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The Opening: Best of Day 1, Defense

BEAVERTON, Ore. – The competition at The Opening wasted no time getting heated up on Friday. Following a morning of testing and combine work, the afternoon featured position-specific drills and one-on-ones. Even among the top players in the country a few prospects stood out.

Jaylon Smith was as good as advertised on Friday afternoon.

We break down the top performers by position.

Note: The following defenders did not participate in the afternoon camp due to their qualification in the SPARQ national championship finals on Friday evening: Jalen Ramsey, Colin Spencer, Jordan Sherit, Mike Mitchell, Peter Kalambayi, Jason Hatcher and Dorian O’Daniel

Linebacker

1. Jaylon Smith Not only is Smith extremely athletic but he is really long and rangy too. Smith can eat up grass in a hurry and can cover a tremendous amount of ground in pursuit too. Smith was an overwhelming pick among the running backs as the guy they had the most trouble beating.

2. Matthew Thomas Ask linebacker coach and NFL veteran Chris Gizzi who jumped out at him from a very strong linebacker group on Friday and he doesn’t hesitate in naming Thomas. Like Smith, Thomas jumps out due to his length but also in how quickly he picks things up as far as his athletic movements.

3. Jalen Reeves-Maybin He’s being recruited by a number of schools as a safety so Reeves-Maybin should stand out in the position drills at linebacker but he certainly did. Reeves-Maybin was extremely good in open field tackling drills, he shows great hips in coverage and he has the versatility to play all over the field.

4. Matt Rolin Rolin looks all of 6-4 and he tested well during the morning SPARQ session but looks even better in football drills than in testing drills. Despite his height, Rolin is able to breakdown and play in space well, even against running backs with elite shake.

Notes

- Johnny Ragin could very easily be listed among the top performers from the day at linebacker and he has maybe the most sparce offer list at the event. He absolutely looks like he belongs though and competed well in every drill.

- Along with Jaylon Smith, Larenz Bryant was the prospect that got the most praise from his opposing running backs due to his ability to erase space and engulf ball-carriers in open field drills.

- Quinton Powell is a prospect that has the length and wiry frame to really develop into a major defensive stopper.

Defensive Backs

1. Quin Blanding (2014)– In a loaded event, Blanding stood out as much as any on day one. His ability to change direction, transition and stay attached is special for a safety, let alone a 197-pound safety. He also showed an otherworldly break on the ball for his size in one-on-ones, as well as the ability to make a play on the ball without going through receivers.

2. Chris Hawkins Put simply, Hawkins doesn’t have elite size and he doesn’t have elite athleticism. He is not going to test well and he’s not going to wow you walking in the door but one the ball is snapped, he understands where to be, understands where his receiver is going to be often before the receiver does. His instincts earned him one pick on the day Friday.

3. Shaq Wiggins Short space change of direction and quick feet really set Wiggins apart. Despite his size Wiggins is great in press coverage because he is so good at affecting a wide receiver’s release. Size will always be an obstacle for Wiggins but he showed the tools needed to compensate.

Notes

- Movement efficiency is something that is an important trait at the defensive back position. That quality is what really sets Hawkins apart. Another defensive back that has that quality in spades is Iowa commit Delano Hill. He may not look like he is moving fast but he doesn’t take false steps and he gets where he’s going in an effortless manner.

- Michigan commit Jourdan Lewis had three consecutive breakups at one point during the course of one-on-ones.

- Keep an eye on Kevin King. He tested well in the morning and though he had a slow start to one-on-ones, King got comfortable and made some good plays later in the day. He has 6-2 size a 38-inch vertical and is one of the biggest sleepers at the defensive back position in the nation.

Defensive tackle

1. A’Shawn Robinson After posting one of the top defensive line SPARQ scores with some ridiculous numbers for a 300-plus pounder, Robinson demonstrated some fantastic strength and balance during position work and one-on-one drills. Robinson is that rare type of player that can actually put an offensive lineman on the ground with one hand.

2. Eddie Vanderdoes Short quickness and power is what Vanderdoes is all about. He has a terrific first step but he also has a great punch and can get linemen on their heels as soon as he engages.

3. Caleb Brantley Brantley showed a great blend of quickness, strength and use of his hands on the defensive interior. He was a technician at times in his ability to direct offensive linemen and react.

Notes

- Darius Latham had some very good reps during one-on-ones and did show some high-end potential but we continue to think that his highest upside is found on the offensive line in college.

- Elijah Qualls is a high motor kid with a lot of versatility. He could even project to running back or linebacker on the next level. At times he is effective on the interior but it is striking how small he is and that certainly lowers his ceiling long term.

Defensive ends

1. Demarcus Walker Walker took reps at both end and tackle in one-on-ones, and dominated in both. His first step quickness at 279-pounds is borderline special, and his strong hands and powerful initial punch are among the best on hand.

2. Carl Lawson The best first step of any defensive end, period. He not only has a quick first step, but he covers a lot of ground and gets into the chest of offensive tackles with ideal leverage. If not redirected, the play is over if he can turn the corner.

3. Da’Shawn Hand (2014) – The 6-foot-5, 245-pound top 2014 prospect looked impressive coming off the edge in one-on-one's. His combination of first step quickness, ability to extend and create leverage and turn the corner with a low inside shoulder set him apart at his size.

4. Taco Charlton Charlton is always good in camp settings because he has elite athleticism and elite frame. Once again he looked very athletic rushing the edge and turning the corner on offensive tackles and he continues to show one of the best sets of tools in the nation at the defensive end position.

Breakdowns written by national analysts Barton Simmons and Gerry Hamilton with feedback from the 247Sports staff in attendance.

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