College Football Recruiting DB Rankings 2015: Top 10 After The Opening

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystJuly 23, 2014

College Football Recruiting DB Rankings 2015: Top 10 After The Opening

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    The Opening paired America's premier quarterbacks and receivers to create passing attacks college football coaches dream about. However, those revered offensive prospects had to contend with an elite array of defensive backs who aimed to prove themselves on the big stage at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

    Several safeties and cornerbacks shined against top-tier competition, validating their invitations to the showcase event and their lengthy lists of scholarship offers. Based on performances in Beaverton and annual summer evaluations, recruit rankings recently changed.

    We analyzed the new top-10 list of defensive backs (according to 247Sports' composite rankings), and our analysis included what we saw at The Opening and on game film. Here's a detailed look at players who will spend the coming years driving college quarterbacks crazy.


    This article is part of Bleacher Report's CFB 200 Recruiting Rankings Series. The overall rankings are based on the 247Sports Composite, which takes into account every recruiting service's rankings. The positional rankings also correspond with those composite scores. Stay tuned over the next two weeks as we take an in-depth look at college football's stars of tomorrow.

10. Marvell Tell, Crespi High School (Encino, Calif.)

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    Trending: Up

    247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: UCLA (50 percent), USC (50 percent)

    Like many of the versatile defenders in these rankings, Marvell Tell displays potential to play cornerback or safety in college. Based on what we've seen, his strengths are most suitable for the free safety position, where he can patrol center field and use outstanding reactive quickness to close in on receivers and disrupt pass attempts.

    The 6'2", 175-pound playmaker is too lanky at this point to provide stout support against the run, so it makes more sense for him to play high than creep into the box on a consistent basis. This is Tell's primary role in high school; expect his next team to keep him in the same vicinity.

    While he isn't an ideal defender near the line of scrimmage, that doesn't mean Tell lacks tackling skills. He does an excellent job wrapping up receivers downfield and prevents opponents from breaking off big plays by bringing them down to the turf.

    He prevented a substantial number of yards after contact during his junior campaign, tallying 93 tackles during the past two seasons.

    Tell won't lay players out with hits, but his strikes do have some pop for a player with his slender physique. There's also a lot to like about Tell's range.

    His transition from backpedal to pursuit is effortless, and he puts himself in good position by taking proper angles along the chase. Excellent closing speed provides a reliable backstop for fellow defenders in downfield coverage.

    It may take a year or two of work with a collegiate training staff, but Tell has the frame to tack on healthy weight. By adding more bulk, he has the makings of a multiyear starter at safety and a secondary lynchpin.

9. Tyrek Cole, Miramar High School (Hollywood, Fla.)

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    Trending: Even

    Committed to: Florida State

    Tyrek Cole is one of two Seminole commits to land on this list (stay tuned for the other) and represented the 2015 Florida State class well in Beaverton. He's a prospect who requires substantial growth in a few facets before he can become a successful college contributor, but the pieces are in place for him at cornerback.

    Cole is quick enough to comfortably play an off-man technique. His acceleration allows him some wiggle room in coverage, and he can catch up to the receiver when the ball is released, vying for possession.

    The 5'11.5", 170-pound defender doesn't get an effective press at the line, due in large part to his lack of physical prowess, something that will develop with time. He still fights for real estate, establishing himself downfield with exceptional footwork and hip fluidity that ranks among the best of cornerbacks who attended The Opening.

    Cole, who picked off a pair of passes in 2013, flashes solid vertical spring. It's an important element of his game because most receivers he'll come across in college will hold at least a slight height advantage over him.

    Cole is aggressive but lacks the size to consistently take on challenges near the line of scrimmage. His tackling technique is a work in progress, as he too often just throws his shoulder into an opponent instead of wrapping up. That's an easy way to get hurt and allow a big play.

    Cole understands fine-tuning is paramount before arriving at the next level.

    "I'm working on my game, just trying to get better at every little thing," he said at The Opening. "I'm ready for a big season coming up."

    He could emerge as an effective special teams contributor early at Florida State while tightening up his technique in the defensive backfield. Cole projects favorably as a slot corner when he hits the field.

8. Jamal Peters, Bassfield High School (Bassfield, Miss.)

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    Trending: Up

    Committed to: Mississippi State

    Jamal Peters is a bit of a tweener who spends the majority of his high school snaps at outside linebacker. Given his speed and range, the 6'3", 200-pound playmaker is likely to land in the defensive secondary in college.

    His transition to full-time safety responsibilities will take some time, particularly when it comes to change-of-direction agility and pass-coverage awareness. Though the maturation process will have its ups and downs, Mississippi State is acquiring a highly skilled athlete with enormous potential.

    Peters is disruptive in every phase of the game, especially when called upon to wreak havoc in the offensive backfield. He collected nine tackles for loss and five sacks last season, handling business in the trenches.

    He won't find it nearly as easy to beat collegiate offensive linemen to the quarterback at the next level, but his presence in the Bulldogs defense will enable coaches to create new wrinkles in blitz packages that clear space for Peters to do damage.

    His abilities near the line of scrimmage are well accounted. We'll see how Peters handles himself in the back end of a defensive attack.

    He looks slightly hesitant during his backpedal, but repetition will provide a remedy. His long physique presents matchup issues for opposing receivers looking for daylight.

7. Deionte Thompson, West Orange-Stark High School (Orange, Texas)

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    Trending: Up

    Committed to: Alabama

    Despite being a key member of the country's top-ranked recruiting class, Deionte Thompson arguably exceeded expectations at The Opening. He was a roving safety in seven-on-seven competition, dominating in the flat against elite tight ends and running backs.

    Though there was no tackling in Beaverton, it's clear why Thompson has earned his reputation as an enforcer in the middle of a defense. His closing speed is terrific and builds momentum for disruptive collisions with the ball-carrier.

    His presence alone causes opponents to consider the risks before extending to haul in a pass.

    "If receivers are uncomfortable, then that's a good thing," Thompson said at The Opening.

    He plays receiver himself at the high school level and surely received interest from colleges about staying at the position. Though he's likely to line up at free safety in Tuscaloosa, don't be surprised if Thompson continues to come up big with catches.

    His junior season featured five interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns. Thompson has picked off 11 passes since 2012, providing a strong indication of his ball-hawking skills.

    There's some concern about his straight-line speed in pass coverage (he's clocked at 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash, per 247Sports), but he shows enough acceleration to provide help downfield. Look for Nick Saban to develop Thompson as a defender who can eliminate the opposition's intermediate passing efforts first and foremost.

    The 6'2", 181-pound prospect will spend plenty of time in the box, where his aggressiveness will serve him well in blitz packages and perimeter run coverage.

6. Minkah Fitzpatrick, St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, N.J.)

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    Trending: Even

    Committed to: Alabama

    Minkah Fitzpatrick was a menace in the defensive backfield throughout his team's journey to the state championship game last fall. The 6'1", 198-pound cornerback competes against Penn State quarterback commit and Elite 11 finalist Brandon Wimbush during high school practices and performed well against many top-tier passers at The Opening.

    In yet another sign of gradually changing defensive philosophy, Fitzpatrick is a player who possesses safety size but commands attention at cornerback. Based on his current frame, you could see him step onto the field as a 210-pound freshman capable of covering smaller, shiftier receivers.

    Fitzpatrick is a long-striding runner but still manages to accelerate quicker than most athletes with his length. He completed the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at The Opening and was the only player on this list to qualify for the SPARQ national finals.

    While he isn't a burner, Fitzpatrick keeps pace with most receivers and uses his size to maintain position when the ball is in the air. He disrupted 21 pass attempts and picked off four passes in 2013.

    Fitzpatrick has taken substantial reps at receiver during his high school career, and that experience shows up as he reacts to passes and comes down with difficult interceptions. He's always on the hunt for turnovers and can take one back in the opposite direction after picking off a pass.

    "I'm just out there trying to make plays that help our team take control of the game," Fitzpatrick said at The Opening. "I feel like I've improved a lot during the past year."

    His ability to extinguish rushing efforts and string them out along the perimeter is a big plus. He's a sure tackler who tallied 62 total takedowns in 2013.

5. Tarvarus McFadden, American Heritage High School (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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    Trending: Up

    247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Florida State (92 percent); LSU (8 percent)

    Tarvarus McFadden is another defensive back who continues the trend of longer, rangier cornerbacks who often would have ended up at safety in the past. Sure, he could handle himself well in a safety role, but it makes more sense to utilize his length at cornerback, where he looks comfortable and is quick enough to shine.

    Standing at 6'3" and weighing 198 pounds, his physical makeup is comparable to New England Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner, who helped the Seattle Seahawks secondary dominate last season. McFadden is tailor-made for a team looking to implement a press corner in most schemes.

    His ball skills are terrific, and he really hassles receivers in short-area passing situations, providing blanket coverage in the end zone. McFadden could find himself covering hybrid tight ends at times in college, another aspect of his physical stature that serves as a serious asset for any defense.

    He plays with an element of swagger that's more endearing than unsettling. This confidence fuels his efforts on the field.

    "I think I can stick with any kind of receiver in coverage," McFadden said at The Opening. "I'm not afraid to take guys on one-on-one."

    He proved that fearlessness in Beaverton, holding his ground against several elite pass-catchers.

    There's a physicality to his game that also deserves attention. He can lay the lumber on unsuspecting receivers and made strides in run coverage as a junior, fighting through blocks more consistently.

    Florida State is viewed as the favorite to sign McFadden, while LSU would love to pair him with fellow 5-star Florida cornerback Kevin Toliver (stay tuned for his appearance on this list).

    That duo would rival the recent Tigers tandem of Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne.

4. Kendall Sheffield, Fort Bend Marshall High School (Missouri City, Texas)

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    Trending: Even

    247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Texas A&M (94 percent); Alabama (6 percent)

    Kendall Sheffield ranks among the most gifted all-around athletes in this recruiting class. He is a nationally renowned hurdler and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds, per 247Sports.

    The 6'0", 181-pound cornerback can keep tabs on the country's quickest receivers and pursues the ball with ferocity. Sheffield, who secured six interceptions during the past two seasons, makes life difficult for quarterbacks with a long wingspan.

    His acceleration allows him to recover if he's initially outmaneuvered at the line. This recovery speed is also on display when he darts downfield after a ball-carrier who has broken through the defense's first barrier.

    Sheffield can afford to give receivers a slight cushion because he shoots off his back foot with such explosiveness that ground is quickly gained. This traps quarterbacks and sets the stage for him to jump the route and pick off an ill-advised pass attempt.

    Sheffield's athleticism also shines when he goes airborne. As the hurdling success indicates, his leaping abilities are elite and put him in position to challenge larger receivers for jump balls.

    He's a major threat with the ball in his hands as a defender or kick returner. The chase is on once Sheffield surges through a seam, and not many players are capable of tracking him down.

    There isn't enough evidence to determine that he's an above-average tackler at this stage of his career. If that aspect of his game can approach how he performs in pass coverage, Sheffield has All-American potential at the next level.

    Though Texas A&M and Alabama are viewed as top contenders for his services, this appears to be a wide-open recruitment. Sheffield is expected to visit LSU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the coming days, per Gerry Hamilton of ESPN.

3. Derwin James, Haines City High School (Auburndale, Fla.)

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    Trending: Up

    Committed to: Florida State

    Derwin James doesn't play favorites when analyzing his game. He enjoys stuffing the run and covering the pass equally, which is a big part of what makes him America's top-ranked safety.

    "I like playing in pass coverage because I love getting interceptions and sending our offense back onto the field," James said at The Opening. "But I also like to hit guys and make them think about it next time they come my way. I would say I like both the same, as long as I'm making plays."

    The dynamic Sunshine State defensive back is a one-man wrecking crew who contributes in every facet of a defensive attack. He currently plays at 6'2", 201 pounds, but he could push his weight into the 215-pound range as he progresses.

    That formidable physique enables James to unleash jarring hits, especially when a receiver is attempting to turn up the field after hauling in an underneath route. Offensive skill players have to keep their heads on a swivel when James is patrolling the field.

    His initial reaction off the snap is decisive, and he gets downhill in a hurry if there's a rushing attempt. James fires out of his stance and accelerates to close in and clobber the ball-carrier.

    "I play with my heart and go all-out on every play," James said. "That's the only way I know how to play this game."

    He stacked up an abundance of solo tackles in 2013, displaying strength in the open field and proper angles at the point of attack. James, who committed to Florida State as a freshman, truly changes the defensive complexion when he lines up in the box and should quickly become an asset for the Seminoles in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

    A muscular build doesn't take away from his effectiveness in coverage. He turns his hips with ease and can track down passes that initially appear to be sure completions until he zooms in to contend.

    Quarterbacks predominantly stayed away from him during seven-on-seven action in Oregon, though he did return an interception for a touchdown when tested at one point.

2. Iman Marshall, Long Beach Poly High School (Long Beach, Calif.)

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    Trending: Up

    247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: USC (97 percent); Stanford (3 percent)

    While roaming the sidelines after one-on-one drills, coveted Arizona wide receiver Christian Kirk didn't delay when asked which defensive back provided the most difficult matchup.

    "Oh, it was 'Biggie' by far," the 4-star prospect said.

    Iman Marshall, routinely referred to as "Biggie" by fellow players, came up big in Beaverton.

    "He definitely challenges you," top-ranked quarterback recruit Josh Rosen said. "It's fun facing a player like him because it forces you to bring your best on each and every play. You can't afford to make a mistake."

    Marshall, a 6'1", 190-pound Southern California product, can match up against all kind of receivers, from shifty slot-type guys like Kirk to larger possession receivers who try to gain ground with their size. That versatility sets him apart from the pack and makes him one of the most accomplished defenders in this class.

    He didn't surrender a single pass completion against league opponents last season, per the Long Beach Press-Telegram. On game tape, you'll often see quarterbacks look away from his side of the field after just a brief glance.

    Marshall, who is also a track standout, has incredible coverage skills fueled by rare anticipation. He doesn't get fooled by stutter-steps or jukes downfield and commits himself to smothering a receiver until he hears the whistle blow.

    His backpedal is polished, and precise lateral footwork puts him in position to bat down even perfectly placed passes. Marshall's man-to-man skills are staggering for a player still competing in high school, which shows he's an athlete who understands the importance of preparation.

    "He's like a sponge when it comes to absorbing the stuff coaches are teaching out here," Kirk said. "You can tell he's listening to everything they have to say and then using it to get better."

    Marshall also makes plays along the perimeter in run coverage. He racked up 64 tackles in 2013, consistently identifying and dismantling rushing lanes at the second level.

    Unlike some top-flight cornerbacks, Marshall tackles through the torso with his head up. Simply put, he's a complete and disciplined defender.

1. Kevin Toliver, Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Fla.)

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    Trending: Up

    Committed to: LSU

    The good news for Tigers fans is your team landed one of the most complete defensive back prospects we've seen this decade. The bad news is he could follow in the footsteps of several past LSU stars and leave for the next level after three seasons.

    Yes, Kevin Toliver is special enough to warrant that note about a possible early NFL draft declaration.

    The 6'2", 185-pound playmaker is precisely the kind of cornerback teams covet in today's game. Scouts aren't simply looking for straight-line speed and fluid hips at the position anymore.

    Length, physicality and height have become paramount in this pass-happy era. Just look as what an "oversized" Seattle Seahawks secondary did to Peyton Manning in February on the sport's grandest stage.

    Toliver contests passes many corners couldn't touch. He displays incredible athleticism, making acrobatic plays in midair that save his squad from surrendering big plays downfield.

    Rarely tested during his team's state title run, Toliver tallied 36 tackles and two interceptions. His presence was undoubtedly on the mind of every quarterback he faced.

    He owns big chunks of space in pass coverage, which takes some pressure off his teammates and allows them to exploit other areas of the field. Toliver is intense at the line, jamming receivers and giving them fits upon their burst.

    "I'm definitely a physical cornerback. That's how I like to play," he said at The Opening.

    After the initial press, Toliver effortlessly transitions into coverage and shadows his opponent with elite change-of-direction quickness. He'll bait his fair share of quarterbacks in college by making them think there's enough room to fire a pass before his burst and reach allow him to close in and come away with an interception.

    Toliver also provides a presence against the run, though his tackling technique remains more of a wallop than a textbook wrap-up. Given his size and toughness, he certainly warrants consideration at safety, but expect him to stay put at cornerback and match up against opponents' No. 1 receivers in the SEC throughout his collegiate career.

    LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis should be delighted to bring in yet another player who can excel in press-man coverage, a role in which current NFL standouts Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne once thrived.


    All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

    Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.