In the midst of Miami’s win over Duke, ESPN broadcasters stated that 16 representatives from NFL clubs were among those in attendance and interested in seeing the prospects on-hand. While all 32 NFL franchises sending a scout to this weekend’s rivalry game in Tallahassee would be wishful thinking, the head count on Saturday will surely exceed those who were in attendance in Durham.
This epic showdown of collegiate rivals settles the debate of which school is better — at least for a couple hours. However, in a game fit for primetime, the game is more than just a rivalry to the players; it represents a grand opportunity to leave a positive impression on draft evaluators. Does the prospect wilt under the bright lights? Is the player as dynamic in-person as he is on film? Is he more of a leader of men or a follower? Those are just some of the questions that could be best answered in this Sunshine State rivalry. State of the U took a look at the top Miami prospects eligible for the 2018 NFL Draft, examining what will be at stake as they enter Saturday’s war with the Seminoles.
RB Mark Walton
A lingering ankle injury won’t be enough of a barrier to prevent Mark Walton from showing up on Saturday. The early favorite to repeat as team MVP, Walton has carried the offense when it was starved for a pulse early in the season. In what could be a center stage moment, the FSU game could serve as the centerpiece in Walton’s highlight film would be a major coup for the Walton, who has flown under the radar behind the likes of Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Stanford’s Bryce Love who have grabbed the headlines for the potential 2018 running back class.
Entering the season, some outlets had Walton as a third round selection. However, it feels as though he has climbed up the board with each game. A big performance in Tallahassee in front of scouts, who put an emphasis on seeing players in person and not just on tape, will go a long way to making that decision of whether to stay one more year or to leave on a high much decision.
DT Kendrick Norton
The FSU fanbase are still angrily holding onto the image of Kendrick Norton flexing over QB Deondre Francois in their last meeting. For his part, Norton will look to be on a poster once again with James Blackman filling the role of Francois this time around. Norton is a true junior who will have the option to declare for the draft once the season concludes. The potential 2019 defensive tackle class is considered to be average, with Clemson DT Christian Wilkins being the front-runner among draft-eligible prospects. Norton should command a double-team against a struggling offensive line. Norton will have competition for attention at the position as FSU’s Derrick Nnadi is projected ahead of “big thick” in preseason draft rankings. Should Norton be able to add to his 1.5 tackles for loss and pick up his first sack of the season, it would help Miami’s defensive tackle transition from the conversation of being an average prospect into Norton being a hot commodity.
DT Richard McIntosh
Aside from Joe Jackson — who will be eligible for the 2019 NFL draft — Richard McIntosh has done the most early in the season to improve his stock along Miami’s defensive line. McIntosh is tied with DE Chad Thomas for the team lead of 3.5 tackles for loss to lead the team, adding two sacks to place him second on the team in that category. McIntosh’s ability to get off blocks and put pressure on quarterbacks has been illustrated in every game this season. While Norton has become a fan favorite, McIntosh has shown an ability to make a living in an opponent’s backfield. McIntosh should be in for a productive Saturday, matching up against a reshuffled FSU offensive line. Similar to his tag partner Kendrick Norton, McIntosh will have his own FSU comparison of Demarcus Christmas to deal with. It would benefit McIntosh — and Miami’s defense — to put on a show against Florida State’s offensive line.
DE Chad Thomas
In what could be his last opportunity to beat Florida State, this game has special meaning to Chad Thomas. The senior defensive end put together a solid game last year, sealing off the edge to prevent RB Dalvin Cook from cutting a big run to the outside. While chasing after sacks and getting tackles for loss are tangible stats that people can account for, holding your ground and containing the run are not glamorous tasks to carry out. Thomas does the dirty work for Miami in that respect and still manages to get those appealing stats. Should Thomas hold his ground against the Seminoles running game, Thomas could not only be celebrating his first victory over FSU, but will have also put together a keystone for his 2017 highlight tape.
TE Christopher Herndon IV
Entering the 2017 season, it was just assumed that Christopher Herndon would pick up from where David Njoku left off after last season. If that is true, Herndon has come out of the blocks slow but steadily to start the 2017 season. Currently tied with Braxton Berrios with a team leading 10 receptions, Herndon has found most of his work on shallow receptions, serving as a reliable target for QB Malik Rosier. Projected by draft analyst such as Mel Kiper Jr to be a top-10 TE for the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft, Saturday presents an opportunity for the Miami tight end to illustrate why Miami is TE U.
OT KC McDermott and OG Trevor Darling
The offensive line has held up welly so far this season. For Miami’s two senior offensive lineman, FSU’s defensive line represents ideal competition in terms of measuring just how good the unit can be overall. It’s difficult to evaluate a single offensive lineman given how dependent each position is upon the man next to him. Should Miami’s offensive line continue to be among the best in that nation yielding the least amount of tackles for loss (15 TFLs allowed, tied for 5th in the NCAA), as well as helping the ’Canes maintain their 236 rushing yards per game average, it probably means that the players on the left side of the line were winning their matchups on Saturday afternoon.
CB Dee Delaney
The transition from FCS to FBS competition has been a bumpy road for Delaney. The cornerback, who many believed would come to Miami as a finished product, has found himself defending his decision-making and play more than defending opposing receivers. The first two games saw plenty of miscommunication and poor technique as Delaney became the scapegoat for the inefficiencies on defense — some warranted, others not so much. Against Duke, Delaney put together a better performance; however, FSU is a different challenge. The acclimation period is over for the Citadel transfer, with plenty at stake for Miami on Saturday. It will be intriguing to see how much defensive coordinator Manny Diaz trusts Delaney and how often FSU goes at him, given the precedent this season. A good showing helps Delaney’s stock, confirming that he warrants a draft grade. If it is the same Delaney from the first two games of the season… well, you can always go pro in something other than sports.
WR Braxton Berrios
Even with the return of WR Ahmmon Richards, Braxton Berrios still has a focal role in Miami’s passing game. For ’Canes fans, and Berrios himself, we’re finally seeing the version of the receiver that they imagined. By now, you have read the stat that Berrios is the first Miami WR to score in every game since WR Andre Johnson in 2002. The ’Noles pose the biggest challenge to Miami’s receiving corp, poised to be the best secondary unit Miami will battle this season. I’ve been on record saying that Berrios would be the ideal slot receiver in the NFL. Should Berrios extend his TD streak to four, Berrios should separate himself from the pack of wideouts eligible for the 2018 NFL Draft.
DE Trent Harris
Trent Harris has gone under the radar plenty during his career at Miami. However, Harris has been an integral part of Miami’s defensive line rotation. Harris enters Saturday’s contest leading Miami in sacks with 2.5. A high-motor player coming off the line of scrimmage, Harris does a good job of getting to quarterbacks. While sacks are not everything, the statistic continues to show defensive success. Here’s hoping that Harris is very successful against the ’Noles.
K Michael Badgley
Kickers, like punters, are people too. Michael Badgley was named to the Lou Groza Award pre-season watch list. Plenty of games in the Miami-FSU rivalry have come down to the wire, a few games in the series decided by the leg of a kicker. Badgley missed a 53-yard attempt against Duke last week – his only blemish this season. Miami has supreme confidence in their senior kicker, who will need to be clutch in a huge moment for both player and program.
The M.O. for the trip to Tallahassee is to return to Miami triumphant. It also benefits the program when its players step up in big games such as this, proving to fans, opponents and the NFL that…
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!