Memphis Nike: Best of the defense

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A strong year for talent in the state of Tennessee combined with strong turnout from Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana to come together for an outstanding Memphis Nike Football Training Camp.

Breeland Speaks plays linebacker in high school but was outstanding at DL on Sunday.

During the testing portion of the day, multiple 4.4 and 4.3 40s pointed to loads of skill talent in attendance but it was the defensive line that really stole the show.

We take a look at the top performers from Sunday’s event on the defensive side of the ball.

1. Davon Godchaux, DE, Plaquemine (La.) High School – The defensive line group was outstanding and several prospects were good enough to earn the positional MVP but to me Godchaux was the best. At 6-4, 265 pounds, the Louisiana native is a big prospect and his power is evident immediately. He also has outstanding first step quickness. When Godchaux took a rep, the camp immediately had a college rather than a high school feel. He just has that kind of presence in his blend of size, power and athleticism.

2. Derek Barnett, DE, Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy – Another prospect who was a near-miss as the defensive line MVP, Barnett is beginning to prove that he’s one of the best in the country on the line of scrimmage. He could have worked out at tight end but opted for defensive end instead. At 6-3, Barnett isn’t the longest defensive end you’ll find but he’s got fantastic speed off of the edge and is deceptively athletic. His ability to dip his shoulder and turn the corner on defensive tackles and then counter with a spin move on a overset was impressive.

3. C.J. Hampton, S, Meridian (Miss.) High School – One of several Ole Miss commits in attendance, Hampton was the best of the group on Sunday. At first glance, the four-star prospect exhibits good size and athleticism but where he was unique was his fluidity in coverage and his feel for where the football was going. He didn’t overrun or undercut footballs, he showed natural ball skills and displayed a complete skill set all afternoon. His efforts earned him the defensive back MVP award.

4. Breeland Speaks, DL, Jackson (Miss.) Callaway – A linebacker for his high school, Speaks lined up at defensive end on Sunday and he could project to either defensive end or defensive tackle on the next level. His athleticism and initial quickness really pops. Though he has a body that should carry plenty more good weight, even at 250-plus, Speaks is too quick for interior offensive linemen and edge protectors. Currently he only has offers from the in-state programs of Ole Miss and Mississippi State as well as Louisiana-Lafayette. He should have a slew of others. Speaks earned the DL MVP award.

5. Garrald McDowell, DL, Covington (La.) High School – Another Louisiana native, McDowell is listed as a defensive tackle but situationaly he has all the athleticism to play on the outside as well. McDowell earned an invite to The Opening with his play in Sunday and it was his athleticism that really proved to be the difference for him. He’s got the quickness to get to a shoulder against offensive linemen and then the strength to power through. Arkansas, Ole Miss, USC and Alabama are his favorites.

6. Petera Wilson, LB, Memphis (Tenn.) White Station – One of the coaches for the linebacker group was former Tennessee Titan Keith Bullock. As he instructed Wilson, their body types looked very similar. Wilson’s body is one of his top assets. He has fantastic length and you couldn’t construct a better frame at the linebacker position. Though he struggles at times in space, Petera’s length and speed allow him a huge margin for error. On the day, Wilson earned the linebacker MVP award and an invite to The Opening.

7. Mattrell McGraw, CB, River Ridge (La.) John Curtis – McGraw made the trip all the way up to Memphis from the New Orleans area and it was worth his effort. While he’s listed as a safety and lined up at safety, McGraw really showed cornerback skills, so much so that he could very possibly end up playing corner on the next level. In coverage McGraw is natural and instinctive and he shows outstanding quickness and change of direction. McGraw’s versatility also makes him unique as he showed a comfort level at free safety and nickel but also has cornerback skills.

8. Emmanuel Smith, S, Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Oakland – At 6-2, 200 pounds, Smith was one of the biggest safeties in attendance in Memphis. You would expect a safety of that size to have issues in coverage but not so for Smith. His length allows him to limit separation and his backpedal and hips are smooth. He also tested well, running a 4.70 flat on the laser, a solid time for a big-bodied safety.

9. Josh Frazier, DT, Springdale (Ark.) Har-Ber – Frazier isn’t the tallest defensive tackle but because he’s so thick, and powerfully built, he appears taller than he is. He’s also not a guy that’s going to throw a wide array of moves at an offensive lineman but he doesn’t have to. He’s a true nose and he showed what was probably the most powerful initial punch of any defensive lineman in attendance. When Frazier took his one-on-one reps, there was a different jolt of force that you felt, unique from all of the other campers.

10. Justice Austin, LB, Little Rock (Ark.) North Little Rock (Class of 2015) – Already a standout at the Nike SPARQ combine in Dallas when he ran a 4.76 at 227 pounds and jumped 33.5 inches, Austin separated it in football specific work on Sunday as well. In pass-rush drills, the rising junior kept it simple and used a powerful rip and quick first step to defeat running backs. In 7on7 he proved he could turn his hips and run too, making an interception after carrying an athletic running back vertical. As an underclassman, Austin is a name to watch.

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