The University of Miami hasn’t had a first-round NFL Draft pick since 2008, and the Hurricanes aren’t even close to one this year. But for the players from Coral Gables chasing their dreams, any pick — for several, any shot — would be worth the wait.
“I’d love to play for anyone, put it that way,” said defensive end Shayon Green, who is expected, like a handful of other former Hurricanes, to sign as a free agent if he goes undrafted.
Last year, the Canes had cornerback Brandon McGee go to the St. Louis Rams in the fifth round and running back Mike James go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the sixth.
This year it’s anybody’s guess, with a strong possibility of no one getting drafted until the fourth through seventh rounds are televised beginning at noon Saturday — the final day of the three-day draft.
Former UM 6-7, 335-pound right tackle Seantrel Henderson might have dropped off the boards of various NFL teams after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday that Henderson tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine — and that NFL teams were notified of Henderson’s drug test last week.
As it was, Henderson was projected to go all over the place, his best hope at one time the third round. But now, 6-6, 311-pound guard Brandon Linder could be the Cane who goes first — possibly as high as the third or fourth rounds — if he isn’t passed by quarterback Stephen Morris. Among other potential draftees on the final day are punter Pat O’Donnell — one of the best punters in college football — and wide receiver Allen Hurns.
“I think those two offensive linemen are heading in different directions,” draft analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said last Thursday, before the revelation about Henderson. Mayock said Henderson was “heading in the wrong direction, whereas their guard, Linder — the more coaches get involved, the more they like Linder. He’s not as physically gifted as some players in this draft, but he’s smart and he’s tough. He could climb. I think he’s going in the fourth or fifth round, and this is a pretty good guard draft.”
Linder, who will be home in Southwest Ranches for the draft with his parents and brother, Nick — an incoming UM offensive lineman from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas High — said last weekend that “it has been a crazy offseason and process, and now it’s exciting to soon be starting my career in the National Football League.”
“I don’t have any expectations,” he said. “Wherever I get drafted, I’ll be happy. It’s all about the opportunity I’m given.”
Linder said he didn’t have a favorite NFL team growing up. “I was just a big Canes fan. I more or less watched the NFL games to watch my position and see techniques and what I needed to do.”
As for Morris, who ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash for quarterbacks behind Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas at the Combine, Mayock projects him to go “probably in the fifth or sixth round.”
He said Morris, who set UM’s single-season total offense record with 3,415 yards in 2012, “had some inconsistencies this year, but has a strong arm. … I talked to some people that were at his pro day and really liked him.”
Morris said last month at UM Pro Timing Day that he’d probably be home “chilling with my mom and dad” during draft weekend.
“It’s kind of crazy how fast it’s picked up,” Morris said. “You come here as a freshman and don’t really think about the NFL. Then in your sophomore and junior years it’s kind of in the back of your head. … Now it’s here and you have the opportunity to do something you’ve been dreaming of.”
O’Donnell, an All-American who set Miami’s single-season record with a 47.1-yards-per-punt average that ranked second nationally, is believed by some to be better than a number of punters now in the NFL.
“Punting is one of those positions where you kind of have to wait and see if they have the picks and what team needs that position,” O’Donnell said. “So I’m just going to have to wait it out and see.”
As for others who expect to sign as free agents, this weekend is equally nerve-racking.
“I’m ready for the waiting to be over,” tight end Asante Cleveland said. “Of course I want to get drafted, but I’m preparing for the worst and not trying to get my hopes up too high.
“Just know that wherever I go I’m going to give them all I’ve got.”