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With Two 1st-Rounders This Year, Can Miami Start Becoming A Defensive End Factory?

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With two defensive ends drafted in the first round, Manny Diaz has seen that position soar to new heights at Miami

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 Louisville at Miami Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First as a defensive coordinator and now head coach, Manny Diaz has seen his defensive ends continue to be a bright spot for the Hurricanes, and in the past two seasons, they’ve continued to thrive at the position.

This past year, the Canes featured two star players at DE in Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche. Phillips totaled 8 sacks, 45 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 3 pass deflections and 1 interception, while earning first-team AFCA All-American honors.

Roche came to Miami from Temple early in 2020, and finished his final college strong, with 5 sacks, 45 tackles and 14.5 TFLs.

Then when it came time for the NFL Draft, Miami’s defensive ends took center stage. Phillips and Gregory Rousseau were both selected in the first round, while Roche was later selected in the sixth round. UM became the first school since 2006 to have two defensive ends selected in the first round.

As the stats read, Miami stands alone, having the most 1st-round defensive line draft picks of any school in NFL history.

Rousseau sat out the 2020 season due to Covid, but made his mark the year prior. In 2019, Rousseau, who played safety and wide receiver in high school, was an unstoppable force, leading the ACC with 15.5 sacks and 19.5 TFLs, to go along with 54 tackles and 2 forced fumbles. Rousseau was named second-team All-American. Oh, he did that as a redshirt freshman by the way.

In the last two years, Miami has established themselves as one of the best programs in college football when it comes to developing defensive ends.

Something coach Diaz has done a great job at since he’s been here, is working with and hiring excellent DL coaches. Craig Kuligowski arrived at UM along with Diaz in 2016, and stayed at Miami for two seasons. Then, Jess Simpson came (for the first time) in 2018, before taking a job with the Atlanta Falcons. He was replaced by Todd Stroud, who took the Canes DE’s to new heights in 2019 and 2020.

In 2016, true freshman Joe Jackson broke out with 7.5 sacks, 32 tackles and 10.5 TFLs. Trent Harris added 9.5 TFLs, Chad Thomas had 4.5 sacks and 11 TFLs.

2017 was when we really saw the Canes d-line start to come together. Jackson kept improving, ending the year with 6.5 sacks, 10.5 and 50 tackles. Harris led the team with 8.5 sacks, while also having 10.5 TFLs. Thomas racked up 4.5 sacks and 12.5 TFLs, and Demetrius Jackson was impactful as well, with 3.5 sacks and 7.5 TFLs.

Simpson arrived in 2018, but the play didn’t slow down at DE. Sophomore Jonathan Garvin was the next one to have a breakout year, with 5.5 sacks, 17 TFLs, 60 tackles and 5 pass deflections. Jackson didn’t stop as a junior, ending the year with 8.5 sacks and 14.5 TFLs, as the duo of him and Garvin was relentless.

In the five seasons since Diaz became defensive coordinator and eventually head coach, 10 times a Hurricanes defensive end notched at least 10 TFLs in a season, 4 DE’s reached at least 8 sacks in a season, with 7 DE’s getting at least 5 sacks in a season. The productivity is constant.

Since 2016, according to Football Outsiders, Miami’s defensive line has been ranked in the top-10 in the nation three out of five years.

And finally, since Diaz came to Miami, the Hurricanes have had 7 defensive ends drafted into the NFL, with 2 of them going in the first round. In 2020, Bleacher Report ranked Miami #1 for producing defensive lineman.

Simpson has returned as DL coach for the Canes, and I fully expect that unit and the d-ends to continue to play at a high level. Younger players like Jahfari Harvey, Chantz Williams and Cam Williams will now be expected to produce, while Deandre Johnson, transfer from Tennessee, will look to elevate his game in his final season.

Bottom line, coach Diaz knows that his defensive ends are a big part of his defensive success, and he’s had the right DL coaches, who know how to utilize the players on the edge.

The recent success of the Canes DE’s is especially important for 2022 recruiting, a class that is insanely stacked at the position with pass rushers. Shemar Stewart, Kenyatta Jackson, Dante Anderson, Nyjalik Kelly and Marvin Jones Jr. are the headliners, all from South Florida. Though, there are plenty more besides them, and the Canes need to take advantage.

If these recruits can see that Miami is a place where they can be developed into a star, and then a high draft pick to the NFL, the Hurricanes d-line room will be overflowing with elite talent for the next several years.