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Miami Hurricanes Football: Possible Early Declarations for the 2018 NFL Draft

Should they stay or should they go? SOTU examines the case for a group of draft eligible players

Syracuse v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

‘Ain’t no talent quite like South Florida talent’. You don’t need to tell anyone who lives in the hottest recruiting bed of the country that their area is filled with talent. They see it on Friday nights, they breathe it year-round—and they notice the football programs across the country that fly in to poach homegrown talent from their football fields.

When it comes to the University of Miami, losing players to the NFL is a fact of life, along with the humidity and sunshine of where they call home. They’re coming off of an impressive 2017 season that saw the Hurricanes climb to number two in the Associated Press Rankings, and rank second in the College Football Playoff Rankings. With incredible success, especially at the college level, there is bound to be attrition. We know of the seniors who have exhausted their eligibility, but what about those players who are faced with the decision of staying in school for another season, or taking their talents to the pro level? With RB Mark Walton being the first Hurricane to declare early for the draft, how many will follow behind him?

State of the U examines current Hurricane football players who could declare for the 2018 NFL Draft, previewing the chances that they stay or leave ‘The U’ before the January 15th, 2018 deadline for declarations. We designated each player as either a ’Cane, meaning that said player will be a Miami Hurricane in 2018, or ProCane, meaning the player would likely enter the 2018 NFL Draft.

DT RJ McIntosh—Junior

NCAA Football: Miami at Appalachian State Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the position that would be impacted the most by the 2018 NFL Draft would be the interior of the defensive line for UM. While we spoke first about Miami’s other DT, there were conversations that RJ McIntosh would be a viable candidate to leave early to the NFL. Miami’s entire defensive unit, including reserves, have played lights-out football for the majority of the season. However, RJ McIntosh has consistently stood out among others this season with big plays week in and week out. McIntosh has two-and-a-half sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and is graded by Pro Football Focus as a better defender against the run than even as a pass rusher.

What makes McIntosh’s stock difficult to judge is the abundance of defensive tackles in the NFL currently.

Should McIntosh declare for the draft it’s difficult to predict where he would land in the draft. With just about every team having at least one premier or capable defensive tackle on the roster, teams across the league are reluctant to use a early selection on a position that is not a need. Working in McIntosh’s favour however is the relief that rookies provide to the salary cap for a franchise. Which make a younger, more affordable defensive tackle perhaps more appealing than an aging veteran in the free agency market. Just focusing on this draft class, McIntosh has the chance to be a good player in a intriguing DT class, especially coming off of a career-best season.

’Cane or ProCane—75% ProCane

If McIntosh were to return to Miami, it wouldn’t be a shock. He would still be starting on a defense that should compete for an ACC title, as well as being a CFB playoff contender next season. However, his stock is fairly high based on his play throughout the season. Given the talent that likely could declare in 2019, McIntosh would go out on a high and look to take on his next challenge in life.

DT Kendrick Norton—Junior

The other half of the law firm that is McIntosh and Norton, DT Kendrick Norton has been eating double-team blocks for the past couple of seasons. Standing at six-foot-three and weighing 312 pounds, Norton has become one of the better nose tackle prospect in a 3-4 defense in the nation, and is athletic enough to be used as a one-tech in a 4-3 defense. Norton shows off his strength at the point of attack, eating up blockers at the line of scrimmage and keeping blockers from reaching the second level of the ’Canes defense, allowing Miami’s linebackers the freedom to pursue the play with minimal obstacles.

’Cane or Nah—70% ProCane

If we discussed this question a year ago, we likely would have provided the same percentage. Norton is one of the better run-stuffing prospects eligible for the draft. As we previously stated for RJ McIntosh, the market for defensive tackles is pretty loaded, and there is no guarantee that Norton improves his draft stock by returning to Miami for his senior year. However, it would help Miami, who would have to rely on sophomores and freshmen to fill out the rotation in the middle of the defensive line.

Don’t believe us, take this tidbit from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller before Saturday's masacre in the ACC Championship.

“The ACC title game is full of talent, and a lot of it comes on the defensive line. Miami has RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton, while Clemson has Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant. If you like defensive line play, those five all look like potential top-75 picks.”

Matt Miller- Bleacher Report

CB Michael Jackson—Junior

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

While the artist named Michael Jackson would not be categorized as a one-hit wonder, the Miami cornerback may qualify. In his first two seasons at UM, Jackson was primarily a special teams maven, more so than a cover corner. After this season, Jackson has far exceeded anyone's expectation, save for his own. Using his six-foot-two size to impose his will on smaller receivers, his ability to stay with speed receivers and, of course, his penchant to make plays on the ball are qualities that every NFL defense would love to add. Jackson tied for the team lead in interceptions during the regular season with four, meaning he is among the leaders for appearences with the vaunted ‘Turnover Chain’ shine.

’Cane or ProCane— 50% ’Cane

Jackson has enjoyed a successful season and played well enough to be an All-ACC player. I would like to see him provide that production at the college level for another season, if not for our own selfish reasons, but because the grace period for defensive backs in the NFL is smaller than ever.

RT Tyree St.Louis—Junior

Entering the 2017 season, St.Louis’ biggest concern had more to deal with where he was going to line up than how he would project at the pro level. Based on his consistency playing right tackle for Miami, the junior has caught the attention of scouts at the next level. St. Louis is graded by Pro Football Focus, accounting his 417 pass blocking snaps, allowing two sacks, two QB hits and nine QB hurries, for a pass blocking efficiency of 97.5. Those numbers are good enough to place St. Louis in the top 50 of draft-eligible tackles in that category. A statistic that PFF does not release is how well St. Louis is doing in the running game, often executing a reach block to get in the way of linebackers in an attempt to create big runs out of the backfield.

’Cane or ProCane—85% ’Cane

Should St. Louis return next season, he will be a senior tackle that could kick over to the left side or remain on the right side of the offensive line. If NFL talent evaluators are mumbling about his prospects this season, there will be plenty of frank discussion next season as St. Louis has the opportunity to establish himself as a premier tackle in the nation on title contending team.

DT Gerald Willis III– Redshirt Junior

You probably looked at the name and asked the question: Why would we list Gerald Willis III on here, he hasn’t played a game all season? Well, the curiosity with Willis is that he has been in college for quite a while now—roughly about four years, given his transfer and having to sit out a season based on what the team called ‘personal reasons’. Willis is a redshirt junior this season, and would be a redshirt senior should he decide to return for one more year. Losing both Norton and McIntosh at DT would be brutal, yet the loss of Willis really puts the onus on Coach Kool and Manny Diaz to have underclassmen, perhaps some freshmen, ready to compete at the start of the 2018 season.

’Cane or ProCane—55% ’Cane

This comes down to whether Willis would rather stay to benefit from attrition or is finally fed up with his situation, hoping to impress the pro crowd at combines and workouts to work his way into the league. Looking from the outside in, staying put would make the most sense, but only one person can make that decision at the end of the day.

Jaquan Johnson–Junior

Miami v North Carolina State Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

A dark-horse candidate in the preseason to become a quantifiable prospect, Jaquan Johnson has stepped into a starting role at safety for the ’Canes, providing Miami with leadership both in the locker room and on the field. Providing Miami with leadership both in the locker room and on the field. Johnson has what you expect from a Hurricanes’ safety: the speed to cover most of the field, the intuition to make a play on a ball and the confidence to stick his nose into any situation that arises during a game. In his 317 run snaps, Johnson has 38 tackles, nine assisted tackles and just five missed tackles, according to PFF. All the intangibles that a personnel evaluator could want from a safety exist inside Johnson. Does this all mean that a player who has carried around the moniker of ‘The Franchise’ since high school is likely off to the pros?

’Cane or ProCane—75% ‘Cane

As great as Johnson has played in a season where he should be an All-ACC first team candidate, outplaying the likes of FSU’s Derwin James, I would like to see Johnson return for his senior season. Again, there are likely selfish motives to this explanation, especially considering how special the 2018 version of the UM could be if a couple draft-eligible prospects hung around for another season. Staying one more season allows Johnson to bask in the shower of compliments and accolades that Derwin James received this past preseason as an touted safety. As good as Johnson has been this season, it’s fathomable that he morphs into an elite prospect in 2018.

Sheldrick Redwine–Junior

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

From 0 to 100 real quick. Ok, maybe not 100, but when you go from no buzz to internet sensation, you’re bound to see your stock rise after the season. That is what you can say about Sheldrick Redwine, who acts as the hammer of in the backend of Miami’s defense. Whether coming up to the line of scrimmage to deliver a shot, or jumping into the passing lane to make a play on the ball, Redwine is a Tasmanian Devil (the cartoon, not the real life version) as soon as kickoff commences. Of the 246 run snaps that he’s played, Redwine has accounted for 14 tackles, six assists and and just one missed tackle. Factor in his two interceptions, two tackle for loss, two fumble recovery and six pass breakups, Redwine’s playmaking ability shows up on paper as much as it does in real life.

’Cane or ProCane—80% ’Cane

When you see Redwine stepping onto the bench with a whiteboard with a message for ’Canes Fam or the national TV audience, you can’t help but assume how much fun the young man is having. There are still parts of his game that could use some tweaking in an off-season, coverage being one of the main issues, so Redwine, similar to Johnson, would be a better NFL prospect leaving Miami as a senior than riding a hot streak as a junior.

Who do you think will return for another season or opt to turn pro in the NFL?