Barry Jackson

Two NFL evaluators predict where the Canes’ draft-eligible players will be selected

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Wednesday:

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. last week weighed in on UM’s draft eligible players and projected that defensive tackle Gerald Willis could go late in the first round or the second round and Joe Jackson in the second round. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah spoke highly of Jackson and UM safeties Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine.

I spoke with two NFL people for some additional thoughts.

One NFC executive agreed that Willis and Jackson are UM’s top prospects in this draft, but sees Willis going in the second round and Jackson in the second or third.

“Jaquan Johnson is a good player, but he’s a small guy with average speed,” the executive said, expecting him to go in the fourth round or later. “If Michael Jackson runs decently [at the NFL Combine], he’s a third- or fourth-rounder… Travis Homer, to me, is a late-round pick. He could be a No. 2 or No. 3 back with special teams ability.“

The executive said linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Mike Pinckney — who bypassed the NFL to return to UM for their senior seasons — would have been fourth or fifth round picks if they had turned pro this year.

Meanwhile, a longtime NFL scout said he gave Willis a second-round grade and Joe Jackson and Homer third-round grades.

Joe Jackson “doesn’t compare athletically to the top edge rushers in this draft but he’s still a good player,” the scout said. “Maybe third round. He can rush, he’s competitive, instinctive. I picture him as a rotational backup. He played poorly in the Boston College game; that tape scared me.”

Willis “is big and can move and had stamina to play into the fourth quarter, which impressed me,” the evaluator said.

That evaluator’s assessment of Homer is more favorable than Kiper’s, but the evaluator has a reason for that.

Homer “is one of the best all-around backs I’ve done, one of the best pass blockers in the draft,” that scout said. “Not special at anything but a good all-around back. Good speed, good hands, good production. I think he’s a middle to late third rounder. He probably will be a third down back who can pick up blitzes.”

As for Jaquan Johnson, the scout said the question is can he cover well enough: “Defensive backs coaches want one safety who’s a hammer and one who can cover. Johnson needs to be able to cover” NFL receivers, backs and tight ends.

The aforementioned NFL executive said it was vital for UM to improve the talent this offseason because here was his assessment of what he saw when he watched the Canes last season:

“They have poor to marginal quarterback play, average running backs and receivers, poor offensive line. Nowhere on offense were they above average. Not nearly as athletic as they been have in the past. Their speed has really [diminished]. I’ve never seen quarterback play worse at that program. There’s something wrong with their evaluation of offensive linemen.”

UM expects its opener against UF in Orlando will be played in prime time, and the game is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 31. But Miami hasn’t been told if the game will be on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

The Orlando Sentinel reported UM and UF have asked the NCAA to move the game to Aug. 24 to make it more special.

Willis told 790 The Ticket’s Zack Duarte and former UM punter Brian Monroe that Diaz was unquestionably the right choice for the UM coaching job.

“Coach Diaz will be a great coach because he cares about his players,” Willis said. “Sometimes it feels like he’s on the field with us. He acts like a player. He gives us energy to play for him.”

Willis said “it’s a different generation” now and noted Mark Richt “wasn’t on Twitter” as much as Diaz.

UM isn’t limiting its search for players merely to the United States. The Canes have offered Windsor, Ontario based Theo Johnson, a four-star tight end who has close to 20 offers. The Canes are highly interested and hoping to get a visit from Johnson, who has said he is visiting Penn State, Georgia and Iowa.

The Canes changed their mind and decided to add only one tight end in the 2019 class (Larry Hodges), giving them five on scholarship. So adding one in the 2020 class is a priority.

Unless the UM men’s basketball team shocks the world by winning as a heavy underdog at Duke on Saturday or at Virginia Tech on March 8, the Canes will finish winless on the road this season. Excluding neutral-site games, Miami is 0-8 on the road after somehow squandering a 10-point lead in the final three minutes of a 76-75 loss at Wake Forest on Tuesday.

“It was the rushing and the lack of poise that we showed from about 3:28 to go,” Coach Jim Larranaga told reporters in Winston Salem afterward. “The turnovers, the rushed passes, the hurriedness that we showed. That, we haven’t done that all year.”

With three games remaining plus at least one ACC Tournament game, it’s difficult to envision the Canes, at 12-15 and 4-11 in the ACC, receiving a bid to any of the three postseason tournaments beyond the NCAA Tournament.

Sports Pass for $30 per year

Get unlimited access to all Miami Herald sports stories and videos for $30

Related stories from Miami Herald