Miami's Gregory Rousseau opts out, declares for 2021 NFL draft

Rob Rang

The trickle of college players opting out on the 2020 season and heading to the NFL is becoming a steady flow with Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau the latest addition, his head coach Manny Diaz announced via a zoom call with reporters Thursday.

The 6-7, 265 pound Rousseau started just seven of 13 games for the Hurricanes as a redshirt freshman last year but the more important number to scouts may be 15.5 – the number of quarterbacks sacks he registered in 2020, second only to Washington’s prized rookie and the No. 2 overall pick, Chase Young.

What Rousseau may lack in experience he more than makes up for with raw athletic tools, boasting a freakish combination of size, agility and power that reminds me of another star player who played his collegiate ball in the talent-rich state of Florida - former Gator, Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles “Freak” Jevon Kearse.

It is a rare skill-set which could make Rousseau a very early selection in the 2021 NFL draft, warranting his decision to forgo his remaining college eligibility despite lacking the well-rounded game of previous opt-outs Caleb Farley, Rashod Bateman and Micah Parsons – each of whom also project as first round prospects.

While his head coach made the announcement for him, Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald caught up with Rousseau shortly after the news broke. As with the others who have already opted out, fears about playing during pandemic fueled Rousseau’s decision.

Degnan notes that Rousseau’s mother is a COVID-19 nurse at Florida Medical Center and that his father works for the city of Miami repairing fire trucks.

“COVID does scare me. They’re both at the front lines and I don’t know how that would affect me if I got sick or brought it home to my little brother who has asthma.

“I wish I could have played with [his Miami teammates] longer. It really does take a piece out of my heart. But I’m doing what’s best for my family.”

Landing a multi-million dollar deal as an early first round NFL draft pick will certainly do that.

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.

For a big man, Rousseau possesses impressive initial quickness, as well as terrific lateral agility and the long arms to latch on drag down ballcarriers. Given his still lanky frame and the fact that he played wide receiver in high school, Rousseau also already shows very impressive functional strength. So much so, in fact, that the defensive-minded Diaz sometimes moved him inside to defensive tackle, an indication of Rousseau’s toughness and football savvy, as well as his disruptive ability.

With just 15 games at the college level, however, there is no denying that Rousseau is a project, albeit one with as high of an upside as perhaps any player in this draft.