Miami Hurricanes pre-bowl buzz: NFL draft (Kaaya, Njoku, DLs), suspensions, transfer possibilities, injuries

David Njoku shushes the App State crowd. (Getty Images)

David Njoku shushes the App State crowd, as Brad Kaaya and teammates celebrate. (Getty Images)

[Watch the top 10 plays of Miami’s season; Walton is MVP]

[Recruiting: OL reaffirms UM pledge; JUCO CB update]

[Recruiting: Miami lands a safety commit]

[NFL Draft: Opinions mixed on Kaaya, Njoku; UM stock report]

[Seven Hurricanes and counting to play in all-star games]

[Hoops: Check out these Chris Lykes highlights; names to know]

Some football news and notes on the day before Miami opens practice for the Dec. 28 Russell Athletic Bowl against West Virginia (5:30 p.m., ESPN):

* The latest on Brad Kaaya, David Njoku and the NFL draft:

Kaaya is leaning toward returning, UM sources said, and Njoku is leaning toward leaving (and has told those close to him he will enter the draft). Neither has publicly stated their intentions. Kaaya, for what it’s worth, raised eyebrows this week by tweeting (and later deleting) a photo of Njoku, tagging his Twitter handle, and captioning it “2017?” with a “thinking” emoji. So there’s that.

Kaaya, according to most draftniks, ranks behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer among top eligible quarterbacks. Njoku is not rated by many websites but scouts have expressed to UM he has first-round talent.

Chad Thomas and Gerald Willis were advised to stay and it appears they will do so. WalterFootball ranks Thomas ranks 21st among eligible defensive ends.

Underclassmen have until Jan. 16 to enter the draft.

* Regarding two transfer possibilities reported by CanesInsight.com — junior running back Gus Edwards and junior defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins — UM sources said both are, well, possible.

Edwards, a Staten Island, N.Y. native who chose UM over Syracuse in 2013, could return home as a graduate transfer. He rushed for 271 yards and a touchdown in 10 games, after missing 2015 with a broken foot. Last month, running backs coach and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said though Edwards was still recovering early in the season, he wished he had played him more.

It’s common for coaches inheriting a roster of players to have different opinions than those players on how they should be used. Transfers, both of the immediate and the “let’s wait a year and see how it goes” varieties, are not generally surprising. Without Edwards and Joe Yearby, who plans to turn pro, UM’s backfield will be less experienced, but not lacking in talent.

UM was pleased with what Edwards showed — and hopes he returns — but losing him would mean more work for Travis Homer (proved to be an excellent special-teamer as a freshman; has good top-end speed). Mark Walton, named overall team MVP at the awards banquet, put up 1,365 total yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore and will be one of the ACC’s premier backs in 2017. UM also has mystery man Trayone Gray returning from an ACL tear. It’s unclear what Gray has to offer. The Hurricanes plan to sign two running backs this cycle (Gulliver Prep four-star Robert Burns plans to enroll early, and potentially, Maryland-based four-star Anthony McFarland), which is good news since Walton, if he continues at this pace, is all but certain to turn pro after next year.

The father of McFarland, the No. 3 all-purpose back according to 247Sports and Rivals, told Rivals UM is “definitely his leader,” over Maryland and Alabama. ESPN rates him the No. 70 overall player in the 2017 class. ESPN rates Burns 67th, and the seventh-best running back.

A not-fun fact: if Edwards left, he would be the 12th player in UM’s 19-member 2013 signing class to transfer, be dismissed, never make it in or leave early for the NFL draft (Artie Burns). The only Hurricanes who signed that year out of high school and made it to this point: Corn Elder, Stacy Coley, Sunny Odogwu, Jamal Carter, Alex Gall, Stan Dobard and for now, Edwards.

Jenkins, according to a source, has expressed a wish for more playing time. Rutgers did not offer him out of high school (Buffalo, Maryland, UMass and Pitt did), but it is the major program closest to his Jersey City, N.J. home.

After starting seven games in 2015, Jenkins was passed by sophomores Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh, among others. His junior season consisted of nine games, zero starts, nine tackles (3.5 for loss) and one knee surgery that caused him to miss two games. Along the way he committed three personal foul penalties, a large part of the reason he was  suspended for UM’s Nov. 12 game at Virginia. It was the second one-game suspension of his career.

* Speaking of discipline: A source said multiple UM freshmen, including safety Cedrick Wright and tight ends Jovani Haskins and Michael Irvin II will not be permitted to attend UM’s bowl game. The suspensions are for mostly behavioral reasons. Wright and Haskins were with former Hurricanes receiver Sam Bruce when he was arrested for marijuana possession in October, but it’s unclear if their suspensions are related to that incident.

* Elsewhere: Four-star quarterback Arthur Sitkowski (Old Bridge, N.J.), Rivals’ No. 5 pro-style passer for 2018, told Rivals UM is “really up there” with his top schools and said he speaks to Hurricanes coaches regularly. … Junior center Nick Linder, whose recurring shoulder trouble caught up with him in November, needs a second surgery in his opposite shoulder. It would be the third shoulder surgery in about a year for Linder, who missed last year’s spring practices recovering from a procedure. He played through injuries the last two seasons (as most football players do). … UM hopes to get Odogwu, the redshirt junior right tackle, back from ankle surgery by spring practice. Odogwu was last spotted on crutches at the Hurricanes’ season-ending win over Duke on Nov. 26. As usual, he greeted everyone with great cheer.

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