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Miami Hurricanes And The Top Five Positions in Football For the 2021 Season

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How Have The Canes Faired Filling The Top 5 Positions in Football? Are They Better Or Worse In Those Areas Compared to Last Year?

Football.

The penultimate team sport. Each and every position on the football field is operationally dependent on another. Much like the human body, each part is one piece of a holistic entity that, when properly attuned, can ebbs and flows seamlessly as if meant to be one.

The Football team, just like the human body, is also more dependent upon certain pieces than others. Without the feet, mobility and the power of the legs are drastically limited. Without the core, all appendages must take on more responsibility than they can handle. More than any other, without the mind, the body is but a driverless vessel.

For quite some time now, the Miami Hurricanes have always had one or two of these paramount positions, or lacked depth to replace what was irreplaceable. of the these position.

The most recent post season for the Hurricanes saw the team bolster four of the five positions below, with the fifth a shining example of what good coaching can do with the talent.

Will it be enough to continue Miami’s ascent in the ACC? Are they the leading team at any position in the division, or nationally? How does the current roster make up compare to last year? Lets dig in and find out. For the TL;DR folks, scroll to the bottom for a final tally of how Miami stacks in the ACC and what positions check the box in this exercise.


Number One: Quarterback

NCAA Football: Cheez-It Bowl-Oklahoma State vs Miami Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

King Of The Crop

It should be no surprise that the quarterback position is the most important position in all of sports. Look no further than all of the Miami Hurricanes best seasons to see that every season was highlighted by an undisputed star at the head of the offense. While in recent years Miami has, for the most part, been heavily limited at this position, The Hurricanes of 2021, like those championship teams, have a Bonafide star at the helm.

Coming over after the 2019 season, D’Eriq King shined bright in his first season in Miami. Touted by coaches and players as a consistent leader and tenacious worker, the veteran has raised the bar for his teammates and also expectations surrounding the program. While King is a talent at quarterback Miami hasn’t had maybe ever, it is the IT factor and confidence King exudes that should have Canes fans ready for round 2 this season.

Around the ACC: Last year, King was the third best quarterback in the ACC. Some may pause at that statement, until they realize that the two in front of him will likely go number one overall in back to back seasons (Trevor Lawrence in 2021 and Sam Howell in 2022). As one would assume, King is projected to be the number two quarterback in the conference behind the early 2022 draft favorite, and third nationally inclusive of Spencer Rattler. This, however, is no slap in the face to King, who should improve greatly with a second year under Rhett Lashlee.


Green In More Ways Than One

Green, one half of the Hurricanes two primary colors, has two definitions of note:

1. Inexperienced.

2. Money.

The two back ups to one of the nations top quarterbacks have the most pedigree of any quarterback room in recent Miami history. True Freshman Jake Garcia and True Sophomore Tyler Van Dyke put on a show during spring camp, giving the Hurricanes a great opportunity at a green future past the departure of D’Eriq King. Both quarterbacks could start for a number of colleges now, and provide security for the Hurricanes for at least the next three seasons. In the event we have to be without the incumbent starter, Miami should have confidence against their ACC slate with these QBs.


Number Two: Pass Rusher

NCAA Football: Miami at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Russian Roulette

While Miami has great confidence in naming the top dog at quarterback, pass rusher is literally the polar opposite. Pass rusher, the most important position on defense, is the key to stopping the most important position on offense. Over the last few seasons, the Hurricanes have had the luxury of fielding multiple future NFL players at the position, from Chad Thomas and Jonathan Garvin to first rounders Greg Rousseau and Jaelan Phillips. For the first time in what seems like forever, the Hurricanes have a question mark at the bookend spots on the defensive line. That isn’t to say Miami bereft of options. The Hurricanes have them in droves. Whether its the uber-talented Jahfari Harvey and Chantz Williams, the big and strong in Elijah Roberts and Quentin Williams, or the veterans in Zack McCloud and DeAndre Johnson. Even as the summer nears, two new options in True Freshmen Leonard Taylor, an elite recruit, and, Jabari Ishmael, the long, edge rushing son of Miami assistant Strength Coach, Victor Ishmael.

Around the ACC: The Hurricanes weren’t the only team to lose talent on the edge in the offseason. Names like Rashad Weaver, Boogie Basham, Patrick Jones, Chris Rumph and Joshua Kaindoh have moved on to the league. This signals a changing of the guard through out the league. Clemson’s Myles Murphy and Baylon Spector return with 22 tackles for loss. Virginia Tech returns the ACC’s leader in tackles for loss in Amare Barno. The Carolina’s boast the best defensive lines in the ACC. North Carolina returns two upperclassmen starters Raymond Vohasek junior Tomari Fox with five star Keeshawn Silver on the way. North Carolina State returns all but one defensive linemen and add Corey Durden to that experienced front. Miami will have it’s hands trying to stack up to these groups.


What’s Old is New

If the Canes are to get major production from the defensive end position it will start at the top with a set of upper classmen that are set to become first time starters. Jahfari Harvey is the most ballyhooed of the bunch, but the end is still missing something in his development that has him still fighting for a spot. The can be said for Cameron Williams, who despite time to grow is not considered anything close to a final product. Newcomer DeAndre Johnson flashed during the spring game and looks to be in good position heading into the fall. Former linebacker Zack McCloud provides depth for the group.


Player One Has Entered The Chat

The biggest factor entering into the fall is the inclusion of one Leonard Taylor. The 10th overall talent in the 2021 class is a freak athlete at his size. The defensive tackle prospect played all over the line for the Palmetto Panthers and has a good chance of breaking fall camp in the rotation at defensive end while he grows into his frame. If Leonard can provide a real spark at the position, it would create a good problem for Miami on the defensive line.


Number Three: Offensive Tackle


Developing Situation

What once was a weakness for the Hurricanes has become a strength, as the offensive line has pulled a full 180 under new offensive line Coach Garin Justice. Leading that turnaround is the best development Miami has seen in some time with Offensive Tackle Zion Nelson. Over the final six games Nelson graded out as the 12th best tackle in the country as a sophomore, setting him up to be mentioned often in way-too-early mock drafts for the 2022 NFL Draft. Super Senior Jarrid Williams was solid starter for the Canes giving up only 2 sacks on the season. Even better, D.J. Scaife has begun to realize his potential coming into his fourth season with the Hurricanes and has challenged Jarrid Williams all spring. This is easily Miami’s best tackle room since 2015, when Miami boasted Jon Feliciano and Erick Flowers as bookends.

Around the ACC: Miami is not the only team in the ACC to return both starters at left and right tackle. UNC and PITT return experienced starters, while fellow ACC Contenders Virginia Tech and Clemson both lost their best tackles to the NFL Draft. While the former has more experience, the potential within Zion Nelson gives Miami the best tackle pair in the ACC.


Justice Served

While Miami has had the top talent before a la 2014, it has always been the lack of depth that has left Miami without appropriate talent to reload. Garin Justice has done in two strange cycles, that Butch Barry, Stacy Searles and, in his latter years, Coach Art Kehoe had failed to do: reload the cupboards before the cupboards where empty. Behind Nelson and Williams are the aforementioned Scaife, highly touted recruits Issiah Walker, Jalen Rivers and a pair of huge potential soaked young men in Chris Washington and Michael McLaughlin. With the recruiting by Garin in a short period of time Miami is et up well for next phase of Hurricanes football.


Number Four: Defensive Back


Suddenly Sound

But can they play corner?

That has been a common sight tied to any player referenced against the Miami Hurricanes who’s original position is not corner. Needless to say, the desire for more from the position has become quite the topic of discussion among Hurricane Faithfuls over the last two seasons. Missing out on high level local recruits at the position over the last few seasons have left many frustrated and hoping for change. The Hurricanes, within the span of three months, pleased every side of this equation. Former cornerback coach Mike Rumph has moved to an off field role, keeping his coaching in the building but opening the door to a new face at the position. Enter Travaris Robinson and DeMarcus Van Dyke. The introduction of the two into on field roles for Miami was a jolt of energy to the team and to the recruiting efforts the position. The final piece of that cornerback overhaul? The return home of Miami native Tyrique Stevenson to be the feature corner for the Hurricanes. The former five star recruit was one of many misses highlighted by Canes fans, and getting him into the fold shows the affect keeping players like him home. Pairing Stevenson with Al Blades, one of the ACCs top corners in 2019, gives Miami its best duo at the position since Corn Elder and first rounder Artie Burns in 2015. This allows Miami to slide D.J. Ivey into a super sub role, Te’Cory Couch to man his best spot in the slot, and for players like Marcus Clarke and Isaiah Dunson to mature at the best place possible.


The Rich Get Richer

If the cornerback room is suddenly sound, then the safeties room is suddenly savage. Already boasting the top safety in the ACC with Bubba Bolden, and an athletic hammer in Gurvan Hall, the Hurricanes received the excellent news that the number one safety from the 2020 class Avantae Williams, was cleared for all team activities to start spring camp. The super sophomore shined in his first on field action, showing playmaking ability, excellent athleticism and a hammer of his own to challenge ball carriers. He should challenge immediately for early playing time not only at safety, but at the cornerback position, a shout out to his elite athleticism.

If that isn’t enough, the Hurricanes bring in the top safety from the 2021 class as well, James Williams, to campus as of May 17th. A specimen of an athlete, the 6’5 220 playmaker is a missile on the defensive side of the ball and the type of talent that changes a defense purely with their presence in the middle of the field. From a recruiting stand point alone, no school can claim a better group of talent than Miami.

Around the ACC: No other team boasts a deeper, more talented defensive back room as a whole. The closest groups live in the Carolinas, where the Clemson Tigers and North Carolina Tar Heels have strong starters and solid depth. The Tigers feature Mario Goodrich and Sheridan Jones backed up by a pair of five star talents. UNC has great experience in their rooms and a great top end talent in Tony Grimes. Neither can boast as full a talent pool however, as what Travaris Robinson has at his disposal.


Number Five: Wide Receiver

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 CFP Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Oklahoma v LSU Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You Had My Interest

2020 was a step forward. No matter how we WANT to slice it, there was improvement across the board, not just to what we saw from the 2019 team, but from the Mark Richt Era as well. Mike Harley had the best season by a Miami Hurricanes receiver since Ahmmon Richards in 2016, and, as rotational players, Dee Wiggins and Mark Pope were able to clearly define their value, and what the Hurricanes could seek to improve on. More importantly, we saw competition and maturity begin to set itself as a standard in the wide receiver room. That was apparent in what we saw in the spring. Xavier Restrepo has separated himself from the pack as an alpha type receiver with requisite skill and hands to excel as a weapon in a Rhett Lashlee system. Keyshawn Smith displayed commitment to his progress showing up with great levels of consistency to along with weight room results. Even lesser heard from Dasalin Worsham flashed with greatly improved size and route running through out camp. This is important because it alerts the entire wide receiver room that if you are not competitive, you’ll be passed rather quickly.


Now You Have My Attention


If the latter didn’t grab your attention, the introduction of Charleston Rambo in as massive injection of experience and talent should do just that. The transfer from Oklahoma is looking to reclaim the form he displayed in 2019 that had him getting early chatter as a first round talent while playing with then quarterback Kyler Murray. Following a change at the quarterback position, with multiple changes throughout the year, Rambo was never able to gain the same rhythm with Sooner signal callers as he had with Murray. The change of scenery to Miami has reinvigorated the talent, showing great explosiveness and work ethic to further challenge the wide receiver group, giving D’Eriq King and company more firepower to light the ACC on fire in the 2021 season.

Around the ACC: The excitement behind the trio of Rambo, Harley and Restrepo aside, the ACC is once again team with talent at the wide receiver position. The Clemson Tigers are beginning to see their many talents at the position like Ajou Ajou and Justyn Ross following a strong spring game, not to mention Frank Ladsen waiting in the wings. Wake Forest and N.C. State both boast a strong pair of wide receiver duos. Jordan Addison will be one to watch coupled with Kenny Pickett at PITT. The Hurricanes will need to show up early and often to be considered in the same light as the likes of Clemson or even Wake Forest.


Final Rankings ACC (Top 3)

Quarterback:

  1. UNC
  2. Miami
  3. Clemson

Sam Howell. Spencer Rattler. D’Eriq King. Not since Dorsey has a Miami signal caller been spoken of this highly, this often. King is widely viewed as a top collegiate quarterback and rightfully so. It is what is behind him however, that cements Miami squarely in there position. Jake Garcia and Tyler Van Dyke both have the ability to be very productive at the college level if not stars. If not for UNC getting Drake Maye in the last draft class, that top spot would go to King and the Canes.

Pass Rusher:

  1. Clemson
  2. UNC
  3. Miami

Had it not been for a mass exodus of pass rushers from the ACC, headlined by our own Trio of Jaelan Phillips, Gregory Rousseau and Quincy Roche, Miami doesn’t make this list. With the departure also of Pittsburgh’s duo in Rashad Weaver and Patrick Jones, Boogie Basham, Chris Rumph and others, Miami sneaks in at three. This speaks much more to Manny Diaz’s track record of creating more opportunity for his defense’s rushers than it does to the experience Miami current has there. North Carolina and Clemson both most much more experienced groups, as does NC State. Miami’s unpolished talent coupled with a return to Diaz is currently their only saving grace.

Offensive Tackle:

  1. Miami
  2. UNC
  3. Clemson

Insert the Paul Rudd “Hey Look At Us” video here, because that perfectly describes Miami’s tackle situation. Following the debacle at Camping Ground Stadium vs UF, if someone would have told me Zion is a First Round prospect in 2021, I’d call them crazy. Yet here we are. With the ACC graduating quite a few tackles to the league, like Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw and Clemson’s Jackson Carman, the league has multiple new starters at tackle. While some have more in the way of stars like Clemson’s group, Miami boasts over 50 starts from its top four tackles.

Defensive Back:

  1. Miami
  2. Clemson
  3. UNC

It’s no surprise Miami has one of the top three safety rooms in the nation, but what's more surprising is how much better one big talent does to the corner position. Not many schools have the top level talent that Miami has at both defensive back positions. Clemson’s corners are the best in the ACC, and UNC has great talent, but no other school can boast the amount of talent and experience Miami now has between the Cornerback and Safety rooms.

Wide Receiver:

  1. Clemson
  2. Wake Forest
  3. Miami

Miami makes it here by the thinnest of margins. Clemson is far and away the leader with the blend of talent and experience. Justyn Ross is a NFL talent right now, Ajou Ajou was a developmental prospect but has the tools, and Frank Ladsen may be ready to take the mantle as the next best ACC WR. Wake Forest features two high level talents in veteran Jaquarii Roberson and Donovan Greene. The latter is still green but has the ability to overshadow the uber productive Roberson. While Miami has the talent to challenge these teams, experience is king, and Miami needs more of it.


Overall, Miami is elite in two categories, Quarterback and Defensive Back, high level in a third, Offensive Tackle, and developing in the remaining two at Pass Rusher and Wide Receiver.

The Hurricanes talent is quickly taking away any opportunity for the staff to make excuses for underperforming in the ACC. The Hurricanes pass rush should find ways to improve despite losing major talent here, as a result of Manny Diaz reclaiming the play calling. The wide receiver room has the most talent its had in nearly five campaigns, but needs more seasoning to really prove their worth. IF Miami can solve these two riddles, coupled with great defensive back play and a Heisman candidate protect by great tackles, Miami will either finally reach expectations, or have ALOT of explaining to do.

Go Canes