The NFL Network released its top 100 players of 2023 over the last couple weeks. Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney remembers them as recruits, starting today with the back end of the ranking. As we look at Nos. 81-100, we see our hits and misses along the way.
81. Christian Wilkins
A five-star prospect and the fourth-best defensive tackle in the 2015 class, Wilkins committed to Clemson over Penn State, Ohio State and many others. A two-time national champion who totaled 40.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks for the Tigers, Wilkins was the No. 13 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. He’s totaled 290 tackles and 11.5 sacks so far in the NFL.
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82. Tua Tagovailoa
Growing up, Tagovailoa wanted to go to Oregon and follow in Marcus Mariota’s footsteps and then USC emerged as the favorite but Alabama got involved even when Jake Fromm was still committed and after tons of coaching upheaval across the country, the Crimson Tide landed him. Ranked as the third-best dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 class, the Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis lefty was one notch below five-star status but has since outplayed even that lofty ranking. Tagovailoa was the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft and is the Miami Dolphins’ starting quarterback.
83. Terron Armstead
Armstead does not even have a Rivals profile as the Miami Dolphins offensive lineman played his college football at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He was all-SWAC his final three seasons and then ran a 4.71-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, the fastest time for an offensive lineman since the event began in 1982.
84. Za’Darius Smith
Unranked out of high school, Smith went to Scooba (Miss.) East Mississippi CC and balled out there picking Kentucky over Florida State, Miami, Mississippi State and many others en route to a four-star JUCO ranking. Smith had two standout seasons with the Wildcats where he totaled 119 tackles and 11 sacks before being a fourth-round NFL pick. He has 271 tackles and 54.5 sacks so far in his pro career.
85. Laremy Tunsil
The top-ranked offensive tackle and No. 14 overall prospect in the 2013 recruiting class, Tunsil had Alabama and Georgia highest on his radar for months but a final visit to Ole Miss and a great in-home sold the Lake City (Fla.) Columbia five-star on the Rebels and then-coach Hugh Freeze. He starred at Ole Miss until accusations of improper benefits sidelined him for seven games in his junior season. Still, Tunsil was projected as a possible No. 1 overall draft pick but minutes before the event started, a video leaked of him wearing a gas mask and smoking from a bong. Tunsil dropped to No. 13 overall but is still widely considered one of the best offensive tackles in the league.
86. Justin Fields
If Fields was in any other recruiting class, he would have been No. 1 overall but he just happened to be in the same 2018 group with Trevor Lawrence and we feel very comfortable with how that ranking worked out. An early Penn State commit, Fields flipped to Georgia in October of his senior year but it was not unexpected. After transferring to Ohio State, Fields was phenomenal and totaled 5,373 passing yards with 63 touchdowns and nine picks in two seasons. He was the No. 11 overall pick in 2021 and is the starter for the Chicago Bears.
87. Chris Lindstrom
A three-star prospect who weighed less than 240 pounds at Dudley (Mass.) Shepherd Hill Regional, Lindstrom committed to Boston College over Old Dominion (his only other offer). He continued to significantly develop physically in Chestnut Hill starting nearly every game in college before being picked No. 14 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. He checked in at 306 at the combine.
88. Aidan Hutchinson
A double legacy to Michigan since his mother went there and his father played on the defensive line for the Wolverines, the Dearborn (Mich.) Divine Child standout picked the Wolverines nearly a year before national signing day. A mid-level four-star who was ranked as the eighth-best strong-side defensive end in a class led by Clemson’s Xavier Thomas, Hutchinson’s college career was marred by the COVID pandemic but he had 14 sacks in an unstoppable 2021 campaign. He was the second overall pick in 2022 and finished with 9.5 sacks in his rookie season.
89. Marshon Lattimore
Alabama and Georgia Tech were also heavily involved in Lattimore’s recruitment but he announced at the Army All-American Bowl his commitment to Ohio State which wasn’t a surprise since he was at Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville but there seemed to be some unsteadiness heading into the decision. Rated as the seventh-best athlete in a 2014 class led by Adoree’ Jackson, Lattimore ended up as the No. 11 overall pick and then the NFL defensive rookie of the year for the New Orleans Saints. The former four-star has been a four-time Pro Bowler and has 327 tackles and 14 interceptions so far in his career.
90. DeAndre Hopkins
Clemson beat out Tennessee, South Carolina and Wisconsin for Hopkins, a low four-star receiver who was ranked No. 12 in the position rankings of the 2010 class. There have been five four-stars in Rivals history dating back to 2002 from Central (S.C.) D.W. Daniel and four of them picked the Tigers. In three seasons at Clemson, Hopkins had 206 catches for 3,020 yards and 27 touchdowns before being selected No. 27 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. In a career that’s spanned a decade, the former four-star is a five-time Pro Bowler and has totaled 853 catches for 11,298 yards and 71 TDs.
91. Dalvin Cook
Rated No. 14 overall and the second-best all-purpose back behind only fellow five-star Joe Mixon, Cook was committed to Clemson early in his recruitment but then flipped to Florida. It looked like the Miami (Fla.) Central standout would stick with the Gators but then at the end of the Under Armour week he flipped to Florida State. The five-star had 4,464 yards and 46 touchdowns at FSU and then was a second-round pick in 2017. Cook has rushed for nearly 6,000 yards and 47 TDs so far for the Minnesota Vikings.
92. Marlon Humphrey
An Alabama legacy whose father, Bobby, played running back for the Crimson Tide, Humphrey chose Bama over Florida State mainly but also Mississippi State and UCLA a few days before National Signing Day. A five-star who was rated as the second-best corner in the 2014 class behind only Jabrill Peppers, Humphrey had two impressive seasons in Tuscaloosa before being the No. 15 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He’s been a three-time Pro Bowler and has 347 tackles and 12 interceptions so far in his career.
93. Eric Kendricks
Kendricks waited for the UCLA offer and then jumped on it as the Bruins won out in his recruitment even though his brother played at Cal. His father attended UCLA but Kendricks said that didn’t play a big factor in his decision. A quarterback, running back and linebacker in high school, Kendricks tallied 476 tackles and 10 sacks in four years in Westwood before being a second-round draft pick. Kendricks has 919 tackles since coming into the league in 2015.
94. Terry McLaurin
Shortly after getting his Ohio State offer at summer camp, the speedy McLaurin picked the Buckeyes over Missouri and Purdue. The Indianapolis (Ind.) Cathedral four-star had a decent college career with 65 catches for 1,251 yards and 19 touchdowns (many of his stats coming in his final season in Columbus) and was a third-round pick. He’s really shined in Washington and has had 1,000-yard seasons in all but his rookie year where he had 919.
95. Jamaal Williams
A low three-star out of Fontana (Calif.) Summit, Williams committed to BYU over Boise State, San Diego State and others. He rushed for 3,901 yards and 35 touchdowns for the Cougars and then was a fourth-round draft pick. He’s bounced from Green Bay to Detroit and now to New Orleans where he’s rushed for more than 3,600 yards with 30 touchdowns so far.
96. Trevor Lawrence
In December of his junior year, Lawrence committed to Clemson over Georgia although there were always rumors that the five-star quarterback either silently committed to the Bulldogs or was very close at some point. The No. 1 player in the 2018 class, Lawrence held off Justin Fields and Amon-Ra St. Brown for that top spot. Lawrence threw for more than 10,000 yards with 90 touchdowns and 17 picks in three seasons for the Tigers and won a national title. He was the first pick in the 2021 draft and now starts for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
97. Harrison Smith
Ranked as a four-star athlete in the 2007 class because he was also a star running back at Knoxville (Tenn.) Knoxville Catholic, Smith chose Notre Dame over Tennessee although it was the hometown school. The four-star was a tackling machine in college with 309 stops in his time in South Bend and then he was the No. 29 pick in the 2012 draft. Smith has played in Minnesota his entire time in the league and has totaled 946 tackles and 16.5 sacks.
98. Tristan Wirfs
A four-star who picked Iowa over Iowa State in December of his junior season, Wirfs was also a wrestler and starred in track and field at Mount Vernon, Iowa. After starring for the Hawkeyes, Wirfs was the No. 13 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Wirfs has started in every game he’s played in so far in his NFL career – 46.
99. DeMarcus Lawrence
Out of Aiken (S.C.) Silver Bluff, Lawrence went to junior college where he was a high three-star at El Dorado (Kan.) Butler CC before transferring to Boise State. For the Broncos, Lawrence had 20 sacks in two years before becoming a second-round draft pick. Since joining the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, Lawrence has tallied 386 tackles and 54.5 sacks.
100. Devonta Smith
On National Signing Day, the high four-star receiver from Amite, La., picked Alabama over LSU, Miami, Florida State and others. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tee Higgins, Jerry Jeudy and Trevon Grimes were the five-stars in that class but Smith was considered however he was rejected as a five-star because he was super lean in high school. That was definitely the wrong call as Smith finished with 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 23 TDs in 2020 and was the first receiver to win the Heisman since Desmond Howard in 1991. Smith was the No. 10 overall pick in 2021 and is now one of the best young receivers in the league.