Top Pac-12 Recruits to Watch at 2014 Nike The Opening
With the backing of Nike, one of the premier recruiting camps each year is The Opening, which takes place in Beaverton, Oregon, at company headquarters. In 2014, the spotlight is brighter than ever, and several Pac-12 recruits will have a chance to raise their profile even higher as they move closer to becoming college athletes.
The lion's share of attention belongs to the quarterbacks, who will take part in their own competition called the "Elite 11" due to the naming of the top 11 signal-callers following the event.
This is the best chance for fans to get a look at the top high school quarterbacks participating in the same drills at the same time with the cameras rolling. There is no other time during the year where as much young talent gathers in the same place to test its skills.
But let's not forget about the other positions, because while the quarterbacks serve as the main course, everyone else will be putting their abilities up against the best of the best as well.
Here are five Pac-12 recruits we'll be watching closely at Nike's The Opening.
QB Josh Rosen, UCLA Commit
One of the most intriguing high school prospects for the class of 2015 is quarterback Josh Rosen. Ranked as the No. 2 overall player in his class, Rosen committed to play for Jim Mora and UCLA back in March.
That means that Bruins fans can look forward to at least another year of Brett Hundley before Asiantii Woulard—a former Elite 11 MVP—and Rosen battle it out for the right to be named starter. Wouldn't it be something if Rosen also captures the MVP, giving UCLA two of the most highly touted signal-callers in the country?
At 6'4", 205 pounds, Rosen compares favorably to Andrew Luck when he was in his final year in high school. Like Luck, Rosen is listed as a pro-style quarterback but runs a 4.7 40-yard dash, putting him squarely in the mold of new-age passers who can elude pressure just as well as they can toss the rock downfield.
How will Rosen fare against the others in the Elite 11 competition? Will his poised demeanor and NFL arm come across as dominant as they were against in-state competition last fall? Lastly, as one of the top players in his class already, what will Rosen be able to add to his skill set to help further his college preparation?
OT Keenan Walker, Arizona Commit
Raise your hand if you're excited for the offensive linemen drills at The Opening? Anyone? OK, anyone besides those who get paid to analyze and rank high school offensive linemen?
Didn't think so, and no one would blame you for keeping your eyes on the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and defensive linemen. But in May, Arizona snagged a commitment from offensive tackle Keenan Walker, and we'll be watching the mammoth 6'6", 280-pound 4-star closely this week.
Given Rich Rodriguez's reputation as an offensive guru, you can expect the Wildcats to always boast an impressive assortment of skill players. But Walker is as skilled as they come along the offensive line, and adding an elite tackle to a unit that relies heavily on the big fellas up front could make this team dangerous for years to come.
What's interesting about the offensive line group at The Opening is that it'll get to test its skills against the best defensive line prospects in the nation. It'll take on the very best spin moves and bull rushes players such as Byron Cowart have to offer, and if nothing else, it'll give the offensive linemen a taste of what they can expect at the next level.
Walker also has offers from Arizona State, Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State, so it'll be interesting to see if being around the country's top high school talent sways his mind at all about where to play college football.
QB Brady White, Arizona State Commit
Brady White is a name that tends to get lost in the shuffle when discussing the top quarterbacks in the 2015 class, but the Elite 11 camp will give him an excellent chance to climb up into the discussion of who's the best.
That's not intended to label White as under the radar, however. He is still a top 60 player and ranked among the best signal-callers of his class. But guys such as Blake Barnett, Travis Waller, Josh Rosen and Ricky Town tend to steal more headlines, which is exactly why we're targeting White as a player to watch at The Opening.
Like so many other young quarterbacks, White has excellent mobility and fires off quick throws while on the run. As an Arizona State commit, he looks a lot like Taylor Kelly but with perhaps a higher ceiling. Can he stand out this week among the nation's best?
Also, what kind of impact will being around other Pac-12 quarterback commits have on White as he moves forward? With four players at the Elite 11 having given a verbal to a school in the conference, the upcoming rivalries could be more heated than ever.
Again, White won't be a household name before playing a down in college, unlike Rosen and Town. But in watching his tape, he has all the traits required to be an elite playmaker in the Pac-12.
RB Taj Griffin, Oregon Commit
He's gone up against it in high school and routinely made opponents look silly, so there aren't too many question marks when it comes to Griffin. He's definitely a smaller back at 5'10", 175 pounds, but he runs a 4.35 40-yard dash and has a level of physicality that catches you off guard.
Make no mistake, Griffin is at his most dangerous in the open field when he can use his speed and elusiveness to leave defenders in the dust. But he's not afraid to take on contact, which could make him extremely useful as an every-down type of back at Oregon.
Will Griffin's athleticism continue to stand out among other top-rated players with both his speed and agility? He's currently rated as the top all-purpose back in the country, a fact that has had Ducks fans eager to see more ever since his commitment in April.
One word that's thrown around all too often in recruiting circles is potential. But Griffin has the potential to step in and have a De'Anthony Thomas type of impact right away. Will we see signs of that at The Opening?
QB Ricky Town, USC Commit
Last on our list but clearly not least is the No. 1 overall player in the country: quarterback Ricky Town.
The USC commit is the same size as Rosen at 6'4", 205 pounds and also runs a sub-4.7 40. You can hopefully see where we're going with this, as hearing the two in the same conversation or even the same sentence is going to happen often. And by committing to play for rival schools, the two players will inevitably have their careers linked forever.
Town was a verbal commit to Alabama until a trip to USC changed his mind, and he quickly pledged to sign as a Trojan next February. As one of the more hyped players in his class, all eyes will be on Town to see if he can improve his game and be named one of the Elite 11 when the competition is over.
The last big-name quarterback to commit to USC was Max Browne, and so far we haven't heard much from the former 5-star, who looks like he'll play a backseat role to Cody Kessler in the fall. How will Town maneuver through the process of being a future Trojan quarterback and a top-ranked one at that?
Regardless of what happens at the Elite 11, the Pac-12 is about to become a lot richer at quarterback. Will it be Town who begins to separate himself from the rest of the pack first?
All recruiting info via 247Sports. Despite many uncommitted recruits being projected to play in the Pac-12, we're sticking with players who have already given a verbal to a school in the conference.