The headlines for this article may be misleading. There will indeed be six Hurricanes participating in on-field drills and interviews over the course of the next three days. As much as these prospects will be representing the Hurricanes, it means even more for each on an individual. The motivation to go out and showcase themselves in Under Armour shorts and tees is the next step in the draft process. With the weekend presenting a unique opportunity for Canes’ attendees, today we’ll cover what’s on the line for the Hurricanes in Indianapolis this weekend.
The defensive back takes the field Monday, the final day of on-field activities for invited prospects. With representatives from all 32 NFL teams in attendance, Johnson will have to shrug off the pressure cooker that is this glorified workout. Given the prevalence of the spread offense in the NFL, finding counterpieces on defense — such as Johnson — has turned into a priority for franchises across the league.
For Jaquan Johnson, the combine represents an opportunity to show off his athleticism that has intrigued scouts since he became a starter at The U. Although he’ll measure under six feet, Johnson has an athletic frame with a big upper body that leads one to believe he could handle the physicality at the next level. It’ll be fascinating to see how Johnson holds up in the reaction drills, given his penchant to be around the ball so often for the Hurricanes during his tenure. A fluid, twitched up, loose hip safety is the league’s ideal at the position. No. 4 possesses some of those traits, yet how he compares to his peers in this interview setting will be the tiebreaker for some clubs trying to decide where he belongs on their draft board.
Gerald Willis III
I’ve been adamant about this since the draft season began. Any concerns about Willis have more to do with what happened during his time at the University of Florida than his time as a Cane. Don’t get us wrong, the defensive tackle class is loaded with so much talent that NFL teams could find a viable starter in the third round if necessary.
Teams know what Willis is on the field. A one-gap penetrating 3-technique that has an array of moves, though loves to swim over and wreak havoc in the backfield. Named team MVP by the Hurricanes, Willis hasn’t participated in a high stakes setting since missing Miami’s Pinstripe Bowl with a hand injury. Willis backed out of the Reese’s Senior Bowl at the very last minute with another injury. Not working in his favor is the fact that other prospects will have more game film on their resume, whereas Willis has roughly two seasons worth of production for teams to evaluate. Aiming to make the combine his proving ground, G truly needs to have an excellent weekend to prove that his 2018 season was a sign of what’s to come at the next level.
If you’d asked us last year whether or not Joe Jackson would be a lock to be drafted first among all Hurricanes, we would have told you that it’s a no doubter. That thought still holds true today, but Jackson truly needs to show off his athleticism among the edge rushers in Indy. There’s no arguing Jackson’s production in college — with 24 sacks and 26 tackles-for-loss as a Hurricane, Jackson essentially set up his own AirBnb in opposing backfields.
The question that comes up with Joe Jack is about versatility. While the Gulliver Prep grad has some experience lining up in two-point stance, he’s better suited to be a traditional 4-3 defensive end. Examining how Jackson gets his sacks, it doesn’t compare to the Von Millers and Khalil Macks of the world. With a stiff upper body, Jackson works counter moves to pick up a sack or pressure, should his initial rush fail to get home. Should Jackson be able to display ideal quick-twitch movement coming off the snap of the ball, it would be the catalyst to his stock leapfrogging up in a crowded edge rusher group.
After earning an invite to the Senior Bowl, Redwine’s stock is on the rise. Credited for illustrating versatility by playing both safety and corner, there’s little doubt that Redwine is putting himself in position to stick with a roster this summer. Showing off that versatility can only continue to help Redwine sway the mind of one team. I imagine that the Killian free safety will take part in both corner and safety drills. Better served as a safety, Redwine will assuredly see time on special teams next season. The more you can do, the better your chances of finding a role on a team, and buying time to work your way into the defensive rotation.
Michael Jackson Sr.
A year ago, Jackson was considered the top cornerback prospect for the Hurricanes and had an opportunity to declare early for the 2018 NFL Draft. However, MJ returned for his senior year, where he had some trials and tribulations in coverage in the 2018 season. As MJ prepares for the 2019 NFL Draft, he’ll have to prove himself all over again by separating himself from a cluster of good competition among his peers in the class.
Monday’s on-field drills allow Jackson to show off his athleticism after putting together a positive showing in the East-West Shrine Game months ago. Critiqued for being tight-hipped and sluggish in man coverage, MJ needs to show off the fluidity in his hips by snapping his head around to get vision on the ball and receiver in one-on-one drills to convince potential employers. Canes fans have witnessed the ascension of Mike Jack since he enrolled at UM. Beginning his collegiate career as a special team contributor, Jackson worked his way into the cornerback rotation, leading the Hurricanes with four interceptions as he evolved into the team’s best cover corner after 2017 season. Despite not tallying a stat in the interception market, displaying short-area quickness as a six-foot corner will only help his chances of hearing his name called early come April.
There are 135 underclassmen that make up the 2019 NFL Draft. Two Hurricanes find themselves part of this record-setting class. We’ve discussed what’s on the line for Joe Jackson, now it’s time to address the other half of the pair is running back Travis Homer.
Before we do, lets flashback to some praise for Homer dating back to his breakout season in 2017.
“One of the best prospects to play in Miami’s 41-8 beatdown of Notre Dame on Saturday isn’t even draft-eligible yet. And yes, I’d heard whispers that “the Miami running back is going to be really good” earlier in the season, but now there’s nowhere to hide for sophomore RB Travis Homer, who ripped through the Irish for 146 yards on 18 carries (by comparison, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for 136 yards on 26 carries against Notre Dame in September). Homer’s emergence is a sign, too, that the running back boom we’re going through won’t stop soon.
Albert Breer The MMQB
Forgive us if we like to reminisce in that victory over the Irish once again. A couple years later, Homer tossed his hat into the ring for the draft and will need to do plenty of work to get a shot at being drafted. Unable to participate in any of the college all-star games since he has not graduated from UM, most of Homer’s evaluation will come from film and his workouts on the field.
Homer has all the necessary traits to be a productive back in the NFL. He showcased as much when he stepped into the starting RB role for the Hurricanes a couple seasons ago. Perhaps, based on the struggles of the offensive line, we’re not quite sure of just how good Homer could be as a pro. How, finishing with 12 TDs and just under 2,000 rushing yards over the past two years, Homer was able to find production on an anemic offense. Should Homer test well among the RB group, it will help to establish himself from a pack of runners that the league is skeptical about. Outside of RB Josh Jacobs, the pecking order at the position could change at any time.
For all six of these Hurricanes, the 40-yard dash and bench press are not the all-encompassing tests that they’ve been made out to be in the past. However, the combine does allow all 32 NFL franchises to get a better idea of the athletes under the pads and how they measure among their peers when the NFL world descends on Indianapolis this week.
Let’s be clear: The biggest test during this week will not take place on the field. It’s probably not scoring high on the Wonderlic either. Instead, the biggest test will come in form of the combine’s medical evaluation. At last year’s combine, we saw New York Giants’ DT R.J. McIntosh held off from on-field drills due to a medical issue discovered at the combine.
The biggest questions when it comes to health among this crop of Canes will focus on the current status of DT Gerald Willis III. Since Miami’s final game against Pittsburgh, the New Orleans’ product has been out of the spotlight with what was first reported as a hand injury. Piling up another injury during training is believed to be the reason why Willis abstained from the Senior Bowl. According to Willis, after missing the all-star game, his focus turned to the combine, with the hope of showing why he finished second in the ACC with 18 tackles-for-loss.
Just having a chance to be in the NFL is living the dream. But in the life of a football player, being selected a few rounds later, even a few slots later will be a drastic factor in guaranteed money on the rookie contract scale. So for the detractors of combine, those who view it as a glorified workout in Under Armour shorts, tight and tees, you’re right. However, if you could pocket a cool couple million guaranteed, you’d be prepping like crazy too.
You can see the these future ProCanes compete on NFL Network this Friday, starting with offensive line, running backs, kickers and special team participants who’ll take to the field throughout the day.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!