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Recruiting Radar: a first look at the 2017 class

With the 2016 recruiting cycle nearly finished (there's still time for post-NSD signings and transfers), we take a look at the next wave of talent: the 2017 recruiting class.

Time to switch focus to the future. #Squad17, you're up.
Time to switch focus to the future. #Squad17, you're up.

Just last week, the Miami Hurricanes closed the 2016 recruiting cycle with a solid class of prospects. Ending up with a class ranked 19th by ESPN, 21st by 247sports, and 24th by Rivals, Mark Richt and company did a good job salvaging a solid year and added several ready-to-play players to the roster.

With the majority of the top end talent in 2016 being offensive players, you can rest assured that the staff will be targeting defense VERY strongly in 2017. They know like we know this roster needs 2 things: Cornerbacks and Defensive Tackles. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. We'll talk about them more later.

For now, I'm going to stay away from the "how many kids can Miami take in 2017????!?!!??!" question. Let's just get our bearings, look at the commits, and we'll circle back to numbers and spots and things of that nature later.

Cool? Cool.

2017 Class rank

As of right now, Miami has the #3 recruiting class in America according do 247Sports. This group is strong in numbers, having 10 commits at publishing time. Of those 10 current commits, 4 of them have 4-star ratings, and 2 more of the 3-stars could easily have their ranking elevated as the 2017 recruiting cycle progresses. Miami is one of 2 schools (Ohio State, who currently have the #1 class for 2017, being the other) who have double digit commits for 2017 at the publishing of this article.

That Miami has a top rated class at current is no surprise. This was a staple of Al Golden's recruiting strategy: get kids in the boat early, get LOTS OF THEM in the boat (2016 class once had 24 commits, and had 25 decommits through the cycle), and then play defense to keep them in the class. Obviously, the last part, keeping committed kids in the class, was not something at which that the previous staff excelled.

I'm NOT going to rehash the history there, but just know that things need to change on that front.

2017 Commits

4-star OT Navaughn Donaldson (6'5" 300lbs), Miami Central HS, Miami, FL

Donaldson is a talented player at a position of need. Miami Central routinely puts out top notch linemen, and Donaldson is the next in that line. Current Canes Trevor Darling and Joseph Yearby both played their prep ball at Central, so the talent level has been there for years. Donaldson is arguably the best commit in this class currently, and will be a top 100-150 recruit in this class. Miami will have a fight to keep him in this class, as many top teams have already offered Donaldson and are sure to continue to pursue him throughout this cycle.

4-star RB Robert Burns (5'11" 210lbs), Gulliver Prep, Miami, FL

Burns is a physical FREAK who tests incredibly well at camps and combines. He is JACKED for a kid his age (for most people of any age, for that matter) and has the physical skills to be a dominant player. He played with 2016 signees Dionte Mullins, Joseph Jackson, and Cedrick Wright at Gulliver Prep this past year...but he didn't play much. For all Burns' physical skills, the red flag on him is his penchant for injuries. Not giving them, getting them. At worst Burns is a great RB2 option in this class. At best, he's Mark Richt and Thomas Brown's next superstar RB.

4-star LB Tyler Dunning (6'1", 225lbs), St. Thomas Aquinas, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

If you've been following HSFB and recruiting for even a week, you know St. Thomas Aquinas is THE preeminent program in America. Dunning is one of many high level recruits STA has on the roster for this cycle. He's been committed to Miami since February 2015, and is now seeing his offer list explode. Dunning played OLB, ILB, DE, and DT for St. Thomas last year, and was good to great at all of those positions. I fully expect Dunning to hold 30+ offers after the spring evaluation period. In short: he's good. Real good.

4-star DL Jonathan Ford (6'5" 250lbs), Dillard HS, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

The most recent commit could end up being the best of the bunch. Ford is a top notch defensive lineman who could end up playing as a big DE or grow into DT at the collegiate level. He's already 250lbs as a HS junior, so adding 35lbs and playing DT at 285 in a couple of years is not outside the realm of possibilities. Like all the guys listed so far, expect him to be heavily offered and highly pursued through the spring evaluation period and the duration of the 2017 recruiting cycle.

3-star WR/TE Kemore Gamble (6'3", 220lbs), Miami Southridge HS, Miami, FL

Talented and athletic pass catcher who fits the mold of what Miami has recruited at the TE position in recent years. Gamble plays for a HS team that should (maybe?) be really, really good next year.

3-star LB Waynmon Steed (6'1", 218lbs), Miami Central HS, Miami, FL

The 2nd Miami Central player on the commit list, Steed is an instinctual and productive linebacker who headlines one of the best HS defenses in America. If he finds a way to grow an inch, that would be awesome.

3-star RB Bentavious Thompson (6'0" 190lbs), Miami Southridge HS, Miami, FL

A workmanlike back, Thompson is a solid player who could add depth to the position for Miami. He doesn't have a ton of wiggle to his game, but he's very good running downhill and inside the tackles, a skill few HS backs excel at. While I like Thompson and his game (and his connection to current Canes Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine, former temmates from his time at Miami Killian HS), Miami may end up shooting for more star power at the RB position in 2017, a class that LOADED at this position.

3-star CB Nick Roberts (5'11", 175lbs), Oakleaf HS, Orange Park, FL

A teammate of 2016 early enrollee Shaq Quarterman, Roberts is a solid player that the CB position, one of need for Miami. While his measurables may not wow you, Roberts is a tough and strong athlete for his size, of which I have evidence:

Roberts would be a depth player to start, but could develop into a nice player in the secondary in subsequent years.

3-star S Ahman Ross (5'11" 185lbs), The Bolles School, Jacksonville, FL

Ross is physical player who loves to play in the box. He's very good in run support and in coverage. He's not the biggest, fastest, or strongest athlete at the safety position, but he can do everything you need a safety to do on the field. Would be a special teams player early, and hopefully develop into a base defense player.

3-star LB Aundre Kearney (6'0" 210lbs), Mandarin HS, Jacksonville, FL

Kearney is a bit undersized for an LB, but he makes up for it with good instincts and decent speed. Like all players on this list save Ford, Kearney committed to the previous coaching staff. The story of his recruitment, like the others, will be told through the spring evaluation period and summer. But, for a player who was first team all district, all conference, and all state in 2015, Kearney may just be a late bloomer that Miami was on early.

The Great Unknown

Talking about Miami Hurricanes recruiting is going to be different for one big reason: nobody REALLY knows what this staff is going to do. That includes evaluations, and connections, and offers, and drawing interest from players who otherwise previously may not have even considered Miami, there are so many moving parts that are more question marks than answers.

Several things can reasonably be assumed, however. First, Miami is going to make a CONCERTED effort to recruit the "State of Miami" (basically, from Orlando down through South Florida) as the foundational base of every class. And, if you look at the 2016 class, that's already started. So, more top players from Central/South Florida will be targeted.

Next, strategic National recruiting expansion. Several coaches have connections in areas outside of Florida for recruiting. Coach Kuligowski has deep recruiting ties in Texas and Louisiana. Mark Richt has connections in Georgia (he WAS the head coach at the flagship institution of that state for 15 years, you know). And there are others. So, it stands to reason that Miami will look to strategically expand the recruiting base throughout the Southeastern United States.

Third, Miami coaches will be working/speaking at a coaching clinic at DeMatha Catholic School in Washington, D.C. DeMatha, known for their top-notch basketball program under the direction of legendary coach Morgan Wooten, has made leaps and bounds in football to become a regional powerhouse. With several P5 recruits in the past 3 cycles, getting a foothold in the fertile recruiting area of the DMV could pay off big time.

Lastly, and this is a combination factor, but Miami's ability to WIN GAMES and the Coaching Staff's clout nationally will open doors in recruiting. I said it for years: if Miami wins, recruiting would pick up. Unfortunately, the previous staff was unable to accomplish this. Hopefully, the new one will. And, with respected coaches all over this staff, from Mark Richt to Craig Kuligowski to Stacy Searels to Thomas Brown to Todd Hartley to Manny Diaz to Ron Dugans, top players from around the country could, and potentially will, give Miami a serious look that they otherwise would not have. That already started in 2016 with several top recruits connecting with Miami in the month after the Dead Period. Expect that trend to continue and grow as this staff builds the program in a positive direction.

Oh yeah, and having a full year, instead of 3 weeks to connect with 2017 players will pay off in a big way. Just you wait and see.

That's it for today. There's more to this coming your way tomorrow, so be ready.

Go Canes!