BEAVERTON, Ore. -- I've heard my colleague Bucky Brooks rave about Nike's The Opening for many years. I finally had a chance to experience the event for myself over the holiday weekend, and it did not disappoint. It's a great opportunity to meet the future stars of college football, and it's also a good spot to gather information on current college players who either participated in the camp as recruits or participated as counselors during their college careers. I did some digging on some of the prospects who are already established CFB stars and here's what I learned.
USC QB Sam Darnold
The talented signal-caller was a participant in the Elite 11 competition as a high schooler and he returned this year to visit and workout. There was buzz about Darnold's impressive showing in the QB competition at the event. However, when I asked the coaches/staffers what stood out about Darnold, they each mentioned his humility and willingness to learn. He's always asking questions and he doesn't act like he has all of the answers. I also had several sources close to Darnold tell me they wouldn't be surprised if Darnold played two more seasons at USC. As a redshirt sophomore, he can declare for the draft as early as 2018.
UCLA QB Josh Rosen
Rosen didn't make it up to The Opening this year, but he was around this group at the Elite 11 event in Southern California a few weeks ago. Everyone involved with the camp mentioned two things about Rosen -- 1) He's one of the most gifted passers they've ever seen; 2) He's extremely confident. I studied him this summer and his natural ability jumps off the tape. It will be fun to see what he can do this fall, provided he stays healthy as he returns from shoulder surgery.
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
I spoke with a couple coaches that watched Barkley's workout at The Opening and they said it was pretty incredible. Everyone knows he's big and fast, but they were shocked by how well he ran routes and caught the ball. I asked how he compared to Leonard Fournette from last year's camp and they said it wasn't close in the passing game (Barkley had the clear edge). In fact, they said Barkley was closer to Christian McCaffrey when it comes to tracking the ball down the field (they did say McCaffrey was in a class of his own as a route runner). I watched Barkley put on a show in the Rose Bowl against USC last season. He's a unique talent.
Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
Kirk returned to The Opening to serve as a counselor this year and he made a major impression on the kids as well as the coaches. He spoke to the campers about the importance of preparation and taking care of your body. Bucky Brooks and several other coaches used the word "professional" to describe his personality and demeanor. He is all business. This was the first time I've seen him up close and he has a very muscular/compact frame, similar to a running back. He is easily one of the most electric playmakers in college football.
Alabama WR Calvin Ridley
I've seen Ridley play live several times, including against USC and Washington last fall. He is a very explosive weapon on the outside. I had the chance to spend a few minutes with him at The Opening and he's excited to play under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The coaches at the event said he put on a show running routes and catching the ball this week. He is so smooth and can explode in and out of the break at the top of his route. He should have a monster year.
Florida State S Derwin James
I loved watching James interact with the high school kids at the event. He is a high-energy dude and everyone enjoyed being around him. He's built like a power forward and I don't think he stopped moving or talking for the two days I was in Oregon. His tape is fun to watch, and I think he has the charisma to match his talent. Hopefully he stays fully healthy this fall after missing all but 2 games last season due to injury. If he does, watch out!