This past summer, quarterback Brad Kaaya was being touted by draft analysts as a first-rounder should he enter the NFL Draft early.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, during a national teleconference Thursday, projected that Kaaya, a junior contemplating entering the 2017 draft, would likely go in the third round, “maybe second’’ depending on how he worked out on Pro Day.
Kiper said Kaaya would do himself a big favor by returning to the University of Miami for his senior season.
“What would be your suggestion to him and how would you rate him?” Kiper was asked by the Miami Herald.
“Look at Kaaya, with the toughness you love,’’ Kiper replied. “He stands in there. Again, another year I think it would help him to continue to get better with Mark Richt there.
“If he does come out, you’re looking probably at a third-round type, maybe second round depending upon how the workout, the pro day, goes. But I really think if you’re not a first-round pick, go back and try to get to that point.
“As I’ve said, that’s something that I think can be achieved with a good year.’’
Kiper said Thursday that North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior in his first season as a starter, is his only possible first-round quarterback of the upcoming draft — and he thinks Trubisky also should return. Kiper has Trubisky, who has 3,468 yards (68.9-percent completion) and 28 touchdowns to only four interceptions, going 16th overall — but possibly No. 1 in the 2018 draft if he returns.
Kaaya has thrown for 3,250 yards (61.2) and 23 touchdowns to seven interceptions. But he has 37 starts.
SI.com’s recent NFL Draft projections have Clemson junior quarterback Deshaun Watson going 13th, Notre Dame junior quarterback Deshone Kizer going 19th and Trubisky going 24th. Neither Kaaya nor any other Miami player is listed in the top-40 projections.
“Kaaya has had more [starts than Trubisky],’’ Kiper said, “but I think another season in that offense would help him. They’re going to keep bringing in talent there. One of the receivers [Lawrence Cager] was hurt and missed the whole year.”
Kiper did not give a projection for UM tight end David Njoku, who is also contemplating leaving early, but said, when asked about Njoku, that “the tight end position’’ in the draft “is so good this year.’’
“There are so many entities there that have ability. Another year certainly would be a plus for a young tight end like that.’’
When told tailback Joe Yearby (1,002 yards and six rushing touchdowns in 2015 and 592 yards and seven touchdowns this past season) might turn pro early, Kiper said this:
“I understand running backs that get the tread on the tires and they’ve already shown they can do it. Running backs, if you come out though, when you go late, are you OK with that?
“Again, if you’re not going to be an early-round pick and you’re going to go late, are you satisfied that that’s OK? And for running backs like that, they usually get pushed down for that reason. I’m not going to debate Yearby one way or another, but I think the other two [Kaaya and Njoku] going back wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
When Kiper was asked later in the call to discuss the prospects of seniors Stacy Coley, Corn Elder, Danny Isidora, Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins, the analyst mentioned only two: receiver Coley and cornerback Elder.
“The two that are the most intriguing of that group are Coley and Elder,’’ Kiper said. “Coley right now is my eighth-highest rated receiver of the draft-eligible guys. He’s smooth – he gets in and out of his break very well. He has become consistent for the most part. He tests well. He could be a guy you think maybe late Day Two (rounds 2-3), early Day Three (rounds 4-7).
“And Elder is a nickelback. The kid, he shows up. He’s got ability. In this league we see what Tavon Young is doing as a fourth-round pick in Baltimore. I see some similarities to Young. He came out of Temple [and] has been one of the top 20 rookies in the NFL this year… I think Elder has got a chance in this league as a nickel/dime guy to be a kid that helps you on Day 3 of the draft.’’
The 2017 NFL Draft dates are April 27-29, with Jan. 16 the deadline for underclassmen to declare.