Earlier this week, MaxPreps took a look at the contenders for the National Player of the Year award.
Now, MaxPreps handicaps the players in the running for Junior of the Year honors, which will be handed out after the season. A familiar name is in the lead, but as the playoffs kick into high gear, there's still plenty of time for players to rise and fall.FAVORITEJohnathan Gray, RB, Aledo (Texas)
Last year's National Sophomore of the Year has thrust himself into the discussion for the overall Player of the Year award with a brilliant level of production thus far in 2010.
Gray has rushed for 1,943 yards and a whopping 34 touchdowns, leading Aledo to a pristine 9-0 record that includes a win against 4A power Lake Travis, which ended the Cavaliers 48-game winning streak.
CONTENDERSDorial Green-Beckham, WR, Hillcrest (Springfield, Mo.)
If anyone has a stronger case for the award right now than Gray, it's Green-Beckham, who had 77 receiving yards and two scores in a playoff win on Wednesday, helping him set state records for career yardage (4,073) and touchdown catches (51). He's already broken his own single season record for yardage, which he set last year with 1,622 receiving yards.
Green-Beckham's chances could hinge on how far Hillcrest advances through the 4A playoff bracket.Maty Mauk, QB, Kenton (Ohio)
If you're into video game-like statistics, Maty Mauk is the contender for you. His numbers this season are simply mind-boggling, having thrown for 4,319 yards and 53 touchdowns and rushed for another 726 yards and 14 scores.
Kenton is 9-1. With a deep playoff run, Mauk can add further to his astonishing stats and could be a tough choice to pass up.Kwon Alexander, LB, Oxford (Ala.)
It's not often defensive players receive consideration for major awards, but for players of Alexander's caliber, it's about time they should.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker has enjoyed a phenomenal season after earning Sophomore All-American accolades a year ago. In 2010, he's recorded 147 tackles and 17 sacks. He's forced six fumbles and recovered three.
Alexander's resume is arguably as strong as his competitors on the offensive side of the ball.Rushel Shell, RB, Hopewell (Aliquippa, Pa.)
Shell has been familiar with postseason awards since his ninth-grade year, when he captured Freshman of the Year honors. Since then, he's continued to demonstrate why he's one of the more impressive players in the class of 2012.
He's already crossed the 2,000-yard barrier this year, tallying 2,102 yards along with 22 scores. He's also hauled in two touchdowns through the air.
Depending on how far Hopewell advances in the playoffs, Shell could end up near the 3,000-yard mark, which would be a major boost to his credentials.SLEEPERSBryton Griffin, WR, Blue Ridge (Greer, S.C.)
A bit of an unknown commodity entering the season, Griffin has absolutely exploded as one of the most dangerous players in South Carolina.
He was responsible for 1,210 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. However, with his season complete, Griffin's numbers have no opportunity to rise higher.Shaq Thompson, ATH, Grant (Sacramento, Calif.)
Grant has been one of the most impressive teams in the country this season, and Thompson is a big reason why.
His versatility is what sets him apart from other players in the running. He has rushed for 1,139 yards and 16 scores, but he's also an outstanding safety in addition to his duties as punter and kick returner.Connor Brewer, QB, Chaparral (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
The signal-caller at the helm of one of Arizona's most potent offenses, Brewer has distinguished himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2012.
He's thrown for 1,718 yards and 24 touchdowns while only being intercepted four times. There's a chance that Chaparral runs the table en route to a 5A-II state title, which would certainly bolster his chances.Byron Marshall, ATH, Valley Christian (San Jose, Calif.)
Easily as exciting as any player in the country, Marshall is literally a threat to score any time he touches the ball. In addition to this 1,183 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, he's also returned two kicks the distance. He's also been a shut-down corner in Valley Christian's secondary.
Marshall has Valley Christian sitting at 8-0 and competing for a berth in the CIF Bowl Games.Landon Collins, DB, Dutchtown (Geismar, La.)
One of the most impressive athletes in the country, Collins is a demon in the secondary. He's helped Dutchtown to a 9-0 record, leading a defense that has only allowed more than two touchdowns twice. As long as Dutchtown keeps winning, Collins will be in the picture.Who did we miss? If you know of a top junior worthy of consideration, leave a comment below or email National Football Editor Stephen Spiewak sspiewak@MaxPreps.com.