University of Miami

‘Freaky kid’ David Njoku and eight other UM stars hope to wow NFL teams

Miami Hurricanes tight end David Njoku runs toward the end zone against West Virginia during the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando Wed., Dec. 28, 2016.
Miami Hurricanes tight end David Njoku runs toward the end zone against West Virginia during the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando Wed., Dec. 28, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Former University of Miami safety Jamal Carter said he opened his email invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine “at 6 p.m. Jan. 31.”

Carter screamed as his heart raced and he began “jumping up and down all through the house” with his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, their 3-year-old son Jamal, Jr., “looked around like, ‘What’s going on?’

“Then I called my mother.”

Carter is one of nine Miami Hurricanes to get the coveted invitation to Indianapolis this week through Monday to showcase their talents before the NFL Draft. Be assured that every one of them, whether a first-round prospect such as tight end David Njoku or later-round standout such as Carter, was ecstatic.

“We’re going to surprise a lot of people,’’ the ever-upbeat Carter, 22, said. “We’re going to kill it up there.”

Only Michigan, Alabama and LSU had more players invited than Miami.

“This is something I’ve been dreaming about my whole life,’’ said  6-1 1/2, 217-pound safety Rayshawn Jenkins, who has been training in Boca Raton. “Everyone doesn’t get this opportunity. I won’t take it for granted.’’

UM tight end David Njoku right after Russell Athletic Bowl talks about his decision to enter draft. 12-28-16

The Hurricanes, usually more of a hit than a surprise to NFL teams, will be represented by Carter, Njoku, Jenkins, quarterback Brad Kaaya, receiver Stacy Coley, cornerback Corn Elder, guard Danny Isidora, punter Justin Vogel and defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, who was dismissed before the 2016 season. They belong to a contingent of 330 elite-level players invited to perform at Lucas Oil Stadium on various days assigned to position groups.

“The Combine is big for me,’’ said the 6-4, 245-pound Njoku, who despite leaving UM with two years of eligibility remaining is poised to be selected in the second half of the first round, according to prominent draft analysts such as the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. “I’m actually very excited to be interviewed by all these teams.”

Njoku, an acrobatic speedster known to leap tall buildings into the end zone, caught 43 passes for 698 yards last season. He scored eight touchdowns and averaged 16.2 yards per catch.

When asked about his strengths, he said he “talks pretty well,” which will help him during interviews with coaches and other NFL executives. “Also, my flexibility,” he said. “I’m pretty fast, agile, strong. I’m a hard worker. … I love pressure. I love competition. We went to Miami to play under pressure and play for big-time moments. And here’s another big-time moment for us. We’re ready.’’

Hurricanes tight end David Njoku after practice on Thursday, Dec. 1, addresses his pending decision on whether or not to leave early for the NFL Draft.

Mayock is apt to agree.

“Boy, I’m always amazed when I’m doing my homework for the Combine, always fascinated when I’m sitting there going through each page of the 330 kids and their backgrounds, how many come from Florida in general, and Miami in particular,” Mayock said Monday.

Mayock called Njoku “a freaky kid that looks like a wide receiver, and you can’t believe that he’s actually as big as he is. He catches the ball well, can get vertical and what I like is if you watch enough of the tape, he gets after some people in the run game. He’s not a really good run-blocker yet, but the key is he gets after it … So I’m bullish on Njoku.’’

Mayock noted that all-time UM passer Kaaya would be a good third-round pick as a “developmental prospect.” He said that the 6-4, 216-pound Kaaya, who left UM after throwing for 9,968 yards in three seasons, “makes three to five throws per game that are awesome, that you sit back and go, ‘Yup, that’s it, that’s it. That’s NFL.’

“Then you watch the pocket mechanics break down, and I think he starts to panic a little bit when he sees a flash of color from the other team. He starts to hurry his throws. When he has clear vision and clean feet, he’s really good. … I think it’s going to take him a little bit.’’

According to the NFL schedule, the quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends have their on-field workouts Saturday after three days that include orientation, team interviews, medical exams, psychological testing, media interviews and bench-press lifting.

Offensive linemen, placekickers and special-teamers work out Friday. Defensive linemen and linebackers work out Sunday. Defensive backs end the Combine with Monday workouts.

“We compete against the best of the best right there on Greentree Field,” Jenkins said of the UM players, adding that defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and safeties coach Ephraim Banda demanded excellence. “I’ll have the Combine to prove it.’’

Coley, who described himself as “a playmaker with the ball in my hands,’’ conceded he might be “a little nervous’’ Saturday.

“But I’ll be ready to turn on the talent.’’

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