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March 6, 2012

What we learned: NLA 7v7 Atlanta

MORE: Sleepers | Sat. | Sun. | Full coverage

At the two-day New Level Athletics Elite 7v7 last weekend near Atlanta, some top prospects lived up to the hype while others did not, sleepers emerged and several class of 2014 standouts made their presence felt. Here are five things we learned from the event:

1. These guys can catch, too

After watching Rivals250 running back Tyren Jones of Marietta (Ga.) Walton and four-star tailback Alvin Kamara of Norcross (Ga.) for two days, it became abundantly clear: These are two of the most complete backs in the class. Not only are they excellent at running the ball, but each is capable of being a major asset in the passing game at the next level. Having watched Kamara at the recent Georgia Junior Bowl, it wasn't a surprise to see him catch the ball well and make great moves after the reception in the open field. Meanwhile, Jones ran excellent routes, looked the ball in well and secured it nicely and consistently. In college, look for the receiving skills of each to be heavily utilized. It looks as if both are capable of being every-down guys.

2. Major impact

Pro Impact, the Jacksonville (Fla.)-based team that won the event, didn't have as much star power as some of the other squads, but it's clear there were some very talented players on its roster. Reggie Wilkerson of Ocala (Fla.) North Marion was the best of the bunch, and he did very good things on both sides of the ball. The 5-foot-11, 168-pounder has several offers, including one that just came from Georgia. Although he's a very good receiver (particularly after the catch), many believe he'll end up at corner in college. Defensive back Jamonte Jones of Ocala (Fla.) St. John Lutheran and 2014 receiver Isaiah Ford of Jacksonville Trinity Christian also came up big. Ditto for 2014 quarterback Ryan McFarlin of Jacksonville Atlantic Coast, who might have Division I potential.

3. Virginia is for ballers

No, Team Virginia didn't win the championship. But the squad did reach the semifinals and featured some of the most impressive young talent on hand. One player that stood out was 2014 defensive back/receiver Quin Blanding of Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside. The 6-2, 185-pounder was razor sharp on both sides of the ball, scoring several touchdowns and making deflections and interceptions relatively often. Blanding, who likely will play safety in college, already holds more than a half-dozen offers, with North Carolina being his most recent. Another player we really liked was 2014 tight end/defensive end Jalyn Holmes of Norfolk (Va.) Lake Taylor. The 6-5, 225-pounder arguably had the most impressive body in the event, and he already has a handful of offers, including one from Penn State.

4. Texas tandem

Two of the better players in Roswell were sophomore defensive backs Edward Paris and Brandon Simmons, both of whom play for Mansfield (Texas) Timberview. Simmons is a 6-foot, 170-pound safety who moves well and does a nice job of surveying the action. Paris is a 6-foot, 188-pound corner with good speed and excellent hips. Paris is a particularly unique prospect because of his frame. He's incredibly lean and has really long arms. Because of his size and overall athleticism, that length could give him an edge over other top players at his position. Look for him to emerge as one of the elite corners during the next two seasons.

5. Sunshine standout

Class of 2014 quarterback D.J. Gillins of Jacksonville Eagle's View Academy probably was the most intriguing sophomore prospect on hand. The 6-3, 185-pounder has Division I potential at two positions - QB and safety. As a signal caller, Gillins showed very good poise and did a nice job quickly making his reads and spotting the open man. While he doesn't spin the ball exceptionally well at this point, he does deliver it to where it needs to be. During the event, Gillins also made his impact on defense. Playing safety only because his team needed him there, he looked extremely good. In fact, that's an understatement. Gillins covered a ton of ground, broke very well on the ball and broke up several passes on the back end. This is a top-notch athlete that could probably play either position at the next level.

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at Keithrivals@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @KeithRIVALS.



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