Another UM draft party?

By now it's common knowledge that for years National Football League executives, scouts and coaches have gravitated to the University of Miami with dreams of filling one of their many needs during the NFL draft. Last weekend was another prime example as eight Hurricanes were selected overall, including four players in the first-round. In the last three years UM players have accounted for 13 first-round selections in the draft, the most of any school.

But those numbers dwindle in comparison to the dent that UM potentially could make in the 2004 draft.

As many as 12 current Hurricanes, including underclassmen safety Sean Taylor and running back Frank Gore, could be in line to get selected in next year's draft making it the most productive since 1988 at Miami. Junior tight end Kellen Winslow, junior defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and junior defensive back Antrel Rolle have already garnered a lot of interest around the league and could decide to leave school early as well.

Winslow, the son of the Hall of Fame tight end by the same name, could be one of the first players selected next year if he decides to bypass his senior season at UM. The 6-5, 245-pound tight end is physically mature beyond his years and posses the speed to play professionally right now, according to several NFL scouts interviewed last week.

"What is there not to like about this kid?" said a scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers. "He's big, fast and has incredible hands. He could be a receiver if he wanted to and that's no joke."

With current New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey in front of him, Winslow was limited to a reserve role as a freshman in 2001. But he quickly gained national recognition last season with a team-leading 57 receptions to go with 726 yards and eight touchdowns for the Hurricanes. Winslow enters the 2003 season widely regarded as the top tight end in the nation, if not offensive player. Should he leave school, which most close to him think is highly possible, Winslow could be a top-5 pick.

Taylor, also a junior, has led the resurgence of the Hurricanes secondary from a question to one of the best in the country with his punishing tackling ability and closing speed. The former two-position standout at Gulliver Prep in Miami has impressed NFL types with his constant effort.

"He never gives up," said a scout in the NFC. "That kid's motor is always running."

Taylor, who was third on the Hurricanes in tackles last season with 85, had a team-high four interceptions. At 6-3 and 225 pounds Taylor is a prime candidate to go in the top-10 of the first-round if he opts to school a year early.

"It makes you feel good to hear all that stuff but I'm still a University of Miami Hurricane and that's the only thing that concerns me right now," says Taylor. "I'll deal with that when the time comes."

The 6-2, 350-pound Wilfork apparently had a spot reserved in this year's draft if he had chosen to leave UM. But he stuck around after posting 43 tackles and seven sacks last season. Wilfork added 15 tackles for losses (56 yards). But Wilfork also had to deal with the loss of both of his parents, which factored into his decision of returning to UM. Another solid season could bolt Wilfork into the top 5-10 of the 2004 draft.

Plenty of eyes will also be on Gore who looked sharp in the spring after suffering a season-ending knee injury in preseason practice last year. Gore, who rushed for 562 yards on 62 carries as a freshman in 2001, has exceptional vision and explosiveness to the hole. If he puts another strong season together Gore is likely to enter the draft. But he wants to answer any lingering questions about his health.

"I know some people out there don't believe in me right now but I know what I can do," says Gore. "It's always been a dream of mine to play in the NFL but I'm not looking ahead."

To nobody's surprise the Hurricanes could have two linebackers drafted in 2004 after the departures of Jonathan Vilma and DJ Williams. Williams, who arrived at UM in 2000 accompanied by loads of publicity, has never matched the national expectations associated with his name. But Williams still has the overall skills to be a mid first rounder. Williams' skills have never been questioned although how quickly he learns the playbook may be a concern at the next level.

Quite the contrary with Vilma who has the smarts to play in the NFL but may lack the size. Vilma, who led the Hurricanes in tackles last season with 133, is constantly praised by the UM coaching staff for never being out of position and making plays at the most crucial of time. But to have a chance of remaining at the position in the pros Vilma will likely need to add at least 15 pounds to his body frame. Still, Vilma could also land a spot late in the first round.

"That's so far away I'm not even thinking about it," said Vilma.

Quarterback Brock Berlin, who was named Miami's starter last week, has lost a lot of playing time after sitting out last season because of NCAA transfer rules. But the former University of Florida Gator is a dark horse in regards to the draft. Berlin has a strong arm and according to several coaches posses the best tools of any UM quarterback since Vinny Testaverde. Berlin was at Greentree Field last week for Willis McGahee's workout, but he refused to comment on next year's draft.

Offensive tackle Carlos Joseph, senior receivers Jason Geathers and Kevin Beard, junior defensive tackle Santionio Thomas and senior Maurice Sikes are all potential draft picks as well. Geathers, 6-3, 210 pounds, fits the mold of speedy and physical receivers NFL types look for, while Beard is coming off knee surgery. Thomas had nine tackles after missing most of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Since 1984 the Hurricanes have had a record 36 first-round picks in the draft and sent many others to the professional ranks. And players that end up in Coral Gables aren't shy about expressing the reason they want to wear the UM colors.

"One of the main reasons I came here was because I knew I could go on to the NFL," said former UM running Willis McGahee, who was selected 23rd overall by the Buffalo Bills even though he is recovering from knee surgery in January. "Look at all the talent that ends up here and all the talent they have to turn away. It's just crazy, man."

Should the Hurricanes have 12 players selected in next year's draft that would match the 12 taken in 1988. That year the Hurricanes had two first-round selections with defensive back Bennie Blades going third overall to the Detroit Lions and wide receiver Michael Irvin selected 11th by the Dallas Cowboys. UM has had 11 players selected in the draft on two previous occasions (2002, 1991).

Canes Time Top Stories