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Your guide to the first 2019 ESPN Junior 300

Kayvon Thibodeaux is the No. 1-ranked prospect in the 2019 ESPN Junior 300, but don't ask him what his favorite football team is. Thibodeaux is the top defensive end and has played football since second grade but hasn't actually watched much.

In fact, Thibodeaux started watching football only last year. That won't impact his recruitment, and it certainly hasn't impacted his ability to play the sport, as he has offers from some of the most prestigious programs in the country.

"I've been looking at schools all over -- LSU, USC, Stanford, a few of the SEC schools," Thibodeaux said. "Some schools that I would like, that will hopefully look at me, are Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State."

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Thibodeaux is currently at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, California, after transferring from Dorsey in Los Angeles and says part of the reason why so many schools are after him is because of his versatility.

"I can play defensive end or outside linebacker," he said. "I can run, I can cover and I'm fast. A lot of people tell me I have a motor -- I don't really know what that means, but when the lights come on, it's game time."

The spotlight is now on Thibodeaux as the top-ranked prospect in his class, and he will have a target on his back. That doesn't faze him, though, as he is confident he is only going to get better and better as he progresses through his high school career.

"Mark my words, this season is about to be crazy, this season is going to be different," Thibodeaux said. "My true belief is that no offensive lineman can guard me, because I've separated myself with my work ethic, skill and everything that I'm doing."

-- Tom VanHaaren


The scouts' breakdown

The race for No. 1 overall spot
Expect it to be fluid, much like the Class of 2015. While the lengthy and athletic DE Kayvon Thibodeaux certainly has the ability to make a wire-to-wire run at the top spot, there were several players in the running for this initial release, and fending off some extremely tough competition will be a challenge.

QBs in short supply
This class of quarterbacks in both categories is not a physically imposing group and possesses a lot of late-bloomers who need to develop and hopefully add an inch or two. There are few, if any, college-ready guys. For every Grant Gunnell that stands at 6-foot-6, there are five to seven 6-footers.

To this point, the QB position is one of the leaner groups in terms of numbers in recent years.

The Rattler
In terms of pure skill set, Spencer Rattler, an Oklahoma commit, is the most exciting player under center in the 2019 class. Already poised with a smooth stroke, he should be college-ready by the time he arrives in Norman.

Highly touted Hinton should switch to offense
Defensive tackle Christopher Hinton is the son of a former All-Pro offensive linemen. The younger Hinton should follow in his father's footsteps and switch to OL. The four-star Michigan commit is a stout run-defender, but defensively he would be more of role player and run stopper. As an OL, he possesses good flexibility, feet and a frame that can support more size and on that side of the ball, by contrast he can be an excellent, "full-time" player.

Speed on the perimeter a concern
There is a premium on the cornerback position, and while there is talent and production, there have not been great testing times from some of those ranked the highest.

However, the strength of the position lies in its length, with 15 of the top 20 ranked corners checking in at 5-11 or taller.

Georgia WRs
The Georgia Bulldogs have the top two receivers in the class in Jadon Haselwood and Dominick Blaylock. While this class of pass-catchers is not as talented as the past two years, the Bulldogs have the only two receivers from Georgia ranked in the top 20 over.


Florida's 2019 class could be McElwain's best

Under head coach Jim McElwain, Florida has been a slow starter and strong closer on the recruiting trail compared to archrival Florida State and other powers in the region.

That has led to plenty of criticism from the Gators' fan base despite top-20 recruiting classes in McElwain's first three years. Faced with having to constantly hear about the great recruiting classes of Florida State, Alabama and Georgia, tends to have that effect, especially when Alabama and Florida State have inked top-ranked classes and Kirby Smart's first full cycle in Athens finished No. 3 in February.

In the 2019 recruiting cycle, that will not be the case.

The Gators have eight commitments ranked in the ESPN Junior 300, tied for the most with rival Florida State. Florida has continued to create a buzz with a class that already has 12 commits.

"It's a great class," said receiver commit John Dunmore, No. 135 in the class. "I feel like this is the class that is going to change Florida in the state."

Florida's 2015 class signed just six ESPN 300 prospects, the 2016 class seven, and 10 this past February, with the Gators making an impressive signing day surge. With eight ranked commitments already on board, the 2019 class will likely blow right by the past these three classes and push for a top-10 ranking. The 2013 class finished No. 2 with 16 ESPN 300 signees, while the No. 6-ranked class in 2014 inked 13.

"We are rolling and spots are getting filled up," Dunmore said. "We are the No. 1 class in the nation right now, and everyone wants to play with the best."

The positive start has not been lost on top uncommitted targets. Outside linebacker Ge'Mon Eaford, No. 25 overall in 2019, and the second-highest ranked prospect from the vital South Florida recruiting area, is one of those who is paying close attention to Florida's early run.

"I have seen what Florida is doing," he said. "A lot of the commits are my homeboys, like John Dunmore and the South Dade boys. They tell me everybody wants me in the class, and I need to jump onboard."

The reason for Florida's surge is fairly simple. McElwain has settled things in Gainesville after Will Muschamp's tenure. The Gators have won 19 games over the past two seasons and made two straight SEC Championship Game appearances.

"The players see Florida winning more again and know Florida will win even more in the future," Dunmore said.

-- Gerry Hamilton