If someone told you this time last year that Jaelan Phillips would be the first EDGE defender drafted, that person would have been deemed verifiably crazy. In fact, even if someone said Phillips would be drafted at all, it would be considered a pretty hot take. However, he ended up being drafted 18th overall and the first defensive lineman taken.
On the other side of the token, another Miami EDGE defender, Gregory Rousseau, was considered to be valued as high as a second overall selection on some mock drafts and a near lock top ten pick before he opted out. He subsequently saw his draft stock become a subject of polarizing opinions as he was deemed to have dropped to a second grade by some draft experts and ended up being drafted 30th overall.
Similarly, EDGE transfer, Quincy Roche, was being projected as a late first round pick in mock drafts last year and ended up being selected in the 6th round yesterday. At tight end, Brevin Jordan was largely regarded as a lock top three TE draft prospect. Jordan ended up being taken in 5th round and was the ninth tight end taken. Arguably the best kicker in college football this year was the Lou Groza winner, Jose Borregales, who ended up going undrafted. Just in Miami’s case, the results varied greatly. To that end, this article from just six months ago is interesting to look back on.
As you can see from the above, for better or worse, the results end up varying even in the span of a year, and sometimes even less. Thus, while there is current sentiment on the next crop of Miami players and their potential draft stock, that could easily change over the course of a year. Regardless, early analysis will be interesting to monitor over the next 12 months.
Below, I have categorized those who have a legitimate shot of being picked up by an NFL organization in 2022 and where things currently stand/what must happen to be in the conversation. With five guys being picked up by NFL organizations this weekend, the hope is the momentum can continue for future years. Of note, this list assumes each player declares for the NFL draft, which is unlikely based on some player’s remaining eligibility, potential setbacks, etc.
Zion Nelson/OT, Top-20 Overall Pick:
Third Year Sophomore, 6-5, 316lbs
After a rocky freshman debut that featured a 1.4 (out of 100) PFF Grade where he was thrown into the fire as starting left tackle against Florida, the road for Zion has been much more favorable as of late. Notably, Nelson is largely expected to protect his Quarterback’s blind side at left tackle this season. Nelson has gained 72 pounds since he joined Miami and is being projected as high as a top ten pick for next year’s draft. The 6-5, 316lb frame paired with quick feet and athleticism is a reason he is already being featured on many early 2021 mock drafts, including WalterFootball (9th overall), NFL Draft Blitz (21st overall, Yardbarker (18th overall), The Draft Network (20th overall), BarstoolSports (14th overall), Bleacher Report (18th overall), and Pro Football Network (20th overall). He is also considered the most intriguing 2022 NFL draft prospect according to Andrea Adelson of ESPN. First Round.
From earlier: UM left tackle Zion Nelson already getting first-round projections for 2022 draft. https://t.co/tRMDo6LYuZ— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) April 19, 2021
Charleston Rambo/WR, Second Round Pick:
Redshirt Junior, 6-1, 185lbs
Rambo has displayed an ability to work the gamut of the route tree, and Miami fans were able to see a small preview of it last month in the team’s spring game. Production-wise, Rambo had a down year in 2020 at Oklahoma as he was outperformed by younger Sooner options, Theo Wease and Marvin Mims (averaged just 34 receiving yards a game). However, in 2019, Rambo compiled a strong sophomore season with 43 receptions, 743 yards, and 5 TDs. If he can replicate his 2019 performance, he could be a top tier wide receiver option.
Tyrique Stevenson/DB, Second Round Pick:
Third Year Sophomore, 6-0, 214lbs
Also helping out TransferU, Stevenson teetered with five-star recruit status as he was labeled the third best CB in the country. As a physical and athletic CB, the skill set is there to be considered in the upper echelon of defensive backs for the 2021 NFL Draft. However, he will need to prove his versatile throughout the season. Namely, NFL teams will value versatility if he can line up as a coverage CB on outside throughout the season (played outside in his 2020 Bowl Game vs. Cincinnati), as well as slide over to nickel/safety, which appears to be his more natural fit with his physical presence. That is, Stevenson is really good at the line of scrimmage and one scout compared him to a bigger version of Antrel Rolle and also said he “could be a first-rounder because he’s big and physical and can play corner and safety.”
Mike Harley Jr./WR, Third Round Pick:
Senior, 5-11, 182lbs
Harley answered the call in 2020 after the wide receiver corps experienced struggles. The slot WR put together a productive campaign as he compiled 57 receptions for 799 yards and 7 TDs. Harley has worked hard to get to this point where he is now a lead receiver, but will need to repeat his 2020 performance raise his draft stock as he returns for another season. He could also help himself out with additional special teams involvement. In the past couple of seasons, the draft classes have been slot-laden and next year may be no different as Harley seeks to continue his breakout for a full season.
Of note, OC, Rhett Lashlee, coached 2020 sixth round pick and Baltimore Raven slot receiver, James Proche, and WR Coach, Rob Likens, had back-to-back first round picks, N’Keal Harry and Brandon Aiyuk, make the NFL out of Arizona State. The hard-working team leader will be a third round pick with a solid 2021 season.
Bubba Bolden/S, Third Round Pick:
Redshirt Junior, 6-3, 204lbs
Bolden broke through as a sensational performer at Safety through the first half of the season last year. However, the consistency became an issue as the season waned on. And despite being ranked as high as the the No. 6 2020 Safety at one point last fall on Mel Kiper’s Big Board, Bolden made the right decision by returning for an additional season.
“The biggest thing with Bubba is just consistency,” defensive coordinator Blake Baker said. “He’s such an instinctive player; he presses too much sometimes to make a play. It’s about relaxing, getting back into his groove and letting the plays come to him.”
His tape was especially poor against Virginia Tech, but if he can put together a full season of solid tape, he could be a top safety prospect.
“Had he left after last year, he probably would have been a third- or fourth-round pick,” the former player said. “He’s not an elite athlete, but he could actually cover at outside corner, slot corner. He’s a (lesser) version of Minkah Fitzpatrick.”
Where could Miami S Bubba Bolden get selected in the 2021 NFL Draft?— The Draft Network (@TheDraftNetwork) November 20, 2020
Check out @TheJoeMarino's full scouting report: https://t.co/ZmqdxCI30H#FrontOffice33 | #NFLDraft | #ItsAllAboutTheU pic.twitter.com/u2JqzaQk50
At this point, Bolden is getting some high praise in very early mock drafts as he is included in many first round predictions: 19th overall by WalterFootball, 12th overall by NFL Draft Blitz, 15th overall by BarstoolSports, 25th overall by Yardbarker, and 27th overall by Bleacher Report, among others. If he exhibits wire-to-wire quality repetitions in coverage, closing on tackles, reading the backfield, then this could pan out accordingly.
D’Eriq King/QB, Third Round Pick:
Redshirt Senior, 5-11, 195lbs
King’s competitive spirit has even been on display throughout the offseason as he seeks to be ready for Miami’s fall opener after suffering an ACL tear. He has reportedly been crushing every benchmark and remains the predestined starter against Alabama in September barring any setbacks.
King could be a polarizing prospect not only due to the injury, but due to being undersized and potentially deep ball inaccuracy (although he excels on intermediate routes). His dual threat capabilities and leadership style will help his stock, but there will certainly be rumors about whether he should make the transition to slot receiver at the next level a la Julian Edelman. How King plays this season will dictate where he ends up as he was projected as he has been projected as having the sixth best odds to win the 2021 Heisman Trophy earlier this year at +1400 (for what its worth, his 2020 odds were once the favorite ahead of the likes of Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, and every one else in college football).
Congrats to everybody that got a chance to be on an NFL team today drafted or not it doesn’t matter make the best of it #Motivation— King (@DeriqKing_) May 2, 2021
King could be the beneficiary of personalized Pro Days where he could have the opportunity to show off his passing prowess and straight line speed, similar to the way Fields and Zach Wilson did this year. He will be competing with a deep QB class consisting of Spencer Rattler, Kedon Slovis, and Sam Howell, among others, but could be a solid third-fourth round pick should he have an injury-free season. He will be alluring, similar to Jalen Hurts in 2020, and will yield Kyler Murray comparisons due to being undersized but talented in and out of the pocket.
Deandre Johnson/EDGE, Third Round Pick:
Redshirt Senior, 6-3, 260lbs
After three Miami Hurricanes’ EDGE rushers were drafted this weekend, two of which were transfers, Johnson has the chance to carry on the impressive defensive end placement if he puts together a strong season. The Miami native displayed immense athleticism at Tennessee as he garnered 28 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and forced 2 fumbles last year. Upon transferring, Johnson told Manny Navarro of the Athletic that “once I got that fifth- through seventh-round grade last year, I said it has to be strictly football. Last year, I started off hot, had four sacks through the first two games, had a lot of buzz. I had a chance to raise my draft stock with combines and meetings, but there’s no combines this year. I said I’m going to go back to school, put it all together and I’m going to shoot up those draft boards.” If he puts together a strong season and increases his draft stock, a third round grade may be attainable.
NEW: Deandre Johnson provides critical experience for a Miami Hurricanes DE unit that is sending both of its 2020 starters to the NFL.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) March 6, 2021
He transfers to UM from Tennessee hoping to improve his own draft stock while winning with his hometown team.https://t.co/Nn43AtTqb9
Will Mallory/TE, Fourth Round Pick:
Junior, 6-5, 245lbs
After spending his true freshman season as a member of the practice squad, Mallory rose to the occasion when new Houston Texan, Brevin Jordan, missed three games due to injury. Jordan spoke highly of Mallory saying he was going to be tight end one in the 2022 NFL Draft class as Mallory impressed in both catching and blocking opportunities. Mallory may have difficulty usurping the number one tight end prospect spot from Jalen Wydermyer of Texas A&M but one scout said, “He’s got first-round talent and receiving skills. But he’s probably a year or two away.” Let’s see if he continues to impress this year to yield a first round grade.
Navaughn Donaldson/OL, Fourth Round Pick:
Senior, 6-6, 350lbs
Donaldson is the 66th all-time Miami recruit according to 247Sports, so the raw athleticism is there. Donaldson redshirted this past season after he finished the 2019 season with a leg injury. He has been the most experienced and consistent fixture on the what has been a turbulent offensive line (35 games played). The Miami native has led by example on the field by enrolling early, and, despite playing most comfortable at right tackle, has played games at right tackle, right guard, left guard, and also was willing to take repetitions at center when Gaynor was experiencing injury issues. The 6-6, 350lb exhibits top notch run-block mauling ability and overall physical traits along with his willing versatility. At least one source has given him a fifth round draft projection, but his conditioning has been brought into question and will be vetted out during the draft process. You can’t teach size and a team will spend a 6th rounder on Donaldson.
Zach McCloud/EDGE, Fifth Round Pick:
Redshirt Senior, 6-2, 254lbs
McCloud has the frame (6-2, 245lbs) and baseline profile to be a quality NFL front seven player. Even more, he is seeking to make the transition from LB to EDGE defender this year and the veteran will pique interest due to his versatile and willingness to move positions in his final season.
Nesta Silvera/DT, Sixth Round Pick:
Junior, 6-2, 306lbs
Silvera was a borderline five-star recruit and is the No. 48 recruit all-time for Miami according to 247Sports. He remains an interior pass rusher with the top tier profile to back it up. Despite some injury concerns, NFL scouts reportedly liked what they saw from Silvera as a junior, but he did not get enough consistency to grade him as an early round selection. He is dealing with a lingering injury that forced him to miss Miami’s spring game, so that will have an affect on his draft profile. However, one former Miami player reportedly said, according to Manny Navarro of the Athletic, “He needs to be in the top 10. He’s their best defensive tackle.”
Cam’Ron Harris/RB, Seventh Round Pick:
Junior, 5-10, 210lbs
Harris has compiled decent productivity with 1219 cumulative yards over the past two season, including 15 TDs and 5.1 yards a carry. Harris also shows capability as a pass-catching back who has garnered 34 receptions for 249 yards and 2 TDs. Harris will be a part of a loaded backfield but is the only draft eligible RB. If Harris puts up decent productivity, and adds in some special teams versatility to his repertoire, than he seems fast and explosive enough to warrant an NFL roster spot.
NEW: University of Miami junior leading rusher Cam’Ron Harris has reaffirmed his devotion to the Hurricanes and announced Friday on Twitter that he will return for next season rather than enter the NFL Draft.— Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) January 1, 2021
(via @HeraldSports) https://t.co/6NRBs5R7u7
Jon Ford/DT, Seventh Round Pick:
Senior, 6-5, 315lbs
Ford has something you absolutely cannot teach: size. the 6-5, 315lb interior defensive lineman can be an absolute space eater in the middle. If he can show he has the NFL level conditioning, he may be a sneaky late round pickup.
Priority Undrafted Free Agents:
Redshirt Junior, 6-4, 225lbs
The best kicker in the nation, Borregales, ended up going undrafted as only one kicker and one punter each were selected this weekend. However, punters always have an opportunity to contribute on a roster and Hedley will definitely be expected to do that on an NFL roster as he continues to perfect his craft.
Miami Hurricanes kicker Jose Borregales was named to AP All-America first team while punter Lou Hedley and defensive end Jaelan Phillips were both named to the second team. pic.twitter.com/GA9Wtxe5ja— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) December 28, 2020
Redshirt Junior, 6-4, 308lbs
Gaynor has been as steady as they come, as well as a solid team leader, which are both key traits of a Center. Namely, the captain has started 24 games straight the past two seasons earning ACC Player of the week after the team’s 2020 opener but the three star recruit has athletic limitations.
Redshirt Senior, 6-6, 310lbs
Williams is a seventh year offensive lineman but the sentiment is he may be in a positional battle, as he missed the spring game, which would obviously be a huge indicator of where his draft stock may end up. The frame is there to thrive at a tackle position as Williams stands at 6-6, 310lbs, and he’s started every game the last two seasons he was healthy. However, he suffered a season-ending injury in 2019 after just four games and missed the spring game last month.
Third Year Redshirt Freshman, 6-4, 252lbs
Harvey is another athletic EDGE pass rusher who is looking to step up in light of the tripartite exodus of Phillips, Rousseau, and Roche. A scout noted that Jahfari is “OK. I’m not as high on him as some of the other ends they’ve had,” the scout said. Harvey is entering his third season but is a redshirt sophomore so has plenty of eligibility and may not even declare for the draft. With a solid season, he could make his way into the 6th or 7th round.
#Miami DE Jahfari Harvey on last year's two starting DE's leaving for the NFL Draft: “I’m gonna take my opportunity and run with it”— Nick Marino (@_NickMarino1) March 16, 2021
Harvey added 11 pounds of muscle this offseason, and is down to 4% body fat. Harvey will have a big opportunity this year on the D-line. #Miami
Junior, 6-1, 195lbs
In 2020, Ivey was a full-time starter this past year at the cornerback position and put together a stat line of 36 tackles, one interception, and four pass breakups as he had the most snaps at the position. Ivey exhibits nice length and ranked 22nd in coverage snaps per reception by allowing one reception every 14.7 coverage snaps (as most Canes did, he had his worst performance against UNC). Working under new secondary coach, Travaris Robinson, the physical CB will aim to take the next step.
Al Blades Jr./CB
Junior, 6-1, 188lbs
His status is largely uncertain after being diagnosed with myocarditis as a result of COVID-19 last season. While not apples to apples, it should be noted that Boston Red Sox pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez, experienced a similar ailment last year but has been lights out to open up the MLB season. Hopefully Blades can comeback strong and continue on the NFL trajectory.
Gurvan Hall Jr./S
Junior, 6-0, 192lbs
Hall could have NFL level athleticism and was also a team captain. However, it is unclear if that is enough unless some of his fundamentals are tidied up.
Senior, 6-2, 202lbs
Carter was also a captain and would need to have a breakout season with limited mistakes for his NFL dream to become a reality.
Honestly, the ones who COULD potentially be 1-2nd rounders:— Jasmaine P. ✍ (@Truly_Jas) May 2, 2021
•Mike Harley (if he get 1K+ yds)
•Rambo (if he get 1k+ yds)
•Zion Nelson (is already being projected as a 1-2 rounder)
No specific order
So that is a whopping 21 prospect whose NFL aspirations could pan out with strong performances. That is a nice year-over-year increase from the five prospects this year and bodes well for the #RunItBack campaign in Coral Gables for the 2021 season. Whether all or only some from the above list end up making it to the NFL eventually, that also bodes well for future generations. Whether those with eligibility after next year opt to return (this list assumes all draft eligible players declare, which is unlikely) and/or players with names like Van Dyke, Mallory, Redding III, Keyshawn, Chantz, Jahfari, Avantae, etc. continue the legacy and the program slowly but surely gets back to more NFL placement after a 2019 Draft where no one was selected from the U until the fourth round.