There aren’t many Miami Hurricanes fans that want to turn back the clock and look at the Al Golden era at “The U.” While he spent four-and-a-half years coaching the Hurricanes, he posted a 32-25 record. The team fell short of expectations, underachieving despite consistently seeing a handful of players taken in the NFL draft each year. Now with Mark Richt in charge, things are looking bright for the Miami football program.
Flashing back to the 2015 NFL Draft, the Hurricanes had seven players drafted throughout the seven rounds, two of whom were selected in the first round. Shockingly enough, the New York Giants took Ereck Flowers with the 9th overall pick. Then, the Indianapolis Colts took a speedster at wide receiver, Phillip Dorsett, with the 29th overall pick. Dorsett ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds and had a 37-inch vertical and put together a solid second season with the Colts before being traded to the New England Patriots.
Fast forward to Mark Richt signing a contract with the Hurricanes before the 2016 season, which was when changes started happening on and off the field. During his two seasons as the head coach, he’s won 19 games and lost seven games. In the NFL Draft community, he’s managed an even more impressive feat. He’s had 15 players drafted between the 2017 and 2018 NFL Drafts. That includes the 29th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, David Njoku. It’s not as impressive as Nick Saban and his 22 players drafted in the same span, but needless to say, it’s quite the feat for a program that was once viewed as “just another team” on Saturdays.
That doesn’t remain the case for the Hurricanes, though. They’ve quickly turned things around, and this year shouldn’t be any different. Despite losing three starters on their defensive line (R.J. McIntosh, Kendrick Norton, Chad Thomas), there’s plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. and as we prepare for the 2018 College Football season, here is a look at the top draft-eligible ‘Canes to keep an eye on this year.
Uncertainty on the Offense
Looking at the Miami Hurricanes’ offense, there is a lot to like. They lost talented contributors such as wide receiver Braxton Berrios and tight end David Njoku to the NFL but quarterback Malik Rosier is back for his senior season. He threw for over 3,100 passing yards with 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last year. Now that he’s got a full season as the starter under his belt, he could look more comfortable for the Hurricanes and this offense.
Malik Rosier threw for 936 yards on deep passes last year – the 11th-most among all returning QBs pic.twitter.com/oPss0MSTL4
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 18, 2018
Setting the tone up front will be left tackle Tyree St.Louis. He’ll leverage his 21 consecutive starts, from the right side to the left side, in hopes of getting this offense chugging in the right direction. Losing players such as K.C. McDermott and Trevor Darling has opened question marks regarding the interior offensive line. Despite having question marks at both guard positions, Tyler Gauthier has started 17 consecutive games, and 13 of those games have been as the starting center. The Hurricanes will rely on players like Hayden Mahoney and Jahair Jones to step in at both guard spots and hold their own.
This group makes me very uncomfortable for a few reasons. Rosier has struggled under pressure and, at times, creates pressure on himself. With limited experience along the offensive line, the pressure could build, and his performance could deteriorate further. Remaining hopeful, the Hurricanes could catch lightning in a bottle and have plenty of success with the players that have question marks. Unfortunately, I’m not holding my breath, and if there are any reasons that this team could have any setbacks, the reasons are listed above.
If there’s any reason to believe that this offense will be successful, it’ll be because of the two players I’m going to talk about next. Trust me, I know that football is a team game, but sometimes it only takes one or two players to create big plays and for the wins to stack up. Two players that have everything it takes to skyrocket up draft boards are Travis Homer and Ahmmon Richards.
Travis Homer is so damn impressive. He led the way with Mark Walton sidelined with an ankle injury for most of last season, finishing the season with 163 carries for 966 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Last year, he earned All-ACC Second Team honors, and he’ll look to build on that for this season. While impressive in the open field because of his vision and ability to barrel over defenders, he’s even more impressive between the tackles with his burst and ability to lower his center of gravity when running through the hole. Expectations will be high for him this season, as he’ll look to solidfy himself as one of the top running backs bound for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Ahmmon Richards (WR #82) is a former 4-star recruit & was explosive as a freshman. Hampered by hamstring last year – limited his production.
-Outside release vs. press w/slap & chop hand tech
-Double move – fake hitch & go
-Great body control – secures catch
-Keep feet inbounds pic.twitter.com/0lah3HcjLO
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 4, 2018
Now that Chris Herndon and Braxton Berrios are off to the NFL, the door is wide open for a number one target in the passing game. Unfortunately, Michael Irvin II is set to miss at least four months with a knee injury. Losing him as their starting tight end hurts, obviously, but the spot for a number one target is wide open.
At this point, I expect Ahmmon Richards to take the reigns as the top guy. He had a good freshman year, but injuries have held him back. With his explosiveness and smooth release out of his stance, he has the tools to become a legitimate threat.
His ability to shake defenders with double moves and get vertical up the field to high point passes with solid body control along the sideline makes him tough to stop. As of right now, he’s not the top receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft class, but there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t insert himself into that conversation.
Miami(FL) has a solid LB duo with Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney. Starting with Quarterman (#55). Plays as the rat defender, reads the crosser well and sticks receiver for only a gain of four yards.
Shaq has 167 total tackles, 17 TFL & six sacks in two seasons. pic.twitter.com/PpXYb55WD8
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 4, 2018
Defensive Front Seven
Over the last few years, the Hurricanes have generated defensive playmaker after defensive playmaker. Last year, three of their defensive linemen were drafted. They’ve produced defensive backs like Corn Elder, Rayshawn Jenkins and Adrien Colbert. Having six defensive players drafted over two years speaks volumes and does wonders for your team. If anything, believe in the “turnover chain”. Last year alone, the Hurricanes forced 31 turnovers. That placed them third in the country, and they’ll look to build on that with their current defensive playmakers.
Starting in the middle of their defense, they might have the best linebacker duo in the ACC. Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney are explosive for this defense. Pinckney might get overlooked from time to time, but he’s got the range to go sideline to sideline, and his ability to disrupt backfields is impressive. Last season, he was third on the team with 11 tackles for loss, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t lead the Hurricanes in that category this year.
As for Quarterman, he’s the more complete linebacker. He has good range, desirable closing speed in coverage, and is a sure tackler in the open field and at the line of scrimmage. With 83 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks in 2017, the 6’1 and 240 pound linebacker earned All-ACC Second Team honors. He’s now on the Butkus Award watch list, and with another season under his belt, there’s little reason to believe that he can’t stay in the running for the award all season long.
I like what I've seen from Joe Jackson (#99) from Miami (FL). Rips through the tight end and runs the arc to get pressure on Daniel Jones. pic.twitter.com/sAcZJWpwdL
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 4, 2018
Miami’s defensive line lost three starters to the 2018 NFL Draft. It’s now on edge rusher Joe Jackson to make an impact. In 2017, he had 50 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Don’t be surprised when he leads this team in sacks for the 2018 season. The true junior brings 14 career starts and his 6’5 and 265 pound frame to a defensive line that’s going to need him. As a pass rusher, he’s gifted, and at times displays a high motor. He does a nice job reading and reacting to the backfield. One area he needs to become more consistent in, though, is his hand usage.
Relying too much on power is a common trend among defensive linemen, and it can certainly help generate speed-to-power. However, power rushing and trying to bullrush offensive tackles isn’t always the best move. Lastly, he needs to get comfortable playing at heels-depth of the offensive line. Getting too deep into the backfield can become a dangerous thing, especially with so many RPO concepts being run across football nowadays.
The secondary for the Hurricanes might be the most impressive unit in college football. Safety Jaquan Johnson is an absolute monster. The way I have it graded right now, he’s the best safety in college football. He floats all over their secondary and can do anything that’s asked of him. From playing in the box, jumping to seams/flats, or being the lone wolf as the single high safety, he can do it all. Last year, Johnson led the Hurricanes with 96 tackles, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles.
Above, you can see him jumping on a hitch route. He reads the quarterback the entire way and takes the pass in the opposite direction for a touchdown. The way I see it, he’s the leader of this defense and of the “Turnover Chain”. Odds are, that won’t be changing this season. The senior has come back on a mission, and it’ll be to lead this team to a championship. Don’t be surprised when he solidifies himself as a first round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
15 days until football. We repeat, just 15 days!
No. 15 on our PFF ELO College Preseason Power Rankings – the Miami Hurricanes. pic.twitter.com/6fx9ekVfyN
— PFF College (@PFF_College) August 10, 2018
Be sure to take a look at that name a few times. Yes, Michael Jackson. No, not that Michael Jackson. But this Michael Jackson is quite the thriller on the football field. In 2017, he was dominant and truly had a breakout season. He finished the season with 43 tackles, four interceptions, and four pass deflections. As you can tell from above, he was all around great in coverage. The tape justifies that with his closing speed and hip fluidity. With his size of 6’1 and 205 pounds, he can match up against any receiver and will go stride for stride with them on any side of the field. Don’t be shocked when the senior cornerback moves up draft boards for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Lastly, Sheldrick Redwine is the other senior for this defense. He plays opposite Jaquan Johnson, and the two of them are the best safety duo in the country. Redwine sets the tone with his ability to come up and tackle, but he also flashes adequate range in coverage and has the ball skills that are needed from starting safeties. Last year, he had 59 tackles, six pass deflections, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. No matter where he’s aligned, you have to keep an eye on him. If you don’t, you’ll find out about him, and you’ll quickly see the chain around his neck.
This Miami (FL) Hurricanes football team has talent on offense, and the players I’ve listed should be the ones we hear about the most. However, this team will win football games because of their defense. They have one of the elite defenses in college football, and at any given time, they’ll generate turnovers and score big because of it. There will be other players that contribute to this team — that’s the case for any team. But the players discussed are the heart and soul of this team, and there’s a good chance we see most of them drafted in the 2019 NFL Draft.