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Miami Hurricanes 2022 Position Preview: Defensive Ends

As a Historically Strong Position, the Canes EDGE Position Will Be Led By a Whole New Coaching Staff and Immediate Impact Transfer Portal Addition in Mitchell Agude, as well as Promising Returnees Jahfari Harvey and Chantz Williams

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Georgia Tech at Miami Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You don’t have to look much further than NFL Rosters to realize that Miami has done pretty well for a long duration of producing top tier defensive end talent. Of note, Miami had three EDGE rushers shine their rookie seasons in 2021 with Jaelan Phillips, Quincy Roche, and Gregory Rousseau. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Calais Campbell is still disrupting opposing QBs after being selected outta the U in 2008. In between those two categories, there is also a steady contingent of Al-Quadin Muhamad, Jonathan Garvin, Joe Jackson, and currently injured veteran, Olivier Vernon.

While the long lineage of talent from the pass rush to the NFL is impressive, the 2021 Canes’ roster did not display much promise at defensive end and return underwhelming production for 2022. However, they dipped back into the transfer portal, have players on the cusp of potential breakout, and also bring in a whole new coaching staff. To the last point, the coaching staff of Cristobal et. al. that will be responsible for this 2022 group just recruited and developed Kayvon Thibodeaux at Oregon who was selected 5th overall by the New York Giants.

Snapshot of Roster and Personnel:

Key Returnees: Jahfari Harvey, Chantz Williams, Elijah Roberts, Jabari Ishmael, Thomas Davis

Newcomers: Antonio Moultrie (Transfer, UAB), Mitchell Agude (Transfer, UCLA), Jake Lichtenstein (Transfer, USC), Cyrus Moss, Nyjalik Kelly

Key Departures: Deandre Johnson (UDFA, Miami Dolphins), Zach McCloud (UDFA, Minnesota Vikings), Quentin Williams (Transfer Portal, Marshall), Cameron Williams (Transfer Portal), Jess Simpson (DL Coach), Ishmael Aristide (OLB Coach)

Key Coaching Additions: Rod Wright (Defensive Ends Coach), Joe Salave’a (Defensive Line Coach/Assistant Head Coach)

Other Relevant Coaching Changes: Mario Cristobal (Head Coach), Kevin Steele (Defensive Coordinator), Charlie Strong (Co-Defensive Coordinator)

Factors Surrounding the Defensive Ends and Departures:

Coaching Overhaul:

The talk of the Canes’ offseason has obviously been the significant changes across the coaching staff. With that, the biggest alteration was parting ways with Manny Diaz and bringing in Mario Cristobal as head coach. Cristobal is predominantly an offensive line-minded coach and, thus, has familiarity dealing with the trenches/defensive linemen. Coming with Cristobal from Oregon is the Defensive Line Coach/Assistant Head Coach, Joe Salave’a. Salave’a has been Cristobal’s right hand man and is credited with a long laundry list of all-time recruits highlighted by Thibodeaux.

At Defensive Ends Coach, Miami brings in another players’ coach, Rod Wright, who was a 2006 NFL Draftee and has coached at mid-Majors such as Sam Houston State, East Carolina, and UTSA. The defensive coaching staff facelift also includes Kevin Steele as the new Defensive Coordinator and Charlie Strong as Co-Defensive Coordinator.

With the influx of new coaching talent, Miami sees the departure of Jess Simpson, after just one season in his second stint with the Canes. Outside Linebackers’ Coach, Ishmael Aristide, heads over to Duke.

Promising Portal Pickups:

This past draft cycle, and via the NCAA Transfer Portal, Miami has seen a fair share of defensive end departures. However, the outgoing player pot is nothing compared to last year’s. To that end, in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Canes experienced a large overhaul as they saw departures in two first round picks, Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau, and another sixth round pick Quincy Roche.

This season, Miami sees a bonafide leader in Zach McCloud depart, as well as a 2021 transfer, Deandre Johnson, who were both picked up as undrafted free agents. The Canes also lose two players to the transfer portal in Quentin Williams and Cameron Williams. In 2021, McCloud and Johnson definitely saw quality playing time as both played 11 games, but this departing quartet only combined for 58 tackles, 17 TFLs, and 11.0 sacks. For reference, Phillips and Roche combined for nearly double the production in a COVID-abbreviated 2020 season with 90 tackles, 30 TFLs, and 12.5 sacks. In the 2019 season, Rousseau, alone, nearly eclipsed the recent departing group in all three categories as he tallied 54 tackles, 19.5 TFLs, and 15.5 sacks.

Needless to say, the Canes need a bounceback season after featuring an underwhelming pass rush corps in 2021. While Miami has some key returnees and some players who will look to breakout with a deep, but young group of Jahfari Harvey, Chantz Williams, Elijah Roberts, Jabari Ishmael, and Thomas Davis, the Canes went back to the pot that keeps on giving in the Transfer Portal. They added an experienced and talented pure pass rusher in UCLA from Mitchell Agude. Agude could be an immediate impact player off the EDGE.

Other transfers may also get experience at EDGE: Ahkeem Mesidor has experience there at West Virginia his freshman year but he said he ended up feeling more comfortable at Tackle last year - he is most likely to be heavily rotated. Cristobal announced that UAB transfer, Antonio Moultrie, will be playing defensive tackle. USC transfer, Jacob Lichtenstein, also could shift to the outside but his 270-pound frame will likely be put in the middle. Miami has relied on the portal in many areas but they have bolstered their defensive end position in recent years especially with Phillips, Roche, Johnson, and Trevon Hill.

Meet the 2022 DE Class:

Key Returnees:

Jahfari Harvey: (2021 Stats - 9 Games Played, 26 Tackles, 7.0 Tackles for Loss, 2.5 Sacks, 1 INT, 2 PD)

Harvey offers the most returning experience for a Canes defensive end as he played in nine games and played 425 snaps. That being said, Harvey’s production was underwhelming in 2021 as he has tallied just 3.5 sacks in his first two seasons. That being said, Harvey exhibits immense promise with an ideal combination of frame and physical tools. He is everything someone would want in a 6-4, 245-pound pass rusher with explosive athleticism and twitchy as a pass rusher. Even more, Harvey has been impressing coaches throughout the offseason and has been vocal about his goals for the 2022 campaign. UCLA transfer, Agude, is already predicting it will be Harvey who is disrupting tackles across from him. Not only that, but Harvey was considered the ‘Alpha Dog’ of Miami’s 4th Quarter Program and winter workouts.

Chantz Williams: (2021 Stats - 9 Games Played, 14 Tackles, 1.5 Sacks) Chantz is another Miami returnee who offers experience and has all the traits to breakout but has been underwhelming to date. Similar to Harvey, he could be as set as anyone to make a meteoric leap as he collected just 1.5 sacks in nine games played in 2021. However, the 6-4, 255-pound pass rusher has effectively packed on weight and exhibits a 6-foot-8 wingspan - a key trait for an EDGE defender.

Chantz boasts a tenacious pass rush pursuit and a lethal combination of quickness and speed. He also has exhibited flashes of good field awareness to flank out to the flats when needed and is relentless in getting after QBs/RBs with his long frame. This will be a big year where Chantz needs to put it altogether and display the electricity on the field.

Thomas Davis: (2021 - Injured) Davis, who sports Linebacker traits, has not really been impactful in his first two seasons as he continues to develop. This past spring however, Davis has impressed teammates and coaches alike as he is getting some experience on the first team. While he could help out in the linebacker room as an off-the-ball player, he has been blossoming as someone who could potentially emerge as a dangerous pass rusher. With the experience he has seen on the first team, it is possible he is assimilated into higher leverage roles as the season progresses.

Elijah Roberts: (2021 Stats - 6 Games Played, 9 Tackles, 0.5 Sacks) Roberts also is from Columbus High and shows immense promise as a four-star prospect. He got his feet wet in 2021 playing in six games and now looks for more exposure. It is unclear how he will be utilized - interior or exterior of the defensive line - and, at 270-pounds, he will likely be rotated as needed.

Jabari Ishmael: (2021 Stats - Redshirt) Jabari is another player who could emerge in 2022. At 6-5, 245-pounds, Ishmael utilized his first season collegiate season packing on effective weight. With that, and his long wing span, he could become a rangy pass rusher for the Canes similar to recent studs, Phillips and Rousseau. Ishmael hails from Columbus High School in Miami and should feel right at home with his father at the U, Victor, who is a longtime assistant strength coach with the Canes’ Athletic Department.

Additions:

Mitchell Agude (UCLA): (2021 Stats - 11 Games Played, 55 Tackles, 6.5 Tackles for Loss, 2.0 Sack, 4 FF) An EDGE rusher transferring from UCLA to Miami after facing some adversity? Sign me up. Agude is the most established and most likely to experience a mind-boggling transfer season like Jermaine Johnson II at FSU last year or Phillips in 2020. His 55 tackles in 2021 nearly doubled Miami’s best defensive end. At 6-4, 240-pounds, Agude has quick feet an effective hands to burst past tackles on the outside. While he is generally relentless in his pursuit and forced four fumbles, his sack numbers (4.5 through two seasons) could experience a big jump.

In 2020, Agude was second on the team in QB pressures, trailing only Osa Odighizuwa, who has been impressive on the Dallas Cowboys. He also had a a 12.6% pressure rate that season, which was third in the Pac-12.

Agude did not participate this spring, and has a story filled with adversity similar to another UCLA transfer who broke out in recent years, Jaelan Phillips. He sounds ready to wreak havoc as he has set a lofty, but achievable goal to tally double-digit sacks.

Cyrus Moss: Moss hails from Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, the alma mater of Brevin Jordan, Tate Martell, and Bubba Bolden. As a true freshman, Moss is the 70th overall recruit in the nation but will work to pack on effective weight this spring to his 6-6, 220-pound frame.

Nyjalik Kelly: Kelly is also a top-100 recruit in the freshman class. He is still 17 years old but already has the body type of a pure EDGE defender. With immense promise, the Canes will slowly roll him out as he battled some injuries in high school, as well as an injury during the spring.

Predictions:

Depth Chart:
DE1: Agude, Davis
DE2: Harvey, Williams, Ishmael

Projected Stats:

Agude: 60 Tackles, 15 TFL, 10.0 Sacks
Harvey: 45 Tackles, 10 TFL, 8.0 Sacks
Williams: 30 Tackles, 6 TFL, 4.0 Sacks
Davis: 25 Tackles, 5 TFL, 3.0 Sacks
Ishmael: 15 Tackles, 4 TFL, 2.0 Sacks
Roberts: 20 Tackles, 4 TFL, 2.0 Sacks
Moss: Redshirt
Kelly: Redshirt

Conclusion

After a down year, this grouping should be more than serviceable and the coaching staff, from the top-down, is equipped as any to put the right players in the right position to throttle opposing backfields and quarterbacks.

On paper, the eight-or-so man group is deeper than it is top heavy. However, the addition of Agude in the portal could debunk that notion. Even more, the opportunity is there for a breakout season by not only Harvey or Chantz, but also potentially Davis or Ishmael. Complementary football will also assist with keeping this group in the upper echelon as the defensive tackle position displays immense promise with Leonard Taylor, Jared Harrison-Hunte Mesidor, Lichtenstein, and Moultrie - some of whom are capable of kicking outside.

There were a lot of growing pains last year with the departures of Phillips, Rousseau, and Roche. Going into 2022, the differences at the Canes’ defensive end position are a bit more welcome. Sure, they lose leadership in McCloud and some production in Deandre Johnson. But the coaching facelift and big-bodied additions on the defensive line exude a lot more confidence for this season.

Go Canes.