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June 13, 2012

Matchup No. 10: Howard vs. Smith

MORE: Five-Star Challenge | Underclassmen Challenge

Rivals.com is counting down the top 10 matchups we can't wait to watch at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge over the final 10 days heading into the event in Atlanta.

Ten days away: Matchup No. 10

TE O.J. Howard, Autauga (Ala.) Academy vs.
LB Jaylon Smith, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers

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Why Howard has an edge: The 6-foot-6, 228-pound Howard is one of the best jumbo athletes in the country, evidenced by his high school team playing him at tight end, defensive end, split end and even quarterback. He is tall and lean, and will be a solid blocker at the position once he adds more weight to his frame. But where he really stands out at this stage is as a receiver. Howard gets a great release from the line of scrimmage, is quick in and out of his breaks, has outstanding body control and is consistent with his hands.

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Why Smith has an edge: Smith made the jump to the top spot in the outside linebacker rankings in part because he showed this spring that he is dominant in pass coverage. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has the wingspan of a player several inches taller, which gives him amazing range. His ability to instantly elevate and change directions, combined with that length, allows him to close passing lanes and makes plays on the football other players would not even consider. He is simply one of the best run-and-jump athletes in the country.

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Overall edge: This is a matchup of two players who create mismatches for opponents because of their immense physical gifts. Howard is going to be stronger and faster than almost every linebacker in the country, but in Smith he has met his match. Smith has 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash and has been seen this spring jumping to the cornerback position and excelling in man coverage against some of the Midwest's top wide receiver prospects. Howard's combination of size, speed and athleticism will be unlike anything Smith has faced thus far, but the Indiana native counters with his own combination of length, speed, strength and athleticism that should allow him to win this matchup.



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