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The All-Opening Team 2017: 35 elite recruits from college football’s top showcase

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The country’s best college football recruits gathered in one place. Here’s who stood out to us.

Nike Football

Beaverton, Ore. – The last week marked The Opening Finals, the top showcase in college football recruiting. The event brings 160-some prospects, most of them in the class of 2018, to Nike’s world headquarters just outside Portland. It’s a three-day affair (five for QBs, receivers, and tight ends), and while it’s a fun growing experience for the players, it’s also a chance to evaluate the prospects atop so many programs’ boards.

For the second year in a row, SB Nation’s putting together an “All-Opening Team” with our own loose rules. We can take as many players as we want in any position group, because the main goal here is to draw attention to standouts. The All-Opening Team is non-exhaustive, but it’s a way to give a nod to prospects who excelled against the best. Here, for your reference, is last year’s version.

Quarterbacks

Justin Fields
Justin Rogers (TCU commit)

Rogers got rid of the ball quickly and smartly, and he overcame the loss of a couple of injured teammates to put together a strong seven-on-seven performance. Fields was the star of the weekend, dicing up defenses in the sort of competition that doesn’t even allow him to flash his full potential. Fields is a classic dual threat — a baseball outfielder who can burn a football defense with his legs as much as his arm. There are no QB-run plays in seven-on-seven, thankfully, but Fields was still extraordinary.

Fields’ excellence in Beaverton sets up a debate over whether he or longtime No. 1 Trevor Lawrence is really the class of 2018’s top QB. We still think Lawrence has an edge, despite struggling some in a format that should’ve been well-suited to his dart-throwing skill set. If Fields has a great senior season, though, he could overtake the Clemson commit Lawrence. Georgia, Auburn, Florida State, Florida, and Alabama are the top contenders for Fields, who recently backed off a commitment to Penn State.

Running backs

Jaelen Gill (Ohio State)
Ricky Person Jr. (NC State)
Ricky Slade (Penn State)

Gill will be compared a lot to Swiss army knife Curtis Samuel as he gets on with his journey to Ohio State, and that comparison makes good sense. Gill is an explosive athlete, as are all of the running backs on this list, but he’s the best at catching the ball down the field. Gill has a polished receiver’s skill set as well as a runner’s.

Person is a similarly multipurpose back, though he’s a bit of a slasher. He’s more likely to catch the ball out of the backfield than on a long wheel route, but he’ll be as dangerous as anyone once the ball gets into his hands. NC State has a good one.

Slade qualified automatically because of this:

Wide receivers

Terrace Marshall Jr.
Devon Williams
Jalen Hall
Amon-Ra St. Brown
Justin Shorter (Penn State)
Jordyn Adams (North Carolina)

Marshall is the top-ranked receiver in the country, and he didn’t do anything to suggest he doesn’t deserve that billing. Williams is classified as an “athlete” who could play either side of the ball, and he certainly could. But he’s so fast and so good a jumper that it’s going to be hard for his coaches not to deploy him as an outside WR. (He was the best player on the field on Monday, the event’s last day.)

Hall has been a five-star for a long time now, as one of the earliest-to-be-noticed recruits in the 2018 cycle. Hall will turn a lot of 50-50 balls into something more approximating 90-10 balls. Shorter is a big burner who can catch, and Adams is one of the class’ most solid all-around targets. Adams is a baseball player who’s also played QB in high school and can dunk you through the hardwood in basketball:

Tight ends

Jeremy Ruckert

Ruckert is the best tight end in the class of 2018, full stop. He’s big — around 6’5 and 240 pounds — but he moves like a receiver, has absurd hands, and will have a prosperous career as an unstoppable third-down and red-zone target. Ruckert has a top four of Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame. He is likely to commit to the Buckeyes sometime in July, though the exact timeline there isn’t certain.

A sampling of his hands:

Offensive linemen

Jackson Carman
Jamaree Salyer
Justin Dedich (USC)
Tyrone Sampson (Syracuse)
Curtis Dunlap
Delone Scaife (Miami)
Trey Hill
Penei Sewell
Reuben Unije

There was a lot of good offensive line play, but let’s single out a few of these players in particular. Carman is the top tackle in the class, a technician who’s also got that mean streak coaches prefer in their blue-chip tackles. Salyer is as good a high school guard as you could reasonably hope to find and also the no-doubt best at his position. Dedich and Sampson are elite centers who can put linemen into the ground.

Defensive linemen

Xavier Thomas (Clemson)
Michael Thompson
Nolan Smith (Georgia) ‘19
Rick Sandidge

Thomas is the surest thing in a class that’s generally light on dominant ends. Thompson is an all-around star in the middle, and Smith is great despite having room to grow both physically and in terms of his technique. Sandidge is one of the most enjoyable players in the class: a hell-on-wheels tackle who has a better burst off the line than any tackle except No. 1 DT Taron Vincent, an Ohio State commit.

Linebackers

Channing Tindall
Xavier Peters
Palaie Gaoteote (USC)

Tindall, a likely South Carolina commit, was a star of “cat and mouse” drills, where a defender (usually a linebacker) and a running back charge at each other and try to be the first to a center line.

Peters, a likely Kentucky commit, isn’t rated among the top few backers in the class, but he should be. It’s not hard to imagine Peters developing into a truly elite outside linebacker in college, who’s also the emotional leader of whichever defense he’s playing on.

Gaoteote looked as good as the top-10 player analysts say he is, and that’s in a seven-on-seven format that doesn’t favor middle linebackers in the slightest.

Defensive backs

Patrick Surtain II
Bryan Addison
Bookie Radley-Hiles (Nebraska)
D’shawn Jamison
Josh Proctor (Ohio State)
Jaiden Woodbey (Ohio State)
Caden Sterns (Texas)

Surtain is one of the best prep cornerbacks in recent times — a defensive back who flies to the ball like a linebacker and closes off entire sectors of the field with his speed and ball skills. He will be a professional someday, and a good one at that. But for now, he’s a recruit who reminds easily of Patrick Peterson. His recruitment shapes up as a battle among LSU, Florida State, and Clemson, but he’ll go wherever he wants.

Addison was impressive during seven-on-seven drills. He’s rangy, and he’s still quite thin, so when he puts on weight, maybe he’ll slow down a bit. But he’s a natural athlete and should be disruptive in the secondary, whether he settles as a safety (as he was this weekend) or an outside cornerback. He could even play offense.

Radley-Hiles is small, but he’s a game-changing talent. Nobody made more plays, and that’s in a setting that doesn’t allow him to return punts, another one of his strengths.

Sterns, an LSU flip now committed to Texas, routinely harassed quarterbacks and had at least two or three interceptions. Proctor and Woodbey, a pair of great safeties, will help ensure that Ohio State’s secondary doesn’t miss a beat when it inevitably sends 14 guys to the NFL in 2018. That program grows elite DBs on trees.