NFL prospects leading undefeated Miami's resurgence

Oct 22, 2017 - 12:31 AM The Miami Hurricanes, undefeated and ranked eighth in the nation, are one of the best stories at the midway point of the 2017 season.

Head coach Mark Richt and his staff deserve plenty of credit for Miami's return to prominence, but it is not simply the X's and O's delivering for the 'Canes. The sheer talent that for so long personified "The U" appears to have returned.

A handful of previously underrated NFL prospects enjoyed impressive performances in Miami's entertaining and hard-fought 27-19 win over a gutty Syracuse squad on Saturday.

The difference-maker offensively was senior tight end Christopher Herndon IV, a 6-foot-4, 254-pounder currently ranked sixth on's board at the position.

A moveable chess piece on offense for the Hurricanes, Herndon lined up as a traditional tight end, split out wide as a slot receiver, as an H-back on the wing and in the backfield. He caught a career-high 10 passes for 96 yards against Syracuse, including the game's first touchdown on a quick drag across the middle.

If Herndon's name sounds familiar, it should. After all, he was Miami's starter last year over David Njoku, whom the Cleveland Browns made the 29th overall pick in the spring.

While perhaps lacking his former teammate's raw explosiveness, Herndon is a much more polished player, as his multiple roles indicate. He is a coordinated athlete with easy movement skills, consistently gaining separation despite running relatively simple routes.

Herndon possesses soft mitts and excellent hand-eye coordination to haul in passes thrown high, low and to the outside -- all of which was on display Saturday. Herndon's 10th grab of the day -- a quick toss outside from quarterback Malik Rosier early in the third quarter -- was a difficult one-handed reception that the tight end made look easy before breaking through an arm tackle to fall forward and pick up a first down.

Perhaps most exciting of all for Miami fans is that Herndon was not Miami's only standout on offense -- a significant concern after the 'Canes lost flashy junior running back Mark Walton to a broken right ankle in a big win over Florida State two weeks ago.

Rosier, a 6-1, 218-pound redshirt junior, impressed with his velocity and poise, completing 26 of 43 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns, while also chipping in another 45 yards on the ground. Further, the raw athleticism of true freshman receiver Jeff Thomas and sophomore wideout Ahhman Richards (who combined for eight grabs for 160 yards and a score) should keep the middle wide open for Herndon to exploit.

While Herndon was clearly Miami's most productive player, a trio of defenders played every bit as big of a role in the 'Canes victory Saturday.

Defensive linemen Chad Thomas and RJ McIntosh helped Miami control the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, redshirt junior cornerback Michael Jackson played the "Thriller" role, intercepting two of Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey's four interceptions.

The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Thomas is currently Miami's top-rated senior on's board, checking in sixth among defensive ends and 125th overall. Though his imposing frame suggests he is a run-stuffing specialist, Thomas entered the contest leading the team in big plays near the line of scrimmage, with six tackles for loss and three sacks.

Although Thomas' best asset is his power, he is surprisingly quick off the snap and locates the ball quickly, showing good effort in pursuit. His long arms and core strength show up on bull rushes, including when he is asked to loop back inside on stunts.

The experience playing inside and out should help Thomas' transition to the next level, just as it did with previous Miami defensive linemen with similarly imposing frames -- like longtime NFL standouts Calais Campbell (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Allen Bailey (Kansas City Chiefs).

Thomas signed with Miami as one of the more highly touted preps in the country, choosing the 'Canes over the likes of Alabama and Florida State. He emerged as one of Miami's top players a year ago, breaking out with a career-high 37 tackles, including 11 for loss and six sacks.

Thomas was Miami's standout defensive lineman early in the game but after suffering a shoulder injury that briefly sidelined him in the second quarter (and required a brace when he returned), it was the 6-4, 280-pound McIntosh who turned in the big plays late, deflecting two passes at the line of scrimmage and making his presence felt as a pass rusher and run defender.

A true junior still growing into his frame, McIntosh already looks the part of a future NFL player with broad shoulders and solid overall musculature. He shows good initial quickness and, as noted on ESPN's telecast, McIntosh can overwhelm blockers as an interior rusher because of his core strength and pad level.

It remains to be seen if any of Miami's prospects will be able to match Njoku's first-round grade of a year ago. It is clear that these 'Canes are not only gifted but deeper and more technically sound than in recent years, a combination that should keep fans of "The U" happy, including those working as scouts in the NFL.

Rob Rang is a senior analyst for, distributed by The Sports Xchange.

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