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Miami Hurricanes Football 2017 Position Preview: Cornerback

In the face of uncertainty, an unproven but talented group of corners are ready to step up

Miami v North Carolina State
Malek Young picks off NC State in the endzone.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Projected Cornerback Depth Chart

CB #1 CB #2 Nickel
CB #1 CB #2 Nickel
Dee Delaney Jhavonte Dean Malek Young
Michael Jackson Ryan Mayes Trajan Bandy

Key Departures

Corn Elder (Graduation/NFL), Adrian Colbert (Graduation/NFL), Sheldrick Redwine (Moved to safety), Terrance Henley (Transfer)

Top Guns

This is all based on conjecture at this point - 3 of Miami’s 4 main contributors at the position from 2016 are gone, with Elder and Colbert off to the NFL and Redwine now working at safety for the Canes. The two projected starters (Delaney and Dean) weren’t even on campus until this summer, so we haven’t even seen them in action at all yet. But make no mistake: whoever it is that walks onto the field at Hardrock Stadium for the opening snap, the coaching staff will make sure they have earned that right.

Having said all that, Dee Delaney looks like a pretty sure bet to be Miami’s top corner in 2017. Delaney grad transferred into Miami over the summer after a standout career at the Citadel, winning FCS All-American honors twice and earning NFL Draft buzz along the way.

To help him out, Miami also brought in the #2 JUCO corner in the nation out of Blinn College (TX) in Jhavonte Dean. Once an Alabama commit, Dean flipped his commitment to Miami near Signing Day, deciding to return to his South Florida roots to finish his college career.

Citadel v Georgia Southern
Dee Delaney hopes to be the top dog at corner for the Hurricanes in 2017.
Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

How do these two fit into Manny Diaz’s defensive scheme, you ask? They both have the look of the prototypical tall, long corner that is all the rage these days, with Delaney at 6’1 and Dean at 6’2. As Diaz likes to blitz and send the house frequently, corners in his scheme must be comfortable on a island matched up one-on-one with a receiver without help. Delaney is physical enough to matchup with taller wide receivers, bump them off the line, and play the press coverage required by a Manny Diaz defense. With 13 career interceptions, his nose for the football and ability to create turnovers is something Miami hasn’t seen at corner since Artie Burns left.

While Delaney is more of a complete corner at this stage, Dean is more known for his speed. Dean has been clocked at a legit 4.30 and has the ability to recover quickly if he is beaten off the line.

Above all else, their most important attribute by far is bringing college-level experience to a young cornerback group that severely lacks it.

Jhavonte Dean is all smiles getting ready for the season.

The Calvary

Malek Young is the only returning cornerback that played in crunchtime for Miami last season, earning the coaches trust and making a handful of starts as a true freshman after struggling early in the year. His reward for 2017? Watching the coaches bring in two upperclassmen stud transfers to take his playing time. Young got kind of a raw deal, but the moves were necessary to ensure Miami had numbers and some semblance of depth at CB. He’s not a prototypical #1 corner at 5’9, but regardless of Delaney and Dean, Young will still see plenty of time in nickel packages when Miami takes a LB off the field and moves to 5 DB sets. He had a standout spring, culminating in 2 picks in the final spring scrimmage, and has an outside shot to push Dean for the #2 role.

Even though he hasn’t played much outside of special teams to this point, junior Michael Jackson is looking to become more than a pop culture reference and give the coaches an additional corner to rely on. Jackson was another that impressed in spring and his improvement caught the attention of cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph.

“Statistically, Michael Jackson…We just looked at all the man coverages, and who statistically is doing the best job with the amount of talent they have been thrown at,” said Rumph when discussing Jackson’s development this spring. “Mike is doing a pretty good job out there just being consistent and showing what he can do.”

NCAA Football: Miami at Notre Dame
Michael Jackson celebrates after his fumble return for a TD against Notre Dame.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Even though he wasn’t technically enrolled for spring ball, 4-star freshman CB Trajan Bandy spent time at spring practices shadowing coach Rumph, and has shown the initiative to learn his craft that can lead to early playing time. Like Young, Bandy also stands at 5’9 and will spend time covering the slot, but he’s an athlete that uses advanced technique to play bigger than his size and can play on the outside as well if needed.

As a redshirt junior, Ryan Mayes has been in the program for 4 years now and his career has gone by with a fizzle. Injuries have set him back to be sure, but he’s never really made much noise even when he has been on the field. Mayes is a candidate to get a degree and a handshake instead of a 5th year from Mark Richt, so 2017 will probably be his swansong at Miami. He’ll look to help out on special teams but if he’s playing significant minutes at CB, something’s gone horribly wrong.

Bottom Line

Delaney and Dean can hop right into the fire at CB and start on talent alone, but how they adjust to FBS competition will be a big storyline for the Canes in 2017. With the lack of depth, it is imperative that Delaney comes in, picks up Manny Diaz’s defense, and establishes himself as the Canes top dog at CB quickly. He has one year to prove himself at the highest level and improve his draft stock. With 2 years of eligibility remaining, Dean’s transition will be a little more forgiving. Delaney will take some pressure off of him by covering the opponent’s top pass catcher, leaving Dean to shadow the #2 guy.

If either of them are not ready for the bigtime, Malek Young, Michael Jackson, and/or Trajan Bandy will be asked to step in and provide depth, with Young and Bandy getting plenty of time working in the slot in nickel situations.

The good news is that even though they have the ability to be a stout group, with all else considered, the cornerback unit does not have to be all-world. The rest of Miami’s defense is championship caliber, and a ferocious and deep Miami front 7 will cover up for a lot of the secondary’s mistakes. Miami can still achieve their goal of an ACC Championship even with average play at corner; however, this group of Canes will be sure to aim higher.