Barry Jackson

The reasons why the frustrated Miami Hurricanes are losing mid-round picks early to NFL

Miami Hurricanes defensive lineman RJ McIntosh (80) celebrates with teammate Kendrick Norton (7) after McIntosh recovered a fumble against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.
Miami Hurricanes defensive lineman RJ McIntosh (80) celebrates with teammate Kendrick Norton (7) after McIntosh recovered a fumble against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. adiaz@miamiherald.com

It’s one thing for a player who’s projected to go in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft to turn pro. It’s quite another when projected third-day picks do that, and the fact that’s happening at UM (and plenty of other places) is a source of frustration to some inside Miami.

Whereas four Clemson juniors are returning to school — including projected top 15 pick/defensive end Clelin Ferrell — the Canes continue to lose players who could go in the middle rounds.

One UM official said it makes no sense that players who were advised by the NFL to return to school — as was the case with Richard McIntosh Jr. and Kendrick Norton — would ignore that advice and turn pro, a year after sixth-rounder Brad Kaaya and undrafted Joe Yearby did the same. That official said the players could have purchased insurance to protect them from injury and potentially raised their stock as seniors.

With those four, as well as Mark Walton (a projected mid-round pick who’s also turning pro), there were different factors at play: a desire to cash NFL paychecks immediately; agents telling the players they would be drafted higher than what the NFL’s draft advisory board told them (one player’s parent told me this); a desire to get to their second NFL contract sooner; and in Yearby’s case, both a financial need and a belief he wouldn’t play a lot as a senior because Gus Edwards didn’t tell him he was transferring to Rutgers.

One UM football source said another problem is that former Canes players show up in expensive cars or wearing gaudy jewelry, a reminder to current players of the riches that await them — riches they often want sooner than later. And for Yearby, riches that haven’t materialized.

Meanwhile, McIntosh’s father said his son turned pro partly because Norton did, and likely would have returned to UM if Norton had. The defensive tackles are roommates and close friends, and McIntosh worried about the prospect of facing more double teams if Norton turned pro and McIntosh stayed at UM.

This is not only a UM issue. Only 53 underclassmen declared for the NFL Draft in 2010. Last year, there were 95, and 28 of them weren’t drafted, including two Hurricanes: Yearby and UM’s Jermaine Grace, who was dismissed from the team in August 2016.

Among the 67 who were drafted, six were sixth-round picks (including Kaaya and Al-Quadin Muhammad, who was dismissed from the team) and four were seventh-rounders.

Kaaya was waived three times as a rookie (by Detroit and Carolina) and signed with the Colts on Dec. 27. Grace played in five games for Atlanta, was waived and signed with the Colts on Nov. 15. Muhammad played in four games for the Saints.

University of Miami football coach Mark Richt talks about the 18 players who signed on Dec. 20, 2017 to play at UM.

Yearby hasn’t found a job in football and has explored resuming classes at UM but was told he must pay out of pocket to re-enroll at UM, which comes at a high cost.

One longtime NFL scout who has closely studied McIntosh, Norton and Walton projects all three for the fourth round or later.

He said though the Yearby decision was foolish, he could understand this year’s three underclassmen going pro, though he would have advised McIntosh and Norton to return to school.

“Offensive and defensive linemen and quarterbacks benefit from another year unless you’re Jerome Brown or Reggie White,” the scout said. “I don’t see these two defensive tackles being dominant NFL players and they could have gotten stronger by going back to school. I see McIntosh as an NFL backup. Norton is a fourth rounder to me; has good quickness but not much of a pass rusher. But you can’t stop this from happening.”

From the McIntosh/Norton perspective, “they start earning at least the minimum salary [$465,000] and both will be on a roster,” the scout said.

The scout said in the case of running backs with Walton’s talent, it’s “more justified to come out because running backs have a shorter career span. Walton is a really good blocker and picks up blitzes well and has good speed. But he’s undersized (5-9, 205). He’s a third day guy to me.”

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt addresses the media after UM lost to the Wisconsin Badgers 34-24 in the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, December 30, 2017.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper said that if Walton checks out medically after his October ankle injury, “you could probably get a guy that’s a second-round talent in the fourth or fifth round maybe.”

The downside for UM is that not only do these early departures diminish the quality at certain positions (especially defensive tackle) but they prevent UM from reaping the benefits of being an older team long on experience, like Wisconsin.

At least UM defensive backs Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson — who might have been third day picks — bypassed the NFL and are returning for their senior seasons. Jackson’s return is critical. If he had gone pro, UM would have only two experienced returning cornerbacks (Trajan Bandy, Jhavonte Dean) in the wake of Malek Young’s career-ending neck injury.

UM is hardly alone. The NFL says 106 players are turning pro early this year.

FSU is losing five key underclassmen — Auden Tate and Ryan Izzo on offense and All-American Derwin James, Tarvarus McFadden and Josh Sweat on defense.

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