The first name that comes to mind is Killeen Shoemaker 2016 five-star defensive tackle Kendell Jones.
We saw Jones at last summer's "Under The Lights" camp in Austin, where he drew a lot of attention simply because of how physically impressive he is. But Jones was very stiff during position work at that camp and gave me a little doubt about just how good he could be. I then saw him in a November first-round playoff game. As usual, he drew a double-team every down and sometimes fought triple-teams. He certainly did not have a bad game, but there wasn't a lot that jumped out, other than his obvious ability to sit in the middle of a 3-4 defense and eat up blockers and space. Like last July, his lateral movement seemed greatly restricted, though playing an odd-front nose he wasn't asked to do much of that.
Then came Sunday's Nike The Opening Dallas Regional, where he dominated for much of the day. The pads weren't on, but he showed improved burst off the ball and looks as if he's in as good of shape as I've seen him. Jones was so dominant in 1v1 drills against offensive linemen that it seemed like not many opponents wanted to challenge the big fella. In other words, how he performed Sunday definitely eased some of the doubts that had crept into my mind about him starting last summer. I don't know if he's ever gonna be a good fit for an even-front defense, but he's so physically overwhelming that he's a no-brainer take regardless of the type of base defense you run. He has the five-star tag on his name and performed to five-star standards Sunday in Arlington.
Another player who has impressed me at two camps I've seen also happens to be just about the only guy who seemed to voluntarily want a piece of Jones on Sunday: Manvel 2016 three-star offensive guard Mackenzie Nworah. I first saw the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Nworah at the Houston Next Level Athlete camp in mid-January, when he had one offer from Colorado. Two months later and Nworah is two offers shy of double digits. Not only did Nworah go through four reps vs. Jones, he did so playing out of position at center. He also matched up twice at his natural position of guard vs. Monroe (La.) Neville five-star defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence and essentially battled him to a draw.
While Nworah is indeed a guard at the next level, he has tackle-like arms that help him as a pass-blocker, which is where his strength lies at the moment. He's light on his feet, so the combination of that and his wingspan makes for a very good tough assignment for pass-rushers. If Nworah continues to develop as a run-blocker, he will make for an excellent guard signee for somebody next February.
In the 2017 class, I'd have to go with Bellaire Episcopal four-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, who completely dominated the Houston Next Level Athlete camp, and Waco La Vega tight end Kedrick James. I didn't get to see any of his 1v1 matchups, but what I saw from him in position work and from the eyeball test really caught my attention.
We've told you a lot about Connor Williams as a possible name that could surprise at offensive tackle based on the work ethic and confidence he's shown in the off-season workout program. But how about a veteran name I've been hearing in Texas workouts as a guy who seems to have bought in completely - WR Daje Johnson.
I was told Daje has had the best "competitive edge" of any of the receivers in workouts and seems to have grasped that as a senior, his time is now.
Daje has been at the front of lines in workouts, leading the receiver group and setting a strong example. This is very good news considering Johnson has been suspended to start every season he's been at Texas up to this point.
Texas has done a great job identifying players and establishing relationships with them and their families. A couple players I have been impressed with are cornerback Eric Cuffee, 6-foot, 190-pounds, linebacker Dontavious Jackson, 6-foot2, 237-pounds, linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch, 6-foot-2, 225-pounds, tight end Kaden Smith, 6-foot-5, 235-pounds and safety Eric Monroe, 6-foot, 180-pounds.
All five players have been selected to attend the Opening. All five players have offers from Texas. Tight end Kaden Smith was so dominating he won WR MVP. Eric Monroe played fast and showed off his athletic ability during the camp. Eric Cuffee is a player not talked about as much as some other high profile players but this kid can flat out play and is turning heads. It’s very tough to take the physical play out of Dontavious Jackson during a camp setting but he was one of the top players on the field. Big, fast, physical and the attitude you want from your inside backer. Another linebacker who showed off his skills was Jeffrey McCulloch. He is another one of the top players heading to the Opening with speed to burn.
I’ll go with one recruit and one Longhorn.
The recruit I’ll go with aside from Kendell Jones, who is a bonafide freak, is his partner in crime at the Dallas NFTC, Jordan Elliott.
The Baylor commitment has absolutely blown up the last two months and I saw first-hand why exactly that is on Sunday. Not only does he have the physical tools but he was one of the more coachable, understanding recruits I saw all day long.
I loved his attitude and his drive in 1-on-1s. I’d give Jones the edge in terms of being most dominant in drills but Elliott wasn’t far behind.
While we’re talking about linemen I have to give credit to 2017 OL Jack Anderson. He actually gave Elliott his toughest battles throughout the day from what I saw. Anderson is legit. Big fan.
In terms of a Longhorn I am hearing good things about I’m going to have to go with Daje Johnson. No, this is not a misprint.
Johnson has come a loooooong way from the player that many weren’t certain would last through the 2014 season.
He understands that time is running out for him to prove himself to this program and NFL scouts. He has taken it upon himself to be one of the leaders on offense. That’s a great sign for the Longhorns.
Look for Johnson to become a more integral part of UT’s base offensive sets this season. I’m expecting big things from the speedster.