Miami Hurricanes recruiting: UM has outstanding 2018 class regardless of national signing day finish

American Heritage Patriots defensive tackle Nesta Silvera (99), carrying the championship trophy after the Class 5A State High School Football Championship at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Dec. 8, 2017. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald)

[NFL combine: Walton among nine Canes invited]

[Drake made a surprise visit to The U]

Remember how hot the Hurricanes were last November?

They were 10-0 after whipping Notre Dame and waylaying Virginia Tech, and seemed to have left their October issues behind. If you were speaking credibly about serious College Football Playoff contenders, you had to mention Miami.

Then, of course, came the injuries. And the stunner at Pitt. And the beatdown by Clemson. After the Canes couldn’t stagger past Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl, it was hard to find fans who were still glowing from that glorious start.

Here we are on the eve of signing day, and a similar scenario is playing out for Mark Richt’s program. The early signing period has given UM a recruiting class worth celebrating, a group that fills some of the holes in a roster that is, all things considered, not far from heavyweight status. But if Wednesday comes and goes without flash and splash, fans may be a little salty before March brings the annual hope of spring practices.

The Dec. 20-22 signing period, a first for college football, allowed UM to sign 19 players, 10 of which enrolled last month. Miami enters Wednesday with the fifth-best class in the nation, according to both Rivals and 247Sports. ESPN ranks UM seventh. The Hurricanes boosted their offense in a big way, adding arguably the nation’s best crop of running backs and tight ends, finding a top-tier quarterback, and bolstering the offensive line.

They are still in need of quality defensive linemen and cornerbacks, and Wednesday is a prime chance to add both.

Of major importance: Plantation-American Heritage defensive tackle Nesta Silvera, who committed last February but opted not to sign early. He’s a four-star prospect, listed at 6-foot-2 and 308 pounds, rated as high as No. 2 among all players at his position (by 247Sports). If he signs Wednesday as expected, he’ll fill a major need for UM, which loses starters Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh to the NFL draft.

“He’s really good,” Rivals national recruiting director Mike Farrell said Tuesday on WQAM. “He’s a kid who’s just starting to emerge as a great player. His ceiling’s really high. … He’s a three-down guy.”

Miami hopes three of his high school teammates — five-star cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Patrick Surtain Jr., and four-star defensive end Andrew Chatfield — join him in Coral Gables. They are scheduled to make a televised announcement around 10 a.m. on ESPNU.

Landing all four would shock the recruiting world.

Surtain, the son of the former Dolphins All-Pro who now coaches Heritage, is considered by analysts to be the top cornerback prospect in the nation, a future star at whatever program he picks (LSU, Alabama and Clemson are also in the mix). Campbell, second among cornerbacks in ESPN and 247Sports’ rankings and fourth in Rivals, is picking between UM, Georgia and Alabama. Either player would be a coup for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who lost one pro-quality cornerback (Dee Delaney) to graduation and sophomore standout Malek Young to a career-ending neck injury.

Farrell said many expect Campbell to go to Georgia, Surtain to LSU or Alabama, and Chatfield to Florida. But he left the door open for Miami.

“I think the American Heritage kids like the intrigue and the mystery around where they’re going to go,” Farrell said. “Any one of them could surprise and go someplace else.”

Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national recruiting director, likes what UM already has: four-stars D.J. Ivey and Gilbert Frierson, who are enrolled; four-star Al Blades Jr., who signed early and will enroll in May; and three-star Nigel Bethel, who signs Wednesday.

“They’re going to have plenty of good options,” Luginbill said on a conference call Monday.

Chatfield (6-1, 221), who is also considering Florida, is a hybrid linebacker/end prospect rated 13th among weak-side defensive ends by 247Sports. The Hurricanes return three ends who played major minutes last year: junior Joe Jackson, senior Demetrius Jackson (who had major knee surgery last November) and sophomore Jonathan Garvin.

Other UM targets include three-star defensive lineman Jamarcus Chatman (6-3, 266), a Georgia prospect who could play tackle or end; four-star tackle Keondre Coburn (6-3, 330), a Texas commit who is rumored to be mulling a switch; three-star tackle Jordan Miller (6-4, 330), a late-rising recruit from Jacksonville who committed to UM last month; and Georgia-based wide receiver Marquez Ezzard (6-1, 215), a four-star recruit who is also considering Mississippi.

UM also plans to add two grad transfers this summer: offensive guard Venzell Boulware (Tennessee) and defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo (Illinois).

Luginbill said thanks to the early signing period, many big-time programs like Miami have already done most of their work.

He said more than 2,000 FBS recruits signed early this year, an estimated 72 percent of the average 2,700 to 2,800 FBS scholarships handed out annually. It wasn’t all at the Power Five level, either; Luginbill said nearly 900 of the early signees joined Group of Five programs.

“That leaves us [with] approximately 700 players remaining on the board, about half of which are currently verbally committed, the rest are undeclared,” he said. “The player pool has shrunk from a pool to a puddle.”

In that scenario, it’s hard to make a splash. But regardless, Richt and Co. are sitting pretty.

Since 2002, when Rivals began publishing recruiting rankings online, Miami has finished in the top five three times: in 2008, when a class headlined by Miami Northwestern High stars pushed UM to No. 5. They were No. 5 in 2003 and No. 4 in 2004.

Per Rivals, UM’s only top-10 recruiting finish since 2008 was 2012, when it was ninth. From 2002-15 at Georgia, Richt finished outside the top 10 three times (2010, 2012-13).

Farrell expects Miami to “stay in the top 10” after Wednesday. “I think they’ll probably finish in the seven, eight, nine range,” he said. “Again, that’s barring a surprise. If they get a surprise, like a Chatfield, or pull a big surprise like Surtain or Campbell [or] Coburn, they’ll stay in the top five.”

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