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Should Top Miami Hurricanes’ 2021 NFL Draft Prospects Declare or Return To The U This Offseason?

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In What is Expected to be an Unorthodox 2021 Draft Cycle Where Every Candidate Gets an Extra Year of NCAA Eligibility, This Article Analyzes What Miami’s Top Upperclassmen Should Do.

Central Michigan v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

With an unanticipated lull in the Miami Hurricanes coronavirus pandemic season, the hope for the team is that all players are focused on the last three games of the season. Realistically, however, those who are NFL draft-eligible indubitably are beginning to consider their 2021 plans. After all, it is becoming increasingly popular for players to opt out of their team’s Bowl games in order to prepare for the draft and avoid injury, which Christian McCaffrey did in 2016, and 2020 First Round Picks C.J. Henderson, Brandon Aiyuk, and Andrew Thomas did this pats year.

The trend has only become more pronounced during this unorthodox COVID-ridden season as top tier talents have foregone the entire season in hopes of having their name called by Roger Goodell in April 2021. The closest to home example of this was when Miami’s star EDGE defender, Gregory Rousseau, opted out at the beginning of this season. The NCAA has no opt out deadline so players have continued to voluntarily cut their season short over the past few months, including South Carolina CB, Jaycee Horn, who did so this past week.

There is another huge wrinkle in this year’s draft plan as it applies to both the eligible college athletes and NFL scouts: the NCAA voted to grant all fall athletes an extra year of eligibility. That is, seniors and graduate fifth/sixth-year seniors, can return to play in 2021. This makes the decision that much more magnified for those candidates who are not clearcut NFL draft prospects or need an extra year to increase their stock.

In 2020, Miami placed four prospects into the NFL via the draft as LB, Shaquille Quarterman, was picked in the fourth round by Jacksonville, RB, DeeJay Dallas, went to Seattle in the fourth round, WR, K.J. Osborn, was selected in the fifth round by Minnesota, and LB, Jonathan Garvin, was a seventh-round pick by Green Bay. Four others, WR, Jeff Thomas, DL, Trevon, Hill, LB, Michael Pinckney, and CB, Trajan Bandy, have/have had stints on NFL teams, but have yet to carve out a role on an active roster.

This year, there are certainly a slew of draft hopefuls who will have a difficult decision to make over the next few months. While every Cane is likely dreaming of playing in the NFL, there is only a select group that will go on to realize that dream.

Below, I have categorized those who have a legitimate shot of being picked up by an NFL organization this offseason based on what I believe they should actually do (declare or return), and roughly where I project them to be drafted.

PLAYERS WHO SHOULD DECLARE FOR 2021 NFL DRAFT

Gregory Rousseau/EDGE, Top-15 Overall Pick:

Rousseau’s decision to opt out at the beginning of the season kind of spoiled any speculation as to what the pass-rush specialist would do. And there was never really any doubt that Rousseau would declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. The bigger question is whether Rousseau may have done himself a disservice by opting out at the beginning of the season.

Coming into the 2020 season, the stretchy 6’7”, 265lb EDGE defender had a limited sample size of collegiate game footage, as he missed nearly his entire freshman year due to injury and only started seven games in 2019. Indeed, he made the most of this opportunity. Regardless, in his elongated NFL training period, he will have to emphasize to scouts how game-ready he will be by proving his worth primarily through testing drills.

Rousseau is still mostly projected as a top-10 draft pick. However, to provide a juxtaposition, there are a number of EDGE rushers who are having breakout seasons and should challenge Rousseau as the top drafted pass rusher, including: Kwity Paye/Michigan, Carlos Basham/Wake Forest, Patrick Jones/Pitt, and even his own teammates Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips.

Quincy Roche/EDGE, Round 1-2:

Speaking of Roche and EDGE defenders, the Temple transfer has been impressive in game action despite middling numbers production-wise with 35 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF, and 1 PD. Roche’s production was much better during his breakout junior season at Temple where he garnered 13 sacks.

This is where the game film will be crucial in appraising Roche’s draft value, because he has shrewdly contributed to Miami’s overall front line that has been a force in stymying opposing offenses. To that end, Roche has likely been a major factor behind the emergence of Phillips, Jared Harrison-Hunte, Jonathan Ford, and Nesta Silvera. With all that being said, Roche is a lock to declare for the draft, it is just a matter of whether he will be picked in the first or second round.

Poll

Should Quincy Roche Declare for the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Yes
    (211 votes)
  • 34%
    No
    (109 votes)
320 votes total Vote Now

Jose Borregales/K, Round 7-UDFA:

Earmuffs Canes’ fans, but this is a must for Borregales. I know, after the kicking woes in 2019, this sounds like a nightmare situation, but the FIU transfer cannot do much more to enhance his resume. This season, he has been nearly perfect going 15-16 in field goals, where the only miss was a block, and 28-28 on XPs. He also tied the school record by nailing a 57-yard FG. Also, his kicks have been perfect fundamentally, as nearly every attempt goes straight through the uprights, a refreshing sight for Canes’ fans.

There is hope, however, that he stays for two reasons. First, his brother and fellow kicker, Andres, has committed to the U, so Jose may want to play a season with his brother before heading to the league. Second, he might want to bolster his resume by kicking in front of full crowds post-pandemic in order to prove he can handle pressure situations. Even if he leaves, the kicking duties will remain within the family upon the arrival of his brother.

Poll

Should Jose Borregales Declare for the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Yes
    (191 votes)
  • 41%
    No
    (136 votes)
327 votes total Vote Now

Brevin Jordan/TE, Round 2-3:

This is the toughest one for me, as it could go either way. Despite being injured for nearly the entire season, Jordan still is likely the third best TE in the draft behind Florida’s Kyle Pitts and Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth (an argument could be made for Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar).

To that end, with the emergence of pass-catching TE’s and two-TE sets in the NFL, teams will have an immediate need for Jordan and would welcome using a second-or-third round pick on Jordan. Alternatively, if Jordan returns next season productive and healthy, then he has a major opportunity to be the top TE in the 2022 NFL Draft. He will not have to compete with Pitts who has been mocked to go top ten, but could compete for TE2 in the Draft as Freiermuth has gone down to the season due to season-ending surgery. On the other side of the token, if Jordan returns and still experiences injuries, then his stock could be driven even lower. Brevin should get his body right, test well, and look to be an early round 2021 pick.

Poll

Should Brevin Jordan Declare for the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Yes
    (110 votes)
  • 66%
    No
    (217 votes)
327 votes total Vote Now

Bubba Bolden/SS, Round 3-4:

This is another one that could go either way and will be largely contingent on the final few weeks. At the beginning of the season, the transfer Safety was lights out and exhibited immense competence as an open field tackler, an instinct that NFL teams love. However, in recent weeks, Bolden’s impact has been declining. If the subpar play continues over these final weeks, then Bolden will absolutely need to return and could use the extra year to fill out his frame. If he finishes the season strong, this is a pretty weak class for Safeties so Bolden may be advised to take advantage of the opportunity in 2021.

Poll

Should Bubba Bolden Declare for the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Yes
    (35 votes)
  • 89%
    No
    (294 votes)
329 votes total Vote Now

PLAYERS WHO SHOULD RETURN TO THE HURRICANES FOR 2021

D’Eriq King/QB, Round 7-UDFA:

Just the name Canes’ fans want to see on this list and there are a number of reasons why King absolutely needs to stay. First of all, the comparisons to Kyler Murray have not panned out and it is highly unlikely that teams will take the chance on him right now until those potential expectations pan out. To that end, there is a good chance that King is not drafted at all or will try the QB-turned-WR route similar to Braxton Miller.

By returning in 2021, King would provide himself with another year of familiarity with both Miami’s spread offense and the various weapons that have experienced a complete transformation in the past year. The past three first overall picks at QB, Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, and Baker Mayfield, can almost entirely attribute the selection to their decision to return for another season. That is, if they had declared for the NFL the year prior to their rookie season, it is unlikely they would have been the first overall pick.

In King’s case, the chance of a more normal offseason could lead to a breakout season, and, in turn, a significant rise in his draft value. Even more, this QB class is stacked.

Poll

Should D’Eriq King Declare for the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Yes
    (75 votes)
  • 78%
    No
    (280 votes)
355 votes total Vote Now

Jaelan Phillips/EDGE, Round 3-5:

Phillips has been a workhorse with 5.0 sacks in the absence of Rousseau, which has resulted in his name being thrown into many mock drafts for 2021. However, by returning next year, he will have an even bigger opportunity to be a machine in the absence of Rousseau and Roche. The former number one overall recruit has resurrected his injury-plagued career. He could help himself even more if he has a dominant 2021 for the Canes because there are still questions about his health. If Phillips has a productive and healthy additional season, he could emerge as one of the top EDGE rushers in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Poll

Should Jaelan Phillips Declare for the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Yes
    (68 votes)
  • 80%
    No
    (275 votes)
343 votes total Vote Now

Cam’Ron Harris/EDGE, Round 7-UDFA:

The streak of RBs drafted out of the U will end at two after Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas went in back-to-back years. This is potentially a relatively weak RB class after Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Najee Harris, so it would theoretically be a good time for Harris to try his hand. And after the first few games where C. Harris was the workhorse for the Canes’ backfield, he appeared to be a potential top tier draftee. However, Harris’ production has since declined and it would make more sense to spend another season at the U.

Poll

Should Cam’Ron Harris Declare for the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Yes
    (92 votes)
  • 70%
    No
    (223 votes)
315 votes total Vote Now

Mike Harley/WR, Round 7-UDFA:

While Cam’Ron Harris’s season started out strong and has since declined, Harley is making his case for the NFL based on a recent emergence. In the past three games, Harley has tallied 24 receptions, 374 yards, and 3 TDs. Harley has been a clean route runner out of the slot, which NFL teams should give a second look at. In addition, his make-it attitude and leadership skills can draw comparisons to former Canes WRs and current NFL players, Braxton Berrios and K.J. Osborn. Harley should try to get repetitions on Special teams in Punt Return duties (especially with the Canes recent issues at the position) in order to increase his draft value. If he does that and strings together a full season similar to the past three games, then he will be considered a mid-round NFL draft prospect in 2022.

Poll

Should Mike Harley Declare for the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Yes
    (54 votes)
  • 81%
    No
    (242 votes)
296 votes total Vote Now

Lou Hedley/P, UDFA:

Punters rarely get drafted, but they are typically in high demand - just ask the Titans who lost their star punter this season. Despite being on the short list of candidates for the Ray Guy Award this year, which is awarded to the nation’s best punter, a lot of Hedley’s potential remains untapped as he only had three months of experience kicking an American football prior to coming to America. Unless he wins the Ray Guy Award which would make his value sky high going into the 2021 Draft, Hedley should spend another year at the collegiate level and work on perfecting both spiral and rollout punts. He has mastered rollout punts but nearly had a spiral punt blocked last week.

Poll

Should Lou Hedley Declare for the 2021 NFL Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Yes
    (92 votes)
  • 69%
    No
    (210 votes)
302 votes total Vote Now

2021 DRAFT LONG SHOTS WHO SHOULD RETURN

Will Mallory/TE:

Mallory’s route to the NFL is unlikely this year. If he spends another year at the U as TE1, which he has proven he is competent at in Brevin’s absence, then he could be drafted next year. Even if Jordan leaves, there will be a surplus of TEs with incoming freshman commits to Miami. Mallory’s tutelage could assist with the passing of the guard at TEU.

Miami’s Cornerbacks:

Miami’s CB1, Te’Cory Couch, is not even draft eligible but he recently overtook the top CB position from Al Blades Jr. At the beginning of the season however, Blades, appeared to have an outside path of making a case for the NFL, which, based on his demotion, obviously has not come to fruition. All Miami CBs should return next year, and if DJ Ivey, Couch, or Blades has a breakout 2021, then they could make a case for the NFL.

Miami’s Offensive Lineman:

If I wrote Miami’s Offensive Lineman and NFL Draft in the same article, then said article would immediately self-destruct. Similarly, no one on the Canes’ O-Line has much of a shot of making the NFL in 2021. However, Center, Corey Gaynor, RG DJ Scaife, Transfer RT Jarrid Williams, and versatile Redshirt Senior, Navaughn Donaldson, have the possibility of getting on scouts’ radars if they continue their emergence through the 2021 season.

In a season unlike any other, where every player is eligible to return to the U’s team that is currently 7-1, the NFL Draft declaration decision will be case specific. General factors include the player’s current draft value, how much their draft stock can rise with an additional collegiate year, Florida-specific name, image and likeness legislation, and the opportunity to enjoy another season on a Miami team experiencing an upward trajectory.

And, based on the change in the team’s culture, it is selfish but unrealistic, to expect everyone to return. Regardless, it is a good problem to have as the culture of the Canes’ organization makes it’s 180-degree turn. Canes will continue to make the NFL and placement of players into the NFL always helps attract future recruits, which should ultimately assist with the continued improvements on the field and the overall State of the U.

What do you think these players should and/or will do?