Defensive end was considered Miami’s deepest position entering 2017 and the group certainly lived up to the hype. With Chad Thomas, Demetrius Jackson, Trent Harris, and Joe Jackson all returning with legitimate starting experience, D-Line whisperer coach Kool went out and added two highly recruited and productive high schoolers in 4-stars DJ Johnson (since transferred) and Jonathan Garvin. While they weren’t a dominant run-stuffing unit, the Canes’ ends created havoc behind the line of scrimmage and consistently put opponent offenses’ in poor positions, typical of a Manny Diaz coached defense. Spearheaded by the DE’s, Miami’s defensive front led the nation in sacks per game with 3.38, recording 44 total, while finishing tied for third in the country in TFL per game with 8.5 (111 total). Three Canes DE’s had 5 or more sacks, while five had 2 or more for a position group that was consistently counted on for production and routinely delivered.
Most Valuable Player: Trent Harris (Sr.)
2017 Stats: 37 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 6 QBH, 1 FR
You could make an argument for a few players here, but I’m going with Trent Harris as Miami’s most valued DE. After making 18 starts over his first three seasons at UM, the man known as “Trusty Trent” by teammates and staff took a backseat in his senior year behind the emerging Joe Jackson, starting zero games for Miami in 2017. Many players would transfer or become a locker room malcontent if presented with those circumstances, a la Nick Linder. How did Harris respond? Oh, he only outplayed the starters on a per-snap basis and led the team in sacks with 8.5, a career high, while setting another personal milestone for TFL (10.5).
Harris morphed into Miami’s most effective edge rusher this season; while Jackson and Chad Thomas wore down offensive lines early, it was Harris penetrating into the backfield and consistently making plays behind the line in limited snaps. Adding to his toolbox, he always seemed to be in the right position to make a play and never made mental errors; when Harris is in the game, you know he’ll get his job done every time, a quality that is invaluable. He may not be an NFL Draft pick, but there will always be a role for heady players like Harris in the game. The Canes will certainly feel his loss next season on the line.
Most Improved Player: Joe Jackson (So.)
2016 Stats: 32 tackles, 11 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 TD
2017 Stats: 59 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 6 QBH, 1 FF
In stealing away a starting job from Trent Harris, Jackson began his evolution from a pass-rushing specialist to an every down end in 2017. Jackson started 12 of 13 games this season, and, with a full year in a college strength and conditioning program, Jackson made a big jump in holding his own against the run, leading all defensive lineman and tying for fourth on the team in tackles with 59. And, although his sack numbers fell slightly, Jackson still was a terror for opposing QB’s, with a respectable 6.5 sacks and a team-leading 6 QBH. Those numbers would be even higher without Jackson falling victim to multiple sacks being called back due to penalties elsewhere on the field. In fact, Jackson’s been so impressive in his first two seasons at UM that he is currently a projected first round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Jackson is insanely talented, and it’s scary thinking about how he’s only going to get better in his junior season.
Rookie of the Year: Jonathan Garvin (Fr.)
2017 Stats: 9 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FF, 2 FR, 1 blocked kick
Who else would it be besides Jonny G? With the Canes returning some incredible depth at defensive end, not much was expected out of Garvin in 2017. However, Garvin made the most out of his limited snaps and stepped up even more when Demetrius Jackson went down for the year with a knee injury. Garvin’s biggest plays came in Miami’s biggest two games (at the time) against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame: strip sacks in the 4th quarter in which Garvin also recovered his own forced fumble. Garvin added a blocked punt against UNC in another impact play. The graduation of Trent Harris and Chad Thomas at end will open up even more opportunities for this skilled pass-rusher in 2018.
Those are my picks and I’m sticking to it. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments who you would choose for this year’s top DE in each category.