USC Rising Stars: Defense

The Rising Stars Camp was packed with top players from all over the country last week. We break down the defensive top performers from the event.

USC Rising Stars is annually one of the best camps in the nation, and with a long list of top players in attendance Wednesday and Thursday, the Trojan coaching staff one again put on a great show.

The Defensive Line — Top Performer Jordan Elliott

While the defensive line group at the Rising Stars camp had some intriguing talent, it was a bit of a wash for stand out performances. Many of the drills were conducted at Cromwell Field away from much of the action. However, Houston (Texas) defensive tackle Jordan Elliott was one defensive lineman that was recognized frequently by the USC coaching staff.

Elliott played almost exclusively at defensive end, showing great foot work and lateral movement for a 300-pound defensive linebacker. Very few running plays went anywhere to his side of the field, which was often opposite of rush end Daelin Hayes.

The starting rotation of Elliott, Cedar Grove (Ga.) defensive tackle Antwan Jackson and Lakeland (Fla.) defensive end Keyshon Camp was definitely one of the most anticipated of the event. That pitted Elliott against USC committed offensive lineman Frank Martin several times. What Elliott flashed in that battle was an ability to get slippery and work himself into the passing lane even if he wasn’t getting great up-field penetration.

Elliott has a wide base and really proved to be a space eater more than a leaned out three-technique who is going to get constant penetration on passing downs. Although he didn’t play in the one-shade over the center, Elliott has the build to be a 320-pound nose tackle.

Another player than deserves some mention is Long Beach (Calif.) St. Anthony’s defensive end Curtis Weaver. The small school prospect has scholarship offers from Boston College, Wisconsin, SDSU, Virginia and Washington State, so he’s not a complete unknown. At 250-pounds, Weaver wasn’t as physically impressive as his out of state counterparts, but he did play well in one-on-one drills.

The Linebackers — Top Performer Daelin Hayes

Torrance (Calif.) committed linebacker Mique Juarez didn’t participate in the camp, which really left the two most notable prospects to battle it out as Ann Arbor (Mich.) rush end Daelin Hayes and Honolulu (Hawaii) inside linebacker Jordan Iosefa.

Hayes gets the nod for his fantastic footwork in drills and his pass rush ability in team 11-on-11. At 6-foot-4, 240-pounds, Hayes had no problem setting the edge against the run either, although being a camp with no pads and limited contact, there was very little edge to set.

Hayes was a handful in pass rush drills, and even in 11-on-11 team periods, he frequently forced the quarterback to step into the pocket. There were times when he was hung out to dry in man coverage against Najee Harris, but Hayes was composed and didn’t give up any clear passing lanes. Overall, Hayes was definitely one of the top seven or eight performers of the entire camp.

The Defensive Backs — Top Performer Nigel Knott

Although several top defensive backs opted out of participating in the camp, this was still a very strong group overall. Corona (Calif.) Centennial safety Chacho Ulloa and La Vergne (Tenn.) junior safety Maleik Gray get honorable mention because both players were very good Wednesday.

Ullloa had a nice interception in the stacked morning session, and although he was not the most athletic safety in attendance, he was complimented several times by the USC coaching staff for his football IQ. Gray, who got a ton of reps Wednesday at cornerback and safety, was several pass deflections.

However, when it came to grinding and going whistle to whistle ever reps, Starkville (Miss.) four-star cornerback Nigel Knott has tough to beat. Knott made a handful of tremendous plays all over the field against some of the camp’s best wide receivers. Knott isn’t the most physical cornerback, but his agility, awareness and ability to track the ball in the air stifled his receiver opponents.

Hip fluidity and flexibility was the biggest difference between Knott and the likes of Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) junior cornerback Thomas Graham, who also won camp honors in addition to a scholarship offer Wednesday. Graham was among the top dozen or so players at Rising Stars, but he really dominated muscling up receivers at the line of scrimmage. Knott displayed the ability to jam in press coverage, but he also showed an ability to transition and find the football mid-flight.

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