight end or a running back very, very often."

[ MORE: Chat Replay: Rivals.com analysts answer your questions ]

As for the other men who once looked prime to take a swipe at the No. 1 spot, they fell short.

Even if Nkemdiche's All-Star performance was less than stellar, it's unlikely that anyone would have toppled him.

Quarterback Max Browne (No. 7 in the final rankings) showed up at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and looked solid in practices. He was also solid during limited action in the game itself. He led his team's only scoring drive and connected on a solid fade route in the end zone. "Solid" was never going to be enough, though.

Everyone was in search of "dominant," and Nkemdiche is the only player who found it.

"Browne showed great consistency and proved to be the best quarterback in the class but he did not spectacular during the Army week to prove he should jump to No. 1," Rivals.com West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney said. "Browne was Browne -- consistent, intelligent, a great leader -- but he wasn't dynamic enough in practice."

Running the gamut as No. 1 isn't especially rare. Vince Young, Terrelle Pryor, Jadeveon Clowney and plenty of others have pulled it off in the past.

That's why you won't find much hyperbole when it comes to discussing Nkemdiche's reign. This wasn't an all-time great destroying the pack gathered behind him. His is a simple case of a player being better than the competition in his class.

Not historical. Just clearly accurate. And that's plenty good enough.

"When we saw Nkemdiche and Lawson at Under Armour it was still clear we had the right guy at No. 1," Farrell said.



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