NFL Draft 2013 Preview: Miami Prospects

Will Brandon McGee Be the Only Hurricane to Hear His Name Called at Next Week's NFL Draft?

Will Brandon McGee Be the Only Hurricane to Hear His Name Called at Next Week’s NFL Draft?

Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 50 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 25 through 27.

Following last year’s mass player exodus, Miami only loses a few seniors to this year’s draft. And the program that once produced multiple first-round picks each and every season now looks like a shadow of its former self. Of the three players we’ll profile here, just one has a sure-fire chance of being selected, and that’s still not even until the third day. These fortunes could all change course soon enough (plenty of pro talent on the current roster), but until then, it’ll at least look like rebuilding mode to the uninformed eye.

Brandon McGee, CB, Senior (Projected: Fifth Round)

McGee gets solid marks from scouts with an athletic build and some great speed (4.37 40-yard dash), but his size (5’11” and 193 pounds) could end up becoming an issue as the NFL transitions to larger targets in the passing game. During his career at Miami, he’s shown glimpses of being a great physical cover man, but sometimes that leads to far too much downfield contact and/or getting beat on shorter routes. Still, his ability to get a finger on the ball is noted and appreciated. While there’s certainly plenty to improve upon — anyone who watched Miami’s dreadful secondary last year will agree, I’m sure — he’s a strong prospect with enough upside to be worth a third-day selection.

Mike James, RB, Senior (Projected: Undrafted)

James never really got rolling as a feature back at Miami — the main reason he’ll go undrafted next week. But in the split time he spent on the field these last four years, he’s also shown glimpses of why he could end up a valuable third/fourth running back option and/or special-teamer. With a 4.5 40-yard dash time, he’s got nice speed and burst off the line, and last year in particular, he also improved his receiving skills out of the backfield, catching 30 passes for 344 yards and three scores. As a tireless worker and reasonably underused runner though, I could see the appeal of signing James as a free agent with a real shot to make a team for the fall.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Miami Hurricanes

Amidst Perceived Turmoil, Miami Ended Up Putting in an Impressive 2012 Season

Amidst Perceived Turmoil, Miami Ended Up Logging an Impressive 2012 Season (On Offense)

Team: Miami Hurricanes

W-L: 7-5 (5-3)

Postseason: None

Top Offensive Performer: Duke Johnson, RB

Top Defensive Performer: Denzel Perryman, LB

The 2012 season was an interesting one for Miami, albeit still another disappointing campaign for the team since joining the ACC. Starting the year with the threat of the NCAA hammer coming down on the program and replacing a ton of NFL draft departures, no one knew what to expect from Miami. I myself was on the pessimistic end of expectations for the team, queuing up a 3-9 finish (admittedly, misguided). And yet, even with a dark cloud and tons of questions, things couldn’t have turned out much better for the ‘Canes on the offensive end. In Stephen Morris, the team found someone who could potentially be a program-defining passer. The junior threw for 3,345 yards and 21 scores, including a 566-yard record-breaking performance against NC State early in the year. And in running back Duke Johnson, Miami found the player most likely to carry them back to prominence. Just a freshman, Johnson still tallied up over 2,000 all-purpose yards (tops in the ACC) to go with 13 touchdowns. His dynamic speed and game-changing ability on both offense and special teams were a big reason why the U took several opponents by surprise in 2012, and a large reason why they’ll continue to succeed in 2013.

But the offensive fireworks weren’t just relegated to Morris and Johnson, either. Miami’s offense as a whole was top-50 in the country in points scored, with 31.4 per game, and tied for 36th in total yards per game (440.2). Those numbers were huge spikes in production when compared to 2011’s figures as well, with Miami posting a 63-yards-per-game jump year-over-year, and a five-points-per-game increase, respectively. Between the passing game’s improvement behind Morris and top receivers Phillip Dorsett (842 receiving yards) and Rayshawn Scott (512 receiving yards), and the running game led by Johnson and senior Mike James, you start to get a much easier sense of why this team looked so much better than the editions of recent past.

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ACC Football Top 25 Players of 2012: #9, Duke Johnson

Miami's Duke Johnson Put in a Standout Freshman Performance in 2012

Miami’s Duke Johnson Put in a Standout Freshman Performance in 2012

As part of our 2012 season review, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC this season, from no. 25 to no. 1. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof, obviously — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 9, Duke Johnson, RB/Miami (Preseason Rank: NR)

Duke Johnson sprung onto the scene during his first ACC game this year — a 135-yard, two-touchdown effort against Boston College. And he failed to slow down for the remainder of his inaugural campaign with the Hurricanes. Taking advantage of his starring role in both the ‘Canes offense and special teams, the freshman totaled 2,060 all-purpose yards (most in the conference) and 13 touchdowns. He was the conference’s leading kick-returner and the focal point of Miami’s attack, averaging 6.8 yards per carry — and this while also splitting carries with senior Mike James. Impressively enough, he ended the season just as well as it started though, if not more so. In a game that would have had huge implications for the Coastal division if not for Miami’s self-imposed ban, Johnson reeled off 176 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just 16 carries. While Duke’s run-D certainly wasn’t impressive in 2012, they weren’t the Blue Devils of old, either; meaning this was no product of a weak opponent. For Johnson, his six games of 100+ total yards were integral to the Hurricanes’ success, and when he failed to play well, the team also suffered. Should Miami be bowl-eligible in 2013 (and chances are they will be), it’ll be on the legs and shoulders of Duke Johnson.

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Top 10 ACC Football Games of 2012

Could Jamison Crowder and the Blue Devils Claim the Top Spot For Duke's Impressive Win Over UNC?

Could Jamison Crowder and the Blue Devils Claim the Top Spot For Duke’s Impressive Win Over UNC?

In a season full of parity, it’s understandable that the ACC had so many memorable contests to choose from when compiling this list. So many last-second scores, one-possession ball games and overtime battles, it was truly difficult to decipher which really were the “best” the league had to offer. Nonetheless, we make an attempt below, nodding to the 10 contests that — more than any others the ACC gave us this season — really gave us a reason to remember them. Agree or disagree with our picks? Share away in the comments.

Top 10 Games of 2012

10. Syracuse 37, USF 36: Down 20 points at the half, this was supposed to be the tombstone in another disappointing Syracuse season. And yet, as they did all year, this Orange squad refused to quit, and battled all the way back in the second half. Down five with just seconds on the clock, Ryan Nassib delivered a gutsy touchdown pass to Alec Lemon on fourth-and-goal, sealing the win and adding to his reputation as a master of the comeback.

9. Syracuse 31, Missouri 27: We promise this is the last you hear about Syracuse on this list. Once again facing a late deficit — this time 27-24 — Nassib and Lemon would complete their furious comeback with a wide-open 17-yard touchdown pass. The strike, with just 20 seconds remaining, would end up being the game-winner, sending ‘Cuse bowling for the second time in three seasons.

8. Florida State 28, Virginia Tech 22: From sloppy, to boring, to inexplicable and then miraculous, this game truly ran the gambit of emotions for players and fans. What should have been a quick win over a lackluster Hokies squad would turn into a struggle for FSU; one they were certainly lucky to come away with. Even now, the final few minutes rush by like a blur: Devonta Freeman‘s idiotic safety, EJ Manuel‘s easy 39-yard TD pass, and then Logan Thomas‘s ultimate hero-turned-goat act. Just another Thursday night ACC showdown.

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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week 12

DeAndre Hopkins and the Clemson Offense Are Hoping to Avoid a Letdown Versus NC State for the Second Straight Year

For this weekend to be deemed a success, the ACC must simply hope that its favorites pull out victories against in-conference underdogs, while two five-win squads tack on victories out-of-conference to get to bowl eligibility. Unfortunately, even the easiest request has become a tall order in the ACC, a league still mired in extreme parity, parading as mediocrity to outside spectators (or at least that’s my story). Let’s just hope for the best…

Game of the Week

NC State Wolfpack (6-4) (3-3) at Clemson Tigers (9-1) (6-1): Last year, I called this matchup a trap game, but for some reason felt that Clemson’s defense — facing a one-dimensional offense — would be the difference-maker. This time around, the game feels eerily similar. Underachieving Wolfpack squad versus a 9-1 Clemson team that hasn’t been tested in months, and thus, has plenty of room to grow on the defensive side of the ball. But for State, there just isn’t the same sense of urgency as last year — with the team clinching bowl eligibility last week, their backs are not pressed against the wall, nor are they all that inspired to play for their lame-duck coach, Tom O’Brien. I’m convinced this year’s Clemson team is better than the 2011 model, and because it’s a home game, it’s hard not to go with the talented Tigers and their potent offensive attack. Prediction: Clemson 41, NC State 30

The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):

North Carolina Tar Heels (6-4) (3-3) at Virginia Cavaliers (4-6) (2-4): The South’s Oldest Rivalry is always a fun — if underrated — game and this year’s edition should be no different as both teams are surrounded by more questions than answers. Carolina’s offense showed it’s capable of putting up points in bunches when it rang up 50 last week. But its defense revealed itself as a porous, overrated group still struggling to get a handle on Larry Fedora’s 4-2-5 scheme while giving up 68 points. On offense, the Hoos are no world-beaters, but there’s hope the group has finally hit its stride, with the running game seemingly back on track and Michael Rocco firmly taking the reigns of the passing attack once more. Expect tonight’s matchup to be sloppy and mistake-ridden, with Carolina killing off UVa’s dreams of bowl eligibility by a slim margin. Prediction: UNC 27, Virginia 21

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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week 11

Can Virginia Tech Hope to Slow Down Florida State’s Offense Tonight, or Its Defense Either, For That Matter?

Unless you’re one of the other teams still in the Coastal division race, any ACC fan should be rooting for Miami the rest of the way. And yet, as we discussed earlier on the site, the Hurricanes may very well be staying home anyway. Beyond the Coastal, however, it’s now of the utmost importance that the best teams simply keep winning. The conference has obviously taken a lot of body blows throughout this season. The last thing we need is to lose our chances at two BCS bids, and/or send a 6-6 team to the ACC Championship Game. Of course, things are never all that predictable in this league, now are they?

Game of the Week

Florida State Seminoles (8-1) (5-1) at Virginia Tech Hokies (4-5) (2-3): FSU has a huge opportunity here, not only to put themselves on the cusp of winning the Atlantic division, but also to bury the Hokies’ season. Based on how things have been going for both squads, it appears likely we’ll see a Seminoles win. Florida State has held three different FBS opponents (all in-conference) to seven points or less, while also only allowing 20 points or more twice (both wins). Unfortunately for Virginia Tech, they haven’t scored more than 17 points since mid-October and the offense has only managed about 25 points per contest in eight games against FBS competition (three wins, five losses). And then there’s that offensive line. As feared in preseason, they’ve struggled, and actually, may be getting worse as the year wears on. There’s little hope they’ll be able to hold off Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine for very long, creating yet another frustrating Thursday night for Logan Thomas. Prediction: Florida State 36, Virginia Tech 20

The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):

Pittsburgh Panthers (4-5) at Connecticut Huskies (3-6): Both teams are playing for their postseason lives this Friday, so don’t read too much into the Huskies’ recent four-game losing streak. UConn is well aware of what’s at stake, and will be performing accordingly. What Pitt needs to do to combat this is simply bury last week’s disappointment, and finish the job this time around. Against Notre Dame, the Panthers played well above their level, but ultimately fell short. What could frighten Pitt fans about this matchup, however, is the letdown potential. Pitt is notorious for playing down to opponents, and UConn could certainly qualify. While the Husky defense has performed impressively for the most part (18.6 points per game), they’ve also only scored 16.6 per game (120th in FBS). As always, the game plan for Pittsburgh is to just run the ball effectively and make opponents commit their own mistakes. Prediction: Pitt 27, UConn 17

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ACC Football 2012 Power Rankings: Week 11

Following Their Big Win Over Virginia Tech, the Miami Hurricanes Control Their Own Destiny in the Coastal Division

Half of the ACC has seemingly fallen off a cliff, which makes it increasingly difficult to defend teams’ strength of schedule when it comes to BCS conversations. And yet, two squads in particular (you can probably guess which) continue to roll through opponents, gaining very little respect in the process. The key for the conference to grab two BCS berths once again will unfortunately lie in the strength of the middle and bottom of the conference. However, with many teams mired in slumps, or lingering around .500, who knows if more than three or four teams finish better than 6-6. Nonetheless, we try and sort through the mess below:

1. Florida State Seminoles (8-1) (5-1) (LW: 1): The ‘Noles have looked great lately, though consistency is another story entirely. Despite utterly dominating most opponents, there have been some severe lulls in creative play-calling and an overall lack of focus that lead us right to the cause of the NC State loss (now unforgivable, considering the Pack’s fall). Heading into the home stretch, FSU surely knows the stakes, though. Win the next two, and they’re playing for an ACC Championship and a likely berth in the Orange Bowl.

2. Clemson Tigers (8-1) (5-1) (LW: 2): With the offense moving at breakneck speed and the defense looking mildly improved, the Tigers are suddenly talking about their own BCS dreams. The only route for them, however, is to win out. While their remaining ACC slate (Maryland, NC State) don’t appear to be much of a threat, they also do nothing to help the team’s lagging strength of schedule numbers. Their best shot: a big win over arch-rival South Carolina, plus some other losses by their competition for the final at-large spot for good measure.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-3) (3-2) (LW: 5): The Heels had the week off, which somehow made everyone forget about the season Giovani Bernard is having. And between Bernard’s missed games and UNC’s ineligibility for the postseason, this program’s already dealing with enough poor luck. And unfortunately, it comes as a disadvantage for the conference too. North Carolina is the best team in the Coastal, with one of the best players in the conference (Bernard) at running back. Instead of focusing on that during the title game, talk will be all about how poorly the Coastal performed, harping on its “subpar” champion.

4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (5-4) (4-2) (LW: 7): The ‘Canes were handed a test on Thursday, and came out with a resounding victory and the inside track to winning the Coastal division. Seemingly under the radar to most, Miami has made some improvements on the defensive side of the ball, and it showed while they held Virginia Tech to 12 points while forcing three turnovers. The biggest advantage, though, was the strength of the running game, which was engineered by Duke Johnson. Again, both Johnson and Mike James need more touches if this offense hopes to keep up with the conference’s top teams. But with just over 200 combined carries for the two running backs all season, I’m not sure the coaching staff is aware of that yet.

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