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Best of The Opening: Defense

BEAVERTON, Ore.- With The Opening in the books, we look at the top prospects on the defensive side of the ball from the three-day event on the Nike campus.

Five-star Notre Dame commit Jaylon Smith was the best linebacker prospect at The Opening, 2012.

Linebackers

Best- Jaylon Smith- Smith is tailor made for the 7-on-7 setting. Athletically he is a safety, with a developing body type of an outside linebacker. His ability to stay closely attached in coverage against tight ends, running backs of receivers impressed on an every play basis, not every day basis. When the ball is in the air, he responds with quick reactions and affected throws with active hands and arms consistently.

Others- Matthew Thomas, Larenz Bryant, Alex Anzalone-
While Smith is the best prospect and performer of the linebackers over the weekend, the gap between the Notre Dame commitment and Mathew Thomas is wide. Thomas, a pure outside linebacker, is blessed with a ultra long wingspan, ball skills and very quick reactions to the ball in the air. He also did a very good job of opening up the hips and reacting to what he was seeing with his eyes. Miami, Florida State and Alabama are considered the top three with the in state schools out front. Bryant had a 100-yard pick 6 and was all over the field in pass coverage. His arm length makes the 6-foot-1, 207-pounder play much larger than he actually is. Bryant is committed to South Carolina and is 247Sports No. 1 overall prospect in the state of North Carolina for the 2013 class ...Anzalone was the top inside linebacker prospect on hand. The Notre Dame commitment was rarely out of position, and showed awareness and the ability to react to the ball and finish plays with interceptions or pass break ups.

Cornerbacks



Best – Jalen Ramsey Over the weekend, Ramsey’s team didn’t have a lot of firepower on offense and needed some help from its defense. Ramsey supplied that help. He has freakish long arms and otherworldly athleticism and he was making plays all weekend. At The Opening, Ramsey placed himself in the discussion as the top cornerback in the nation. He is announcing his commitment on July 16.
 It looks like USC or Vanderbilt.


Others – Quin Blanding, Artie Burns, Priest Willis, Chris Hawkins, Noel Ellis, Eli Woodard Quin Blanding was one of the very few underclassmen in attendance and he was also one of the top players regardless of class or position while playing safety and cornerback. Artie Burns continuously flashed big play ability at cornerback and has one of the top frames and overall athleticism for the position at the event. Another big cornerback that really has the complete package is Priest Willis. Willis shined covering the slot, particularly when asked to cover Ryan Switzer who was productive against everyone he faced except Willis. Hawkins Ellis and Woodard each had their moments as well with Ellis in particular making some big plays to help push his team to an appearance in the finals.

Safety

Best- Holland Fisher- Simply put, there wasn't a defensive player on hand that had more of an impact on games Saturday, and was followed up with another strong performance Sunday. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder not only showed undervalued fluidity, but a quick and reactive ability to break on the ball and soft hands that resulted in multiple interceptions and long returns. The extremely long armed prospect could project to outside linebacker or safety dependent on scheme.

Others- Leon McQuay III, Delano Hill, Marcell Harris, Tahaan Goodman- McQuay continues to impress with his ability to smoothly cover from hash to boundary, and that ability showed up numerous times throughout the event. Vanderbilt, Michigan, USC, and programs closer to home are the ones to watch with McQuay. Hill was impressive because of his size and range and was much more athletic than we anticipated. He was another great evaluation by Iowa, where he is currently committed, and should ascend in the 247Sports rankings in the near future. Marcell Harris is not always a 7-on-7 standout, as physical downhill play on Friday nights is where his strengths shine bright. With that said, the 6-foot-1, 207-pound safety made a couple of impressive interceptions along the boundaries, and showed the ability to turn and close out of his pedal in zone coverage. Florida, Texas and Florida State are the top three with Harris. Goodman is one of the top pure athletes in a loaded group of safeties. On Sunday, he made a pair of impressive interceptions showing his ability to push through the ground and get off the ground with quickness and explosion. The West Coast programs, and LSU, have the best chance to sign the talented safety.



The nation's top 2014 defensive end prospect, Da'Shawn Hand, was the class of his position at The Opening.

Defensive end





Best – Da’Shawn Hand – Hand was the only underclassman defensive lineman in attendance but he didn’t look like an underclassman. Though he didn’t take as many reps as other defenders, it was obvious when his reps took place. Hand has great quickness and burst off of the edge and shows an elite athleticism that is coupled with a rare frame. Where he really impressed us though was the way he was able to add power to his game and really jolt the seniors that tried to out-physical him. The No. 1 player in the country on 247Sports for the class of 2014 certainly looked the part.

Others - Elijah Daniel, Frank Herron Daniel is excellent in this setting with some of the best first-step burst in the country and an explosive punch, and quick twitch strength once engaged. Though he is not the longest defensive end, he was very effective in both pass rush and run-game work. Herron also impressed analysts with his productivity all weekend. With Herron, you’re not going to get a plethora of spin moves. He’s not going to beat you with technique. But more often than not, he is going to beat you. Herron used good leverage, quickness and willpower to stay in the backfield throughout the weekend in both the run-game drills and pass rush action.

Defensive tackle

Best- Eddie Vanderdoes- Vanderdoes was exceptional in the one-on-one drills, displayed an elite quickness and power combination. Now up to 310 pounds, Vanderdoes moves around like he’s in the 250 range. USC and Oregon appear to be in the best shape for his services, but LSU, Penn State, Nebraska and others are strongly in the mix as well.
Others- DeMarcus Walker, A’Shawn Robinson, Elijah Qualls
The other three defensive tackles were a case study in versatility as all three have ability and potential at positions other than defensive tackle. Though he’s a top 40 prospect in the country, there is always a sense that Walker is undervalued a bit. The 280-pounder was dominant on the interior at the opening and is easily athletic enough to play end in a 3-4 scheme (Florida and Alabama are the two strongest players for his services, so that could be likely). Robinson, a Texas commit, projects as an offensive tackle in college, but was flat-out nasty on defense during the event, even dominant at times. Qualls, who is committed to Washington, plays running back for his high school team and is impressive on film, but looks the part of a defensive tackle long-term and should shine there early in his career for the Huskies.



Gerry Hamilton, Barton Simmons and JC Shurburtt contributed to this report.

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