And the first Miami prospect to be declaring for the 2021 NFL draft, besides Gregory Rousseau, appears to be EDGE defender, Jaelan Phillips.
The naturally talented 6’5”, 275-pound pass-rusher was the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation in 2017 and started his tenure at UCLA. However, after being derailed by injuries, Phillips temporarily retired from football in 2018.
Ultimately, Phillips transferred to the U in 2019 where he jumped from 220-pounds to 275-pounds under the guise of Coach David Feeley’s Strength and Conditioning Program. Due to NCAA transfer restrictions, Phillips did not see any game action in 2019.
Jaelan Phillips (@JJPhillips15) made music, wrote blog posts and worked at a law firm during his time away. But he couldn't shake the feeling something was missing.— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) December 10, 2020
With 14 TFLs this year, it's safe to say 2017's No. 1 recruit is BACK. https://t.co/yRvVOA1J9p pic.twitter.com/CtxKGt9BZn
Coming into 2020, Canes’ fans were cautiously optimistic about Phillips’ potential and it was anticipated he would be slowly assimilated as a rotational EDGE guy with Gregory Rousseau and Quincy Roche expected to be starters. Shortly before fall camp started, however, Rousseau opted out for the season and the opportunity for Phillips to start presented itself. Needless to say he never looked back.
Phillips was an absolute problem for offensive lines and constantly disrupted opposing QBs. On the season, Phillips tallied 45 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 3 PD, and 1 INT. Phillips gathered 42 QB Pressures according to Pro Football Focus and was named a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, which is awarded to the best NCAA defensive player. In a tweet on December 7th, Phillips stated “I was my biggest obstacle the whole time...just had to switch my mentality.” Phillips surely did that and became a fan favorite in his one year of playing time at the U with one of the best comeback stories in the NCAA this year.
I was my biggest obstacle the whole time...just had to switch my mentality #MevsMe— Jaelan Phillips ; ® (@JJPhillips15) December 7, 2020
As for his draft stock, well-respected ESPN NFL Draft analyst, Mel Kiper Jr., ranked Phillips as the No. 12 overall draft prospect and the No. 1 EDGE prospect - even ahead of Rousseau. To put this rise into perspective, Phillips was likely not even close to NFL scouts’ radar when the season started.
Throughout this season, however, Phillips began to see his name on some mock drafts, albeit around the third round at the earliest. On November 23rd, I projected Phillips as a 3rd-5th round pick, and even that was criticized as too high by some readers. I expected him to return in order to dominate for another season and play a full, healthy season in order to eradicate any concerns pertaining to his medicals. However, his play elevated to an entire level entirely over the final weeks of the season, and, with many analysts giving Phillips a first round grade, it makes sense to declare this year.
David Lake of 247Sports reported Phillips will be sitting out the Canes’ upcoming bowl game and in all likelihood fellow EDGE rusher, Roche, will also declare for the Draft - but it is unclear if that will occur before or after the bowl game.
The Miami Hurricanes boast arguably the best pass-rushing duo in all of college football. But which player is a better NFL Draft prospect?@Brentley12 breaks down both Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche to answer that question.#FrontOffice33 | #NFLDrafthttps://t.co/wvlFxrCA3C— The Draft Network (@TheDraftNetwork) December 17, 2020
If Miami is left without their pass-rushing duo, then the Canes should get a good preview of the future of the position. Redshirt Freshman, Jahfari Harvey, has been an impressive role player and there is optimism for freshman Cameron Williams and Chantz Williams. Miami also signed four-star DE, Jabari Ishmael, but may have to explore the transfer portal again - the place where they secured Phillips in 2019 and Roche in 2020.
With a deep lineage at the DE position, including current NFL stars, Calais Campbell and Olivier Vernon, Miami is expected to place not one, not two, but three pass rushing specialists in the 2021 NFL Draft Class. There is a lot that can happen between now and the draft, which includes combine testing during the unorthodox pandemic times. Phillips will likely dominate his testing based on his sheer athleticism as a former No. 1 overall recruit. Rousseau has also been consistently projected in the first round. Roche has also been projected in the first round on some big boards but should anticipate being picked anywhere between the late-first to third round.
Oh and everyone should transfer to the U btw— Jaelan Phillips ; ® (@JJPhillips15) December 7, 2020
Even though it was only a year, thank U for continuing the lineage AND giving a resounding recommendation for others to join the U in your December 7th tweet embedded above. Word-of-mouth, especially from a projected first round pick, after all, is the best form of advertisement.