Scouting report: Analyzing Miami Hurricanes’ 2017 signing class

Mike Harley (247Sports)

Mike Harley (247Sports)

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Dallas-based data analyst Daniel Gould, a friend of Canes Watch who charts Hurricanes games and reviews the team’s recruiting classes, gives his 2017 signing day projections. These are his evaluations based on film review of Miami recruits, with supplemental information about each player’s strengths and weaknesses. The rankings are tier-based. An explanation of Gould’s rankings: 

10: five-star player, projected All-American, immediate impact player
9: high four-star, projected All-ACC
8: mid-level four-star, an impact player and multiyear starter without the ceiling of the higher ratings
7: low four-star, solid starter but not the type to build a team around
6: high three-star, role player with physical limitations that prevent a full-time starting role
5: mid-level three-star, likely a project or special-teamer.
Below 5: “Not someone I would rate as worthy of a Miami Hurricanes scholarship,” Gould wrote.

Ranking the 2017 Hurricanes signing class
By Daniel Gould

Quarterbacks

N’Kosi Perry (9) – Good height at 6-4 but a thin frame. Quick runner with good speed. Good arm with a lot of zip on intermediate passes but will struggle on the higher degree of difficulty throws. Shows great touch on deep passes but can also put something extra on it when needed. Great escapability and can be a menace on third downs. Will run but generally scrambles to extend plays until someone gets open downfield. Comfortable throwing on the run going either direction. Tremendous feel for the position. Always seems to be in control even under duress. Extremely confident in his and his receiver’s abilities. Seems to under throw passes when forcing throws he knows he shouldn’t make. Ball placement varies depending on the consistency of his footwork. Played in a fairly simple offense in high school. Despite the athletic ability not a player that should be the focus of the run game. Can run himself into sacks when trying to extend plays. Threw for 64 touchdowns and 6 interceptions the last 2 seasons. Committed to the previous staff before decommitting and recommitting to Mark Richt. A true playmaker at quarterback that thrives when things break down while still being very effective from the pocket inside the structure of the offense.

Cade Weldon (6) – Solid size at 6-3 with adequate bulk. Good athlete that will be a threat to keep on read plays. Advanced passer that is sound mechanically. Fairly quick, smooth release. Shows good touch on deep throws. At his best when able to get rid of bad quickly and throw in rhythm of the offense. Average arm and won’t throw many passes by defenders. Lowers eyes at initial pressure and looks to scramble. Has a tendency to lock onto initial read and not see underneath defenders. Looks uncomfortable when the play breaks down. 19-11 TD:INT as a senior. Missed junior season with knee injury. Early enrollee. Father Casey played under Richt at FSU. Low ceiling passer that will best perform in an offense that lets him quickly get the ball into playmakers’ hands rather than rely on him to make plays.

Running back 

Robert Burns (7) – Prototype size at 5-11, 210 with a muscular build. Explosive downhill runner that combines strength and balance to bounce off would-be tacklers. Shows great vision as a runner both on initial cuts and at the second level. Good long speed but not a breakaway threat. Solid foot speed but not overly quick. Also has linebacker experience. Significant injury history that limited him to only 200 total carries in his HS career. Longtime commit. Enrolled for spring. Rare traits as a runner suggest starting capabilities but injury concerns could limit his career. Could carve out role as athletic fullback.

Wide receivers 

Jeff Thomas (9) – Small receiver at 5-10, 165. Elite athlete with top-notch speed, acceleration and agility. Separates on routes of any depth. Creative route-runner who uses head fakes, weight shifts and speed changes to get open. Terror after the catch and destroys any angle that defenders have on him. Attacks the ball in the air and is surprisingly effective on jump balls. Quickness and ability to withstand contact make him a valuable asset on goal-to-go plays. Dynamic return man. Will be one of the most explosive players in college no matter how he touches the ball. Very good cover corner but size would limit his effectiveness on that side of the ball. Under Armour All-American. Academic issues as a junior. Committed to Miami over Louisville and Tennessee. Has the athletic ability to excel as an outside receiver or in the slot and it will be very hard to keep him off the field.

DeeJay Dallas (8) – On the shorter side at 5-10 but a solid build. Electric athlete with elite quickness and agility. Natural hands catcher. Aggressive when the ball is in the air. Excels after the catch and is a threat to score when he gets in the open field. Great football instincts and excels no matter where he is on the field. Surprising power as a runner. Solid passer who is a threat to throw on direct snaps and trick plays. Played primarily as a running quarterback in high school but has experience at receiver and defensive back. Former Georgia commit that followed the new staff to Miami. Extremely versatile athlete that projects well to running back, receiver, corner or safety. Could contribute immediately as a return man.

Evidence Njoku (7) – Ridiculous height at 6-6 with a huge wingspan. Great long speed and will test defenses vertically. Insane catch radius and can sky over basically any defensive back. Tracks deep balls very well and comfortable making catches over his outside shoulder. Aggressive blocker that can overpower corners on screen plays. Great hand catcher and snatches the ball. Solid after the catch because of his size but not a threat to make people miss. Raw as a receiver and will need time to learn the intricacies of the position. Needs to improve timing on jump balls. High school production was fairly mediocre. Returned kicks in HS but not likely to do so in college. Redshirt candidate. Younger brother of David Njoku. High potential perimeter receiver that will take some time to develop.

Mike Harley (7) – Short at 5-10 with a thin build. Good long speed that he reaches instantly. Tremendous suddenness and explodes out of his breaks. Nightmare to cover in space. Can make grabs away from his body but generally lets the ball get into his chest. Lack of size will likely cause issues getting off the line. Limited route tree in high school and really only ran 4 of 5 routes consistently. Seems to take pride in blocking, which is all the more impressive considering his stature. Can throw bombs on trick plays. Army All-American. Flipped from West Virginia to Miami. Undersized slot receiver that can terrorize defenses with his speed and quickness.

Tight end  

Brian Polendey (6) – Tall target at 6-5 but a light 230. Solid athlete but doesn’t stand out in any one area. Tremendous effort as a blocker with great leg drive. Blocks well in space. Great feel for zone coverage. Displays proper technique as catcher. Won’t stretch defenses vertically but a weapon in the intermediate. Lacks strength to overpower defenders. Struggles as a pass blocker; lets players get under his pads. Needs to improve quickness off the line. Has experience as an in-line blocker at tight end as well as experience at tackle. On campus for spring practice. All-around tight end that should contribute after some physical development.

Offensive linemen

Navaughn Donaldson (9) – Enormous player at 6-5, 335. Incredible athlete for a player of his size. Insane speed, regularly running 40+ yards downfield with backs and receivers. Dominates at the second level and cuts off backside linebackers with ease. Initial quickness and speed let him get out in front when pulling and can punish defenders when he has momentum. Solid on down blocks but not going to maul people. Patient in pass protection, waiting for rushers to get within striking range. Inconsistent punch but can absolutely stun people. Poor footwork in pass protection. Stops feet on contact allowing players to get around him. Under Armour All-American. HS teammate of fellow signee Waynmon Steed. Athletic run blocker that has a chance to start early at guard with the potential to grow into a tackle.

Kai-Leon Herbert (8) – Good frame at 6-5, 290 with long arms but needs to add muscle. Great kick step and gets set quickly. Flexible and fluid player. Wide base with a strong inside foot. Times his punches well with good effectiveness. Smart player that is consistently aware of the most urgent defender. Gets positioning in the run game with superior foot speed. Does a good job keeping hands inside to control defenders. Not overly aggressive and lacks the strength to dominate on isolation blocks. Should be better at pulling but seems fairly awkward when attempting it. Allows tackles to get under him on down blocks. Former Michigan commit, chose Miami over Florida late. Starter-caliber tackle prospect who could contribute early.

Zalon’tae Hillery (7) – Great size at 6-6 with an athletic build and long arms. Quick feet and plays with good balance and a wide base. Good pad level with great bend in his knees. Strong drive blocker that can move people on down blocks. Aggressively seeks out contact. Mirrors well with quick, choppy steps. Shows the ability to get his hips around on reach blocks. Quick getting to the second level but can get a little out of control. Catches rushers in pass pro instead of shooting his hands. Hand placement is inconsistent. Initial kick step isn’t very deep and can get him into trouble. Played mostly right tackle in HS. Teammate of DeeJay Dallas. Possesses all the tools to develop into a starting tackle but will need time to get there.

Corey Gaynor (7) – Good size at 6-4 but will need to focus on adding weight. Good athlete that is comfortable moving in space. The epitome of the OL mentality; tough and mean. Excels at pulling, whether it be kick out blocks or wrapping up field to block a linebacker. Rolls his hips and explodes into defenders. Exceptional technique on reach blocks with the foot quickness to continue that effectiveness at the next level. Better as a help blocker in pass pro and in confined areas where he can attack. Good hand placement but can get grabby. Doesn’t move very well laterally in pass pro and can get a little high. Susceptible to bull rushes because of lack of weight and pad level. Claims over 100 pancakes in senior season which is entirely believable. Flipped to Miami from Minnesota. Interior OL prospect that should excel as a run blocker after gaining weight.

Zach Dykstra (4) – Great height at 6-6 but poor build with lack of muscle. Good foot speed and shows the ability to get positioning on zone plays. Solid athlete, excelling as a backside blocker getting to the second level. Flashes aggression after initial contact. Poor balance. Plays high and will dance with undersized defenders rather than attacking. Loses leverage and doesn’t have strength to overcome mistakes. Mistimes his punches in pass pro, often letting defenders get into his body. Played right tackle in HS as well as some defensive tackle. Early enrollee chose Miami over Iowa State. Interior player whose ceiling is likely as a rotational player.

Edge defenders 

DJ Johnson (9) – Jumbo athlete who brings ideal size (6-5, 240) and athleticism to the position. Great burst off the line. Fluid movements, no issues bending and changing direction. Violent closer who looks to separate the ball from the quarterback. Has the functional strength to hold up against the run. Mainly just a speed rusher at this point without much of any technique. Engages too high when trying to bull rush. Slow reaction time at the snap. Poor play recognition in the run game. Explosive receiver on offense and could easily be an elite TE prospect. Had over 100 scholarship offers. Elite athlete at the defensive end position who should be in the rotation early.

Jonathan Garvin (8) – Great size at 6-4, 230 with long arms. Quick first step with good snap anticipation. Elite lateral agility. Plays with a good pad level and consistently wins the leverage battle. Anticipates passes well and should knock down his fair share. Great motor. Generally gets by as a pass rusher using his athleticism and length and will need to improve technique. Good hand usage but needs to improve on locking out blockers when shedding. Tackles high and often tries grabbing ball carriers instead of wrapping up. Chose Miami over Clemson. Early enrollee. Athletic pass rushing prospect who will grow into a well-rounded end as he adds weight to his frame.

Interior lineman

Jonathan Ford (7) – 6-5 with a tank-like build (275). Good movement for an interior player and good initial quickness. Violent hands. Great upper-body strength. Creates separation after contact and disengages. Recognizes double teams and responds with proper technique. Good pad level, especially for a player of his size. Rushes up field aggressively while still being cognizant of ball carriers. Really quick outside swim that will be a weapon with his height. No dominant trait as a pass rusher. Former DE that moved to DT for junior and senior seasons. Has some OL experience as well. Long time Miami commit that received interest from Kentucky. Excellent run defender that has the versatility to line up anywhere on the defensive line.

Linebackers

Waynmon Steed (6) – Shorter than preferred at 5-11 but a solid frame. Good short area burst but will struggle in space. Very instinctive player who clearly just understands the position. Navigates trash well and uses quickness to get in the backfield. Uses his hands well and pops blockers but can get engulfed. Consistent if not flashy tackler. Downhill player who  is at his best when attacking. Shows good aptitude in coverage but can be taken advantage of by athletically superior players. Won’t be a consistent pass rusher but has the necessary qualities to be an adequate blitzer. Has issues recovering after misreading plays. Played through knee injury in senior season but it obviously hindered his performance. Committed to previous staff and stayed consistent with that commitment. Projects as a quality player at both weak-side and middle linebacker.

De’Andre Wilder (5) – Good height at 6-2 but really skinny. Great top-end speed and acceleration. Physical player who has no problem engaging with significantly larger blockers. Good pursuit as a backside defender. Drag-down tackler who tries to grab ball carriers without bringing his body with him. Will need to adjust to playing in space. Not overly quick. Doesn’t look very comfortable dropping into coverage. Played out of position at defensive end as a senior. Late interest from new staff at Oregon. Will be 20 years old as a freshman. Projects as a Sam with a lot of potential as a disruptive linebacker.

Bradley Jennings Jr. (5) – Average size at 6-1, 230. Monster hitter who generates a ton of power with his lower half. Does a great job using his hands to strike blockers and drive through contact. Excels between the tackles when he can play going forward. Not a great athlete and struggles changing direction. Heavy feet. Seems to be guessing at times and not overly aware of his surroundings. Lacks urgency in coverage and will likely be a liability outside of underneath zones. Former FSU commit. Depth player at inside linebacker whose biggest contribution will likely be on special teams. Could have upside as a fullback.

Defensive backs

Jhavonte Dean (8) – Great height at 6-2. Blazing speed and can run with any receiver. Excels in man to man coverage. Mirrors receivers through their route. Locates the ball in the air while staying in phase. Tracks deep passes like a receiver and will come down with the ball more often than not. Quick enough to play in the slot. Shows very good awareness when switching routes. Willing tackler. Overall technique needs a lot of work. Not very physical at the line of scrimmage and initial coverage often lacks urgency. JUCO transfer that played HS football at South Dade. Former Alabama commit. Two years of eligibility left. College ready player that should lock down a starting spot at corner.

Amari Carter (7) – Good size at 6-2, 188 with some room to grow. Big-time hitter who will punish receivers. Wraps up ball carriers and drives through contact. Good athlete who flashes range as a deep safety. Average speed. Shows good ball skills and the body control to win at the catch point. Reads plays quickly whether as an underneath defender or a deep safety. Very aggressive and flies to the ball. Linear player who could struggle in man-to-man against quicker receivers. Struggles some in open field situations. Played receiver in HS in addition to safety. Enrolled early after committing to Miami over Notre Dame. Versatile safety prospect who should see the field early with a chance to start.

Trajan Bandy (7) – Short at 5-10 but has a good build. Explosive and fires on a hair trigger. Smooth backpedal with quick feet. Elite run defender who will blow past or go through blockers. Really aggressive at the catch point and contests every throw. One of the few short corners who really does play bigger than his size. Allows separation at the top of routes when he gets to top speed and can’t gear down. Needs to improve route recognition. Played mostly off zone coverage in high school. Former Oklahoma commit. Contender to see major snaps at nickel as a freshman but has potential on the outside as well.

Derrick Smith (6) – First-guy-off-the-bus size. Good straight-line speed and leaping ability but lacks change-of-direction skills. Plays behind his pads and will just unload on receivers looking to knock the ball loose. Great ball skills and comfortable making plays in the air. Squares up ball carriers, knocking them back on initial contact. Questionable instincts as a run defender and takes poor angles as a deep safety. Played mostly as a single high safety but also some experience in the box. Also played WR but future lies on defense. Huge athlete with a lot of potential as box defender and should be a demon on special teams.

Final analysis

Mark Richt’s first full year recruiting began with transitioning the 2017 board from the previous staff and identifying new targets as well as removing non-Miami-caliber players. The end result was a signing class that filled most needs but did so without taking sub-par talent. Local talent was obviously the focus, with 18 of 24 signees attending high school in Florida. The out-of-state group included two elite players as well as a few unique talents.

The offense was badly in need of an influx of talent across the board. Perry is an exceptional player and fits the current mold of quarterbacks in college football. Burns is a very intriguing talent but his injury history and the lack of a true primary running back really hurt this class. The wide receiver group lacked speed and depth and adding Thomas and Harley turn what was a weakness into a strength. Njoku might not have as high of a ceiling as his brother but is a special player in his own right. Dallas’ future might lay on defense but he brings a dynamic weapon to the offense for now. Polendey is a solid project at tight end that could pay off in a few years. The offensive line was the clear weak point of the team last year but the ’17 group is the strongest part of the entire class. Donaldson is a freak athlete that will push for a starting spot immediately. Herbert and Hillery are badly needed bodies at tackle and Gaynor bolsters the interior line with a player who can set the tone.

The defense took a huge jump in production in the 2016 season but still needed to replace a lot in the back end and also increase depth. While not as deep as the OL group, the DL challenges it in top-level talent. Johnson is an elite athlete and Garvin has as much upside as anyone in the class. Ford brings a versatile interior run defender to the group. After the trio signed at linebacker in ’16 this class is quite lackluster. Steed is the best of the group and is a solid, instinctive player. With four DBs graduated (all potential NFL players) and poor recruitment at the position in previous years, the staff badly needed bring in players to compete for immediately playing time. Dean has the size and speed to excel at corner as well as the maturity to start right away. Bandy and Carter lack certain physical qualities but both have the make up to play as freshmen. Misses on top local talent at defensive back was a huge negative in this class.

While not perfect, the 2017 signing class was fairly successful in bringing in top talent at positions that lacked both talent and depth. The lack of a top running back, misses at receiver, and a more potent threat at tight end certainly hurt the offensive class. While not a bad group of defensive backs, not bringing in a top corner or safety prospect was certainly disappointing. Bringing in multiple top talents at RB and DB need to be focus in the 2018 class to prevent issues at those positions going forward. The high average talent level with lack of reaches cannot be stated enough however. With 10 early enrollees and few other college ready players coming in the summer, the impact of the 2017 class will be felt very soon.

Daniel Gould is a Dallas-based data analyst who has been charting Hurricanes games for the last three years and reviewing signing classes for the last five. Follow him on Twitter.

 

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