This past weekend, the Nike Opening football regional was held in New Orleans at Victory Field (a stadium recently renovated by Nike in Joe W. Brown Memorial Park in New Orleans East). More than 450 high school football players attended the event and put their best foot forward in order to earn an invitation to the Nike Opening main event held at Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day for the event with temperatures reaching just above 75 degrees and a nice, slight breeze to make it as close to a perfect setting as possible. But as perfect as the conditions were, it did not make my job any easier. With 450 kids doing drills on two different fields (a nearby practice field was used so QB's, RB's and OL could have room) it was tough to get a great look at all the players. Of course I did my best to cover everything I thought you guys would be interested in reading so here is what I got.
As you know, Louisiana is home to some of the greatest athletes in the country and has a solid track record in producing football talent. This weekend was no exception as the second highest SPARQ rating of the year was earned at this event. But it was not earned by a Louisiana native. Nigel Knott is a corner out of Madison (MS.) Germantown, and he scored a 125.49 in SPARQ Rating. At 5-foot-11, 171 pounds he ran a 4.51 40, 4.09 agility, 36 feet on the powerball, 8350 watts on peak power test and a 44.7" vertical! He is a small, athletic corner that is not afraid to be physical. He contested a lot of passes and is very good at attacking the ball. He can get pushed around a bit at the line, but makes up for it with his ridiculous recovery speed. Knott not only scored the highest SPARQ rating at the camp, but he was also awarded the camp's overall MVP award.
Kristian Fulton of Archbishop Rummel in Metairie, is a baller, plain and simple. His hips are so fluid and he transitions so smoothly. He has phenomenal instincts and is excellent at breaking to the ball and contesting passes. He is without a doubt my favorite corner in the class. Clifford Chattman of New Orleans' McDonogh 35, really surprised me with how athletic he is for being so tall. He is a 6-5 safety and weighs 175 pounds, but moves very well for his size. You would think his long legs would be a problem in his short area quickness, but he does not move much slower compared to the smaller corners. His hips can be a little tight and has a tendency to sit up a bit in his backpedal and back on his heels, but he breaks well on the ball and man handles receivers along the line.
I asked Chattman what factors played into his commitment to LSU and he said that staying close to home was a big reason and Frank Wilson really sold him on the academics. He also said that Les Miles has been discussing his role on the defense and that he likes him calling the shots at safety. Fulton however, who is currently uncommitted, has a list of schools that he is interested in. Those include UCLA, USC, Florida, Florida State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia. He said he does not have a leader at this point because he wants to make sure he visits all the schools he is interested in.
I also caught up with Alabama commit Shyheim Carter of Kentwood and asked him about his commitment and how aggressive other schools were for his flip. He said a lot schools are pushing him to flip but he is, "100 percent Bama." Carter was not able to participate in the event due to a hip flexor injury and a torn muscle in his right thigh, but he was very interested in watching the WR/DB 1-on-1's.
Along the defensive line there were a few guys that really put on a show. Players like Ed Oliver, Raekwon Davis, Tyler Shelvin and Andre Anthony stood out.
Ed Oliver of Houston-Westfield, is basically a boulder. He is a little on the shorter side standing just around 6-foot but is crazy athletic. But what makes him great is his ability to pair that athleticism with technical skills. Oliver used his hands and arms better than anyone at the event. He put on a clinic with his one-arm bars and rips around offensive linemen all day long. He was probably my favorite defensive linemen to watch this weekend.
The recent 2017 LSU commit, Tyler Shelvin of Lafayette-Northside, may have been a year younger than most of the participants, but he looked just as good if not better than most of the players out there. He is a big ball of muscle that overpowers everyone he faces, it is almost not fair. I asked him what he loved the most about Baton Rouge and he simply stated, "the atmosphere." He said he felt a lot of love when he visited LSU and just wanted be a Tiger.
Now the player whose stock rose the most this weekend was defensive end Andre Anthony of Edna Karr. He really impressed me with just how quick he was able to get off the line and burn around tackles. Any speed rusher can get around tackles though, so what makes him special? His counter moves. His ability to spin back inside and slip under tackles was just gorgeous to watch. LSU recently offered him so expect even more attention to be headed his way.
And that leads us to the man who came away with the defensive line MVP award and that is Raekwon Davis of Meridian (MS.). He is a monster. At 6-foot-7, 315 pounds he was borderline unstoppable. He flattened linemen all day long and could have run around them just as easily if he wanted to. With such a crazy speed/power combo he was no match for any offensive linemen at the event. Davis is a Mississippi kid that is most likely to stay home whether it be at Ole Miss or Mississippi State.
The only linebackers that caught my eye were class of 2017 Dylan Moses and Kevin Moore.
Acadiana linebacker Kevin Moore, brought home the linebacker MVP award with great performances in the LB/RB 1-on-1's and 7v7. He is a safety/outside linebacker hybrid, but only participated as an OLB this weekend. He was dominant in coverage and pass rushing drills and showed such great athleticism and his football IQ is extremely impressive. He is only a 3-star according to 247 Sports Composite, but do not be surprised if he gains a lot of attention from his performance at this event.
But the guy I needed to see for my own eyes was Dylan Moses. The 2017 LB/RB from University Lab in Baton Rouge is the number one player in the class according to 247 Sports and he confirmed it this weekend. He may have struggled in the LB/RB 1-on-1's missing a couple tackles, but his overall athleticism and pursuit is off the charts. He is beautifully built and looks like a high-quality outside linebacker and is barely even 16 years old. Surprise, he is going to be a special player.
I was not overly impressed by that many players on the offensive side of the ball, but the wide receivers and quarterbacks were the most impressive position groups by far.
The wide receivers that really impressed me were Stephen Sullivan, Jamal Pettigrew, Isaiah Graham, and Marquis McClain.
Marquis McClain of Crestview (FL.) brought home the MVP award for the receivers and he definitely deserved it. As an unknown heading into the event, McClain came out a star almost shocking everyone that he came up against. He has a solid frame standing 6-foot-2. 195 pounds and runs crisp routes. He gets in and out of cuts pretty well, but is a little inconsistent with his hands. He dropped a couple 50/50 balls, but he showed great athleticism and really burst onto the scene with his showing this weekend.
Isaiah Graham of Bastrop (LA.), was the guy I was most looking forward to seeing and he did not disappoint. He is a very fluid route runner and catches the ball so softly, but does not let it get to his body which I LOVE. He is the definition of a natural pass catcher and combine that with his solid route running and you have yourself a great receiver.
Now let's look at the two LSU commits Stephen Sullivan and Jamal Pettigrew. One solidified his status with me and the other was a bit "mehh" for a lack of a better word.
The one that I felt looked like what I hoped he would was Sullivan of Donaldsonville. For being so tall he is extremely quick off the line and is stupid strong. I witnessed him call out a corner who was jawing at him on the sideline and did a textbook Randy Moss impression on him in the endzone. He is a bit tight with his routes, but he is so physically dominant and knows how to position his body that it almost does not matter because he is able to box out and wall off defenders. He is going to be a freak at the next level.
That leaves Jamal Pettigrew of St. Augustine, as my let down. I was really looking forward to seeing him man handle defenders, but he seemed a bit soft for my taste. I saw him face a below-average sized corner and he ran a pivot route and should have boxed off the corner with ease to catch the ball away from his body, but instead he cut the route off short and sloppy and the ball was picked off. I also saw him drop 2-3 passes that should have been caught in 7x7. Now I am not saying this to hate on him or anything because he is still a talented player. He moves very well for his size and high points the ball well. I just wanted a bit more out of him.
Now there were about four quarterbacks that I was genuinely impressed with this weekend. I came into this weekend only looking at two real standouts at the position, but I came out with six. Three guys that I thought were very accurate and had a nice quick release with good velocity were Keytaon Thompson, Cody Saunders, Jett Duffey, Lowell Narcisse, Nick Starkel and Brennen Wooten.
The current TCU commit Brennen Wooten of San Angelo (TX) Central, came out super hot in all the drills looking the most polished to me. He has a short delivery and gets the ball out quickly with solid velocity. He is not the most athletically gifted or physically imposing, but he is smart with his pass selection and should perform well at the next level.
Cody Saunders of Panama City Beach (FL.) Arnold, was the guy that caught my eye during the drills. Not just because he had big earrings and a visor, but because the ball was jumping off his hand. He may be a bit wild, but he has a very athletic build and throws a laser. I can see him getting more attention.
Keytaon Thompson of New Orleans-Landry-Walker, was the player I was most excited to see because I knew he had a good list of offers and definitely passes the eye-test, but I noticed he was listed as a dual-threat according to 247 Sports. I had to see if he could throw the ball and throw it with accuracy. He is definitely mobile and was one of the most athletic QB's at the event, but I wish I was as impressed with his arm as I was with his legs. He has a decent arm and okay accuracy, but to be fair the 7x7 setting is most likely not where he thrives. In a real game situation he is probably more impressive so I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
Then Nick Starkel of Argyle (TX) Liberty Christian, came along and I thought he was going to win the MVP. He has it all. A strong arm, quick release and solid accuracy. He made a GREAT throw in the 7x7 in the seam that really showed off his anticipation. Overall he was the quarterback that I enjoyed watching the most and feel he is a bit underrated.
So I thought Starkel was the MVP, but Jett Duffey of Mansfield (TX.) Lake Ridge, won the award. Duffey played well all day long to be fair, but I just do not think he has the arm strength to make all the throws he will be asked to make at the next level. He does have a quick release and I think he understands his limitations which is why I may be a bit skeptical. He had the tendency to check down a lot and I think it was because he was not able to make the throws downfield or fit in tight windows. I do appreciate the fact that he did not force throws because that is much worse than checking down. I am just not completely sold on Duffey.
And lastly we have Lowell Narcisse of Saint James. This 2017 quarterback has a rocket and I mean an absolute missile. He has great size for a 16 year old and is super athletic. He is a bit raw with his mechanics, but he can and will definitely develop over time. I enjoyed watching him and I think he is only going to get better, I asked him who was recruiting him the hardest and he said that was LSU without a doubt. He also said Auburn and Clemson were showing interest and that they really enjoyed his film.
Now there were two linemen that I enjoyed watching and I will give you a surprise number three.
The first is Donavaughn Campbell of Ponchatoula. The LSU commit told me he wanted to prove that he could pass block and was the top guard in the class. I personally think he is one of the best run blockers in the class, but he really needs to improve on his footwork in pass blocking. He gets caught lunging instead of staying on the inside shoulder of the pass rusher. He worked hard and took direction well so I would not be surprised if he cleaned his feet up sooner rather than later. He also told me that Ed Orgeron was his lead recruiter, but he only solidified his commitment to LSU. He said he fell in love with the university before Orgeron even got there. Out of all the commitments I talked to he seemed the most solid to me.
Trey Carter of Monroeville (AL.) Monroe Academy, was the offensive line MVP and he earned it for sure. He has a great punch and anchors extremely well. Carter does not have the longest arms or body for that matter, but looks like a perfect center at the next level. He uses his body very well and was extremely impressive. Carter will be seeing some offers very soon after this performance.
And my surprise number three lineman is....Raekwon Davis? Yes! He took some snaps at tackle and did not look too shabby. He has the body for it and some super long arms. He is athletic and is able to keep his balance when bull rushed so all he needs to do is work on his hand fighting if I am being honest. In fact, the coach that was helping workout the linemen said he had a future at the position if DL does not work out. I am interested to see if there will be any teams considering him on that side of the ball.
Finally we have reached the running backs. There was only one player that I thought had the athleticism and the skill to really earn the MVP award and he did. That man was Clyde Edwards-Helaire of Baton Rouge (LA.) Catholic. He killed it during the 1-on1's and individual drills. He also scored a 102 SPARQ Rating which was in the 90+ percentile in the running back group.
Also, Dylan Moses did participate in a few of the running back drills and the 7v7's at running back. He looked good catching the ball out of the backfield and is not that bad of a route runner. With that being said, I really think his future is at outside linebacker. He has the prototype build and fits what the new outside linebacker is becoming with the passing game evolving.
MVP's and Opening Invitees
QB MVP: Jett Duffey - Mansfield, TX - Lake Ridge
RB MVP: Clyde Edwards-Helaire - Baton Rouge, LA - Catholic
WR MVP: Marquis McClain - Crestview, FL - Crestview
OL MVP: Trey Carter - Monroeville, AL - Monroe Academy
DL MVP: Raekwon Davis - Meridian, MS - Meridian
LB MVP: Kevin Moore - Lafayette, LA - Acadiana
DB MVP: Nigel Knott - Madison, MS - Germantown
Overall MVP: Nigel Knott
Opening Invites: Nigel Knott, Stephen Sullivan, Raekwon Davis, Kristian Fulton, Ed Oliver and Dylan Moses (1st underclassmen this year)
Overall this camp was such an amazing experience, for myself and the players. I learned a lot and got to meet some great people. I can' not thank Billy Gomila, Bud Elliot or Pod Katt enough for allowing me to cover the event for SB Nation and ATVS.