Back in the mid 00’s, you could easily mistake the NFL Pro Bowl for a Miami Hurricanes alumni game. Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Jeremy Shockey, Bryant McKinnie, Ray Lewis, Jon Beason, Sean Taylor, Ed Reed. The list goes on and on. ProCanes dominated the professional football landscape, formerly recruits that made Miami the greatest team ever in 2001, dominated in 2002 and, for those who joined after this second golden age, wanted to be apart of college football’s most exciting program.
Then Miami hit hard times, unable to find a strong leader to guide it through the ACC, besieged by the Nevin Shapiro scandal and, ever since, struggled to be a national title contender. At the same time? The number of Hurricanes succeeding in the NFL has decreased dramatically.
Every football factory, Alabama and Clemson included, has their fair share of busts. But Miami’s current streak of mediocrity has certainly rubbed off on it’s prospects. In 2004, with recruits that were apart of the GOAT team, Miami produced six first rounders; Antrel Rolle, Kellen Winslow Jr, Jon Vilma, DJ Williams, Vernon Carey and Vince Wilfork. Four of the six would make the Pro Bowl and even one who didn’t, DJ Williams, was still a solid starter in the league for a long time.
Contrast this with 2015, where Miami had two players go in the first and five in the first 100 picks. This was one of the most Miami-rich NFL Drafts since the legendary 2004 class and now, four years later, most players have flamed out. First round picks Ereck Flowers and Phil Dorsett are now longer on the teams that drafted them and are barely worthy of being called starters. Denzel Perryman has been great while on the field, but the Chargers’ starting linebacker has only played in 42 games through four seasons. Clive Walford has nine receptions the past two seasons and is on his third team. Duke Johnson might be the most successful of these five and has become a dependable pass-catching back for the Browns.
There are still ProCanes representing in the league today. David Njoku is the next dominant TE in the league and should thrive with an all-world supporting cast. Lamar Miller is toward the end of his prime but has been a consistently solid starting runningback for two teams. Chris Herndon had a breakout rookie year in a crowded TE room and should continue getting better alongside his young QB. Miami still boats some of the best special teams ProCanes. And somehow, Frank Gore is still trucking.
But the rate at which Miami players have been selected, and have become NFL stars, has fell off at the same rate that the program has continued to perform at an average level. Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams that were once filled with Hurricanes, might have one. Last year Miami did not have a single player make an All-Pro team. Alabama had three.
Just as the Hurricanes have failed to recruit at the highest level with consistency, they haven’t had the coaching to develop their players. Blue chip players will often turn out to perform averagely with poor coaching. Without that great base of support at the college level, they turn into late round NFL picks or undrafted free agents. And most times, it’s too late for a player to develop into a star if they haven’t been properly groomed as a collegiate.
When will The U truly be back? We don’t know. The phrase has become a dead horse, beaten whenever Miami looks good for even half a season. We heard it during the Al Golden and Mark Richt tenures. Both turned out to be premature. But we know for certain that when Miami is back, the evidence will be clear on the field. And not just on college football’s biggest stages, but on the lists and accolades awarded to the NFL’s best.