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The 11 2018 football recruits who stood out to me at Cleveland's Nike camp

A bunch of the Midwest’s top recruits got together.

L’Christian Smith
L’Christian Smith, a four-star receiver with offers from Alabama and others.
Alex Kirshner, SB Nation

Leading up to its national showcase in July in Oregon, Nike holds a series of regional recruiting combines around the country. The road show was in Cleveland this weekend, and it drew some of the best recruits in the class of 2018.

The best prospect on the field was Jackson Carman, a five-star, and the top-rated offensive tackle in 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite. Carman is 6’6 and incredibly fluid for a rising high school senior. In one-on-one reps, I counted just one loss for Carman out of 10 or 12 all day, and even that was close to a push. The Fairfield (Ohio) product said Ohio State and Clemson are his leaders.

Four-star Dunbar (Ohio) receiver Joseph Scates has offers from Alabama and assorted other teams. Scates told me Alabama is his “dream school” and has been recruiting him “hard.” Penn State, Pitt, and Rutgers are also high in the running.

Scates was the receiver who stood out most to me. He’s a lanky 6’2, with excellent explosion off the line and smooth route running. He doesn’t look like a pure “go up and get it” receiver, but he can play out of the slot and offers a versatile skill set.

Four-star East English Village Prep (Mich.) center Tyrone Sampson might’ve had the most purely impressive camp performance out of any offensive lineman. Sampson is rated as the country’s No. 2 center. He’s an absolute mauler who was throwing poor defensive linemen to the ground, then smiling about it afterward.

Sampson has offers from Syracuse, Louisville, Kentucky, Virginia, and a bunch of MAC schools. He should get many, many more.

“I’m real physical,” Sampson said. “If I lose a rep, I’m just gonna come back even harder. That must makes me so mad, I just come back with another rep.”

I don’t think he lost many reps, but this is good attitude to have.

Three-star Lima Senior (Ohio) tight end Keaton Upshaw is currently deciding between Pitt and West Virginia, in a Backyard Brawl recruiting war. (There is, of course, time for his recruitment to grow larger.) Upshaw’s a 6’6, flexed-out receiving tight end. I think he’ll catch a lot of red-zone touchdowns for whichever school lands him.

“Most coaches just like how I can get up and down the field, catch the ball, make plays, and block,” he said.

Another talented tight end was four-star Springfield (Oh.) target Leonard Taylor. Camps aren’t really great opportunities to evaluate tight ends, in my view, because we don’t see any of their blocking ability.

But I liked Taylor’s hands on a few difficult catches, and he’s quite versatile — he told me he plays quarterback, as well as tight end and defensive end, from time to time.

“I just love all my positions for real for real, and I’m just an athlete and I enjoy playing them,” he said.

Taylor has 20 offers. Those include Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Notre Dame. He’d like to get them from Alabama, Clemson, USC, Texas, and others. Taylor seems to favor a really wide recruitment, and there’s no shame in that.

Four-star Michigan defensive end commit Aidan Hutchinson might be a project, but his potential’s easy to see. Hutchinson is still pretty thin, listed at 6’5, 234 pounds, but he’s explosive and smooth. He profiles as a five-technique edge rusher, and he said that’s where Michigan expects to use him. I think he has a bit of filling out to do, but he’s got time to do it.

Three-star West Virginia defensive tackle pledge James Gmiter stood out to me in one-on-one drills. I don’t know if he’ll play as a nose or a three-technique tackle in a four-man front, but he’s going to be a hell-raiser. I think the phrase “high motor” is woefully overused in football evaluation circles, but Gmiter has a high motor.

Four-star Notre Dame quarterback commit Phil Jurkovec was limited by the camp environment, too. The Pittsburgh-area product is most valuable for his ability to move around, evade defenders, and torch defenses with either his arm or his leg. He was the best quarterback I watched, but there's more to his game than he could show in passing drills. Michigan State commit Theo Day looked good, too.

Ohio State running back Jaelen Gill is going to be great. Gill is in great shape and looks like he could hold up between the tackles in the Big Ten tomorrow, but it’s dangerous to typecast him as either an inside or outside runner. Gill could have value in pretty much any offensive role, including as an H-back, like how OSU has used Curtis Samuel in recent seasons. Urban Meyer and Kevin Wilson will have so much fun coaching him.

Four-star Wayne (Ohio) receiver L’Christian Smith didn’t go through drills because of an injury, but he was in attendance. Smith has offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, and most of the schools you’d expect along those lines. Smith wasn’t playing, but I asked him for the first-person scouting report on his game:

“Coming off the line, my first step is very, very fast,” he said. “It’s just kind of one of those things. I’ve got a big frame. You can throw it anywhere in this kind of radius and I’ll go get it. It’s all about, when that ball’s thrown to me, it’s mine. It’s mine every time, and that’s what I think about on the field. I think I had, like, one dropped pass in the three years I’ve been playing, so I think it’s pretty good.”

Smith didn’t say a lot about his recruitment, but I came away with the impression that one non-power program has a real shot to land him. It’s certainly trying.

“Kentucky,” he said. “They’ve been showing me a lot of love. Everybody from Kentucky’s following me on Instagram. I don’t know how many of the followers out of the 4,000 I’ve got are from Kentucky.”