Countdown to College Football Kickoff: Top NFL prospects at Miami

Sep 21, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau (15) celebrates by wearing the turnover chain after recovering a fumble in the first quarter of a football game against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

College football is scheduled to return Saturday, August 29. Each day until then, will be evaluating the rosters of the best teams in college football, including all 64 within the Power Five conferences.

Miami Hurricanes

Head Coach: Manny Diaz (second season)

2019 Record: 6-7

2020 NFL Draft Picks: Shaquille Quarterman, ILB – Jacksonville Jaguars, Fourth Round, No. 140 overall

DeeJay Dallas, RB – Seattle Seahawks, Fourth Round, No. 144 overall

K.J. Osborn, WR – Minnesota Vikings, Fifth Round, No. 176 overall

Jonathan Garvin, DE – Green Bay Packers, Seventh Round, No. 242 overall

2020 Overview:

Given that the Miami Hurricanes won less games with both an offense and defense ranked lower in national polls than a year earlier under retired head coach Mark Richt, some might argue that Manny Diaz’s first season as Miami’s head coach was a disappointment.

A closer look, however, reveals a very young team which simply struggled with consistency.

The Hurricanes lost their first two games (against then-No. 8 ranked Florida and at North Carolina) by a combined seven points, before rattling off six wins in an eight-game span from mid-September to early November that had faithful fans thinking “The U” was back.

Instead, the ‘Canes suffered through a u-turn, dropping their final three games of the year, including a shocking 30-24 loss at Florida International and a dismal performance (at least on offense) against Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl, falling 14-0.

Given Diaz’s defensive background, it isn’t surprising that this unit was clearly Miami’s strength a year ago, ranking 23 in the country in points allowed last year. The offense, on the other hand, ranked 90 in points scored.

In the hopes of immediately improving both, Miami accepted three notable transfers in dual-threat quarterback D’Eriq King (from Houston) as well as highly regarded edge rushers Quincy Roche (Temple) and Jaelen Phillips (UCLA), all of whom are legitimate NFL prospects.

Inserting Roche and Phillips onto a front which already boasts returning ACC sack king and NFLDraftScout’s top-rated defensive Gregory Rousseau should give Miami one of the nation’s fiercest defenses.

Featured 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Gregory Rousseau, DE, 6-5, 260, 4.70, rSoph

It is easy to get excited about a talent like Rousseau, a former prep wide receiver who led the ACC with 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss last year despite starting just seven of 13 games.

Turning down the likes of LSU, Georgia and Oregon, among others, Rousseau signed with Miami after prepping less than an hour north of the city at Coconut Creek. He earned Second Team All-State honors there at wide receiver with 28 catches for 467 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior before making the switch to defensive end as a senior. Rousseau collected 80 tackles and 10 sacks in 2017, guiding Champagnat Catholic High School to a state title, the second in school history. The future Hurricane was a whirlwind in the championship game, racking up nine tackles and three sacks.

Rousseau was expected to play a significant role as a true freshman for Richt’s club in 2018, but suffered an ankle injury just two games into the year, finishing with just five tackles.

He returned with a vengeance last year, however, turning in one of the most dominant campaigns in Miami’s storied history, becoming only the second Hurricane to ever be named ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year and one of just a handful in school history to earn All-American honors in his first full season. 

Rousseau began the year in fine form, registering two tackles for loss and his first career sack against Florida in the season-opener and was absolutely dominant by midseason, racking up a combined seven sacks in road wins at Pittsburgh and Florida State.

Rousseau won’t be sneaking up on opponents this year, of course, and scouts are eager to see if he can prove last year’s success was no fluke. Given his own talent, as well as the improved supporting cast brought in by Diaz, Rousseau is seemingly in position to be even more productive in 2020.

If so, Rousseau could rank right there with Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson and Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade as one of the truly elite defensive prospects in the entire country.

Strengths: An ascending talent who is just scratching the surface of his potential. Lightning quick first step to instantly threaten the edge as a pass rusher, whether he’s starting out of the two or three-point stance. Rousseau’s long strides allow him to eat up ground, forcing tackles onto the heels and off-balance, vulnerable to his counters back inside. 

Converts his speed to power as a result, knocking back would-be blockers with an effective bull rush. Shockingly nimble for a such a tall edge rusher, showing the agility and core flexibility to dip under the reach of edge rushers and shave the corner tightly. Breaks down well in space to remain squarely in front of ballcarriers, delivering solid hits for a player only a few years removed from playing receiver. Good effort and vision in lateral and downfield pursuit, evading traffic and using his long arms to trip up opponents from behind. Still growing into what should become a prototypical frame for defensive end, with ideal height and wingspan. Surprisingly stout in run support when he keeps his legs bent and pad level down, including when asked to slide inside to defensive tackle. Strong hands to grip and rip himself free from blockers when the ball is near. Consistent production in 2019, recording at least one sack or tackle for loss in nine of 13 games…

Weaknesses: Overly reliant on his physical gifts, at this time, with his rush lacking nuance and diversity. Statistics were inflated last season with Rousseau moved all over the defensive line in an effort to create advantageous matchups… Does not yet string together pass rush moves effectively, needing to further hone the coordination of his upper and lower body. Needs to get stronger, currently sporting lean limbs that still look more like a big receiver than a future NFL defensive end… Must show greater awareness of the football, registering just one tipped pass last year (Louisville) and two forced fumbles (Central Michigan, Virginia).

NFL Player Comparison: Jevon Kearse, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles (retired) – Loyal Miami fans may not love a comparison to a former Gator great but there are few edge rushers in recent history who possess Rousseau’s “freakish” traits. The 6-5, 265 pound Kearse retired in 2009 with 313 tackles and 74 sacks over 11 NFL seasons, earning Pro Bowl nods three times, as well as All-Pro honors as a rookie when he enjoyed his own breakout campaign with an eye-popping 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles. Rousseau has plenty of work left to do but his potential is seemingly limitless.

Current NFL Draft Projection: First Round

The Top 10 NFL Prospects at Miami:

1. Gregory Rousseau, DE, 6-5, 260, 4.70, rSoph

2. Quincy Roche, OLB, 6-3, 235, 4.60, rSR - - transfer from Temple

3. Brevin Jordan, TE, 6-3, 245, 4.65, JR

4. Jaelen Phillips, OLB/DE, 6-4, 245, 4.65, rJR – transfer from UCLA

5. Al Blades, CB, 6-1, 190, 4.45, JR

6. Navaughn Donaldson, OG, 6-5, 345, 5.30, SR

7. CamRon Harris, RB, 5-09, 205, 4.45, JR

8. D’Eriq King, QB/WR, 5-09, 190, 4.40, rSR – transfer from Houston

9. DJ Ivey, CB, 6-1, 195, 4.45, JR

10. Gurvan Hall, Jr., S, 6-0, 195, 4.45, JR

*All 40-yard dash times are estimates