What early draft evaluation tells us about UM’s best prospect and Canes’ first opponent

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A six-pack of Miami Hurricanes notes on a Tuesday:

The Canes broke their streak of four years without a first-round pick when Jaelan Phillips went 18th to the Dolphins and Greg Rousseau 30th to the Buffalo Bills in last month’s draft.

But could the Canes have a top-10 pick next year?

ESPN’s Todd McShay raised eyebrows when he placed UM offensive tackle Zion Nelson fifth in his first 2022 mock draft.

“The 6-foot-5, 316 pounder didn’t give up a sack the entire last season,” McShay said. “Really improved, and I expect him to continue to improve. This year we’re going to see more offensive and defensive linemen early in the draft.”

Because of the bonus season of eligibility awarded to players during the pandemic, Nelson has three seasons of eligibility left. But he could turn pro if he puts together another strong season.

Whether he ends up a first-rounder or not, he has come a long way from the undersized three-star prospect who allowed nine sacks as a freshman in 2019.

The rest of McShay’s top five: Oregon defensive end Dayton Thibodeaux at No. 1; Southern Cal quarterback Kedon Slovis at No. 2; LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. at No. 3 and Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross at No. 4.

Whereas McShay considers Nelson a potential top-five pick, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler doesn’t list Nelson at all in the first round. Nelson is something of a polarizing prospect in that way, some considering him a first-round talent and others believing it’s too soon to determine that.

But Brugler’s mock draft reinforces the notion that Alabama is still loaded, even after losing six first-round picks (Patrick Surtain Jr., Mac Jones, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Alex Leatherwood and Najee Harris).

So the Canes shouldn’t think that they’re going to face a diminished Alabama team when they meet Sept. 4 in Atlanta.

Brugler rates five Alabama players as potential 2022 first-rounders: offensive tackle Evan Neal (ninth-best prospect), linebacker Christian Harris (14th), safety Jordan Battle (20th), defensive tackle DJ Dale (24th) and wide receiver John Metchie III (29th).

UM has only one nonbinding 2022 commitment so far (four-star quarterback Jacurri Brown), and Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney voiced concern this week.

“There are still seven months until the early signing period, which is an eternity in college football recruiting, but we have to ask what’s going on with Miami’s recruiting class?” Gorney wrote. “Sandwiched between TCU and Arkansas State in the team rankings sit the Hurricanes at No. 73 nationally with one single, solitary commitment [Brown]...

“One of Miami’s main problems with recruiting and especially in South Florida is that too many elite prospects have gone elsewhere. There are no concrete signs that trend is changing anytime soon, and with Florida State and Florida both in the top 25 of the team rankings, the Hurricanes have to do a better job of landing top players, and a big summer of visits and camps could be the impetus to get going.”

Why I wouldn’t be too concerned: After the dead period ends at the conclusion of May, a lot of recruits will visit UM’s campus this summer for a barbecue in early June (one for 2022 recruits, one for 2023 recruits), and a slew of subsequent private visits by a bunch of prospects.

Among those planning June visits to UM’s campus: four-star Missouri-based defensive end DJ Wesolak; Orlando-based three-star offensive tackle Leyton Nelson and Texas-based three-star tight end RJ Maryland (son of former UM star Russell Maryland).

And it’s important to point out that UM landed arguably the top recruit in both Miami-Dade (defensive tackle Leonard Taylor) and Broward (safety James Williams) in the 2021 class. So Diaz and his staff have made inroads in South Florida.

Even with Georgia-based receiver Isaiah Bond committing to UF during the weekend, the Canes remain in the mix for a bunch of 2022 receivers.

Gainesville-based Quan Lee, Tennessee-based Isaiah Horton and Louisiana-based Landon Ibieta are all planning visits to UM in June. Lee is announcing May 26. UM also is pursuing Miami Palmetto slot receiver Mike Jackson.

The Canes would like to add one or two receivers to supplement the combined seven they added in the last two recruiting cycles. They also would like to add a couple of tight ends.

Everyone in UM’s 2021 recruiting class who hasn’t already enrolled will enroll early next week except cornerback Malik Curtis, who plans to enroll in June, and running back Cody Brown, who plays to enroll in August.

Quick stuff: Former UM running back Robert Burns transferred to Connecticut.. .ESPN, ABC and game organizers haven’t decided whether to put Miami-Alabama (from Atlanta) or Clemson-Georgia (from Charlotte) in prime time on Sept. 4. It’s possible both could be in prime time (one on ABC, one on ESPN) or one at 3:30 or 4 p.m....NCAA.com placed UM 22nd in its preseason rankings.

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