The Opening 2017: 10 Sleeper Recruits to Watch in Beaverton
When you consider the high school stars gathered this week in Beaverton, Oregon, for The Opening had played their way into this summer recruiting camp extravaganza in highly competitive regional showcases across the country, it's difficult to find anybody classified as a sleeper.
After all, we're talking about the best of the best.
Whether it's to gain more star status in the rankings, gain the eye of top-tier programs or to prove they're worthy of being in Oregon with the top players in the country, several prospects have the opportunity to perform on summer's biggest recruiting stage.
Let's take a look at 10 players who'll try to make the most of their spot in the showcase, which starts Wednesday and ends Monday, at Nike's world headquarters.
Dennis Briggs, Gateway (Fla.) High School Defensive End
Dennis Briggs, 6'4", 250-pound 3-star defensive end, Kissimmee, Florida
The majority of prospects from the Sunshine State aspire to amass offers from the Big Three of Florida State, Florida and Miami.
Lanky, athletic pass-rusher Dennis Briggs already has attained that goal. He's wanted by all three programs.
"I've got to visit them and see them the most, so yeah, Florida State, Miami and Florida are higher than some other schools. They are all in my top four," he told InsidetheGators.com's Mark Wheeler.
With the concerns about major offers out of the way, the opportunity that awaits Briggs in Oregon isn't so much getting on everybody's radar as it is playing his way up the ratings.
According to Scout.com, Briggs is the nation's No. 43-ranked defensive end and the 14th-rated player at his position in the South. When you look at his offer sheet, the two don't match up.
That's why he'll want to prove to everybody this week that he can line up against the top offensive linemen in the country and dominate.
Camp settings such as The Opening favor the defenders in the trenches, so Briggs will have a golden opportunity to elevate his status. Then, we'll have to find out where he plays college ball later.
Cammon Cooper, Lehi (Utah) High School Quarterback
Cammon Cooper, 6'4", 200-pound 4-star quarterback, Lehi, Utah
Like a couple of players on this list, Cammon Cooper already is committed; he's the next possible star prospect lined up to run Mike Leach's offense at Washington State once Luke Falk leaves.
But Cooper's offer list isn't among the best signal-callers in the nation—far from it.
While he has some big offers from schools such as Tennessee and Georgia, they aren't definitely committable. The Vols already have two quarterbacks committed and are finished at the position.
But what happens if the Bulldogs decide they aren't going to win the Justin Fields sweepstakes and go all-in for Cooper? Also, USC is now without a quarterback pledge after parting ways with Matt Corral. Could the Trojans come calling?
As USA Today's Cam Smith wrote, Cooper is exactly the kind of "just barely under-the-radar" prospect Leach loved while at Texas Tech, and the quarterback threw nearly 500 times as a junior in a pass-happy offense.
There are a lot of doors that could open for Cooper with a major performance at the Elite 11 and The Opening. If he performs up to his talent, with his arm strength and ideal size, Cooper could become a commodity.
If that happens, the Cougars may have to fight to keep him.
Kenneth Dicks III, Lambert (Ga.) High School Cornerback
Kenneth Dicks III, 6'0", 200-pound 3-star cornerback, Suwanee, Georgia
Several marquee defensive backs came from the area where Kenneth Dicks III lives. Suwanee, Georgia has produced SEC back-level defenders Deangelo Gibbs (Georgia), Nigel Warrior (Tennessee) and Baylen Buchanan (Tennessee) in the past two classes alone.
Now, Dicks could make it a fourth. Despite being from a different high school, Dicks is nearly the size of Warrior and Gibbs. He's got to prove on a big stage he possesses that type of athleticism.
Right now, the SEC schools on his docket are few.
Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are the only programs to offer from that conference, though Georgia Tech and Louisville aren't exactly slouch offers. As the Forsyth County News' Paul Dybas wrote recently, The Opening tryouts already have been huge for the prospect.
"His 40-yard dash, vertical leap, shuttle run and power ball throw ranked in the 99th percentile of athletes tested," Dybas wrote. That brought offers from several major-conference programs, and now, Dicks will try to earn the attention of some of the nation's top-tier teams.
He posted five picks for Lambert High School last year, and with his size and physicality, Dicks could be an asset for teams at either safety or cornerback. If he proves he can hang with the nation's top receivers this week, the big SEC teams will come calling.
Jovaughn Gwyn, Harding University (N.C.) High School Offensive Tackle
Jovaughn Gwyn, 6'3", 290-pound 3-star offensive guard, Charlotte, North Carolina
There are plenty of higher-rated offensive linemen in this showcase than Gwyn, and the 3-star prospect from Charlotte, North Carolina, who earned an invitation in his hometown, will be looking to prove he belongs.
Several of the nation's premiere programs already have taken notice of his potential with offers, but it still isn't the type of offer sheet you'd expect from a player competing with the nation's best. Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Texas A&M, North Carolina, Louisville and Duke are among his choices.
Phil Kornblut of The State newspaper recently noted South Carolina is among Gwyn's favorites, but he grew up a Tar Heels fan.
Gwyn's strength is one of his biggest assets, but his athleticism is something that could be called into question. This is the ideal opportunity for him to prove he can hold off some of the country's top defensive linemen. If he's able to do that, there are some regional powerhouses on his radar.
Clemson and Georgia are two teams with needs in the interior of the offensive line who could pull the trigger on Gwyn if he has a strong showing. This is the chance for him to become one of the biggest uncommitted names at guard with a big week.
Christian Morgan, Porter (Texas) High School Safety
Christian Morgan, 6'0", 190-pound 3-star safety, Porter, Texas
Despite all the negative off-the-field attention Baylor received in the past few years, it didn't stop the Bears from snagging a potential dynamic defender in Christian Morgan.
One of new head coach Matt Rhule's biggest early recruiting victories will battle it out this week in Beaverton to try to prove that his one-on-one skills are as strong as his combine scores. Morgan had the highest Nike+ combine score in the country, according to Scout's Greg Powers.
That means Morgan tested through the roof on his athleticism.
Now, if he matches that performance against the top receivers in the country, many of the top programs could come calling. What happens if Tom Herman at Texas offers? LSU always has a strong presence in the Lone Star State, too, as does Texas A&M and Ohio State.
Rhule's hot start on the trail proves the Bears have some staying power, and there has been no reason to believe Morgan is anything but firm in his commitment. But, at the very least, a major showing by Morgan this week could force Rhule to prove his recruiting chops against some of the nation's best.
The Porter, Texas, product isn't the kind of player who goes throughout the process with as few top-tier offers as he currently has.
Chigoziem Okonkwo, Hillgrove (Ga.) High School Tight End
Chigoziem Okonkwo, 6'3", 220-pound 3-star tight end, Powder Springs, Georgia
One of the most difficult positions to project in all of college is tight end, and the teams who find those elite, difference-making athletes who are strong enough to block but versatile enough to provide mismatches in the passing game are the ones who boast big-time weapons difficult to defend.
Chigoziem Okonkwo is one of those intriguing, raw athletes who could burst onto the scene. Though 247Sports lists him as a wide receiver, if he grows into a tight end, that could be a major wrinkle in his college career.
This weekend is a great chance for him to see where he best belongs. If he shows he can be a dynamic tight end, the offers could come flooding in. Maryland, Georgia Tech and Wisconsin already want him, no matter where he projects.
Stanford is a team he really wants an offer from, according to Rivals.com's Chad Simmons.
Can this be the week Okonkwo catches the Cardinal's eye? He plays at the same high school where former elite Ole Miss and current New York Giants tight end Evan Engram began his career, and though it's always unfair to compare unpolished players to pros, Okonkwo has some of the same raw attributes.
If he can show out this week, some of the nation's top programs may be knocking down his door.
Kyle Pitts, Archbishop Wood (Pa.) High School Tight End
Kyle Pitts, 6'5 ½", 235-pound 3-star tight end, Warminster, Pennsylvania
The second tight end on the list also possesses elite, unteachable size. Kyle Pitts is a player who is rated as the No. 20 tight end nationally by Scout.com, but you'd never know it by his offer list.
His profile boasts a "who's who" of colleges, and Pitts is expected to announce his final destination on July 4, with Florida being an expected favorite. Alabama, Ohio State, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, UCLA, Miami, Oklahoma and others all want him.
So, why is he only a 3-star player? That's the puzzling part.
"The Gators seem to be the heavy favorite to land him at this time," Florida's 247Sports staff wrote, referencing Pitts as the Gators' fifth most-wanted prospect. "The staff is high on Pitts' ability to block as well as catch the football and feel he is a perfect fit for their offense."
Though Pitts could stand to add some weight to his lanky frame, he has all the potential in the world and that's why many of the top programs want him. He should be out to prove to the recruiting services this week that he's among the nation's best.
It's curious why he's a sleeper to the analysts when the coaches around the nation certainly know his name.
Gunner Romney, Chandler (Ariz.) High School Wide Receiver
Gunner Romney, 6'3", 200-pound 3-star wide receiver, Chandler, Arizona
Perhaps the biggest sleeper on the entire list is a guy who has NFL royalty in his veins.
Gunner Romney is the nephew of former All-Pro tight end Todd Heap, and though Heap's alma mater of Arizona State already has offered him, the Sun Devils are one of the few decent offers the receiver possesses.
Arizona, BYU and Utah are at the top of his list, Romney told Scout's Blair Angulo. Northwestern and Duke are also in the running for the receiver, who won the MVP at the Oakland regional. Still, there are a few other programs who could come calling.
After all, Romney continues to prove himself. He led the state of Arizona in receiving yards as a sophomore. Still, he's only the No. 130-rated receiver in the entire country, according to Scout.
Romney gets little love from the ratings services, and if he goes out and shows out in The Opening, that could change. Also, teams such as USC, UCLA and other powerhouse programs could start inquiring about him if he keeps making headlines.
A player with that pedigree and performing like that can't stay a sleeper for long.
Jarren Williams, Central Gwinnett (Ga.) High School Quarterback
Jarren Williams, 6'3", 201-pound 4-star quarterback, Lawrenceville, Georgia
Throughout his first four years at Kentucky, Wildcats coach Mark Stoops has proven he is exceptional at identifying stellar recruits early in the process and getting them to commit to UK.
He's getting much better at hanging onto them when the better programs come calling.
One of those players Stoops will have to battle other teams for this year is Jarren Williams, his quarterback commit who already has received flirtations from other marquee teams. Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia and others have offered.
But how many of those programs have been hot and heavy after flipping Williams?
That number could rise if Williams blows up at the Elite 11 showcase and The Opening. After decommitting and recommitting, is Williams done?
"The last couple of months have been a little crazy, but I've just tried to stay focused on the team and keep working hard," he told The Cats' Pause's Josh Edwards. "I know everything else is going to take care of itself."
Justin Fields' ultimate decision could start a domino effect that winds up affecting Williams. Others could turn up the heat on him, too. Williams is a guy whom there will be questions about until his name is on the scholarship papers with UK. This week could make him the top target for teams looking to flip a QB.
Reuben Unije, Bradenton (Fla.) Offensive Tackle
Reuben Unije, 6'6", 310-pound 4-star offensive tackle, Bradenton, Florida
It's hard to be considered a sleeper when you play for the nation's premiere high school football program, the football factory that is IMG Academy.
But Reuben Unije is somewhat of an enigma heading into this week at Beaverton.
"There's no question that Unije is a big, extremely athletic offensive lineman but he didn't start as a junior and he's got limited meaningful film," 247Sports director of scouting Barton Simmons wrote. "He's improved a lot over the last year, but we'll find out a lot about what he is based on how he responds to battling it out in pads in Oregon."
If he proves he is one of the nation's top linemen, his recruitment will really start to sizzle. He's only the 30th-rated offensive tackle in the country, according to Scout.com, but that's just because he hasn't played a lot. His athleticism and size are off the charts.
Nearly every team in the country is intrigued by Unije despite the limited game film. This is definitely a kid who could wind up with a huge week and surge into the top 10-15 players at his position in the country.
Everybody who follows recruiting may know his name after The Opening, even if they can't all spell it.