Ultimate First Rounders

While Miami finished 11-2 in 2003 and had one too many losses to earn a coveted spot in the BCS title game – the Canes were tops when it came to possessing the ultimate playmaker on both sides of the ball. NFL, prepare to meet Sean Taylor and Kellen Winslow II. The opposition? Look out.

Taylor and Winslow were two prized possessions of UM's 2001 recruiting class. Taylor sailed in under the radar – not heavily recruited, by way of Gulliver Prep in Miami,FL and Winslow – in a three-way recruiting battle with Washington, Michigan State and Miami – became a Cane via Scripps Ranch in San Diego, CA.

As freshman on Miami's 2001 National Championship squad, both Taylor and Winslow saw action on specials teams and minimal play at their respective positions. Hard to see the field when safety Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens' 1st round pick in 2002) and tight end Jeremy Shockey (New York Giants' 1st round pick in 2002) are producing and keeping the Canes undefeated and dominating all season long en route to the school's fifth National Championship.

A year later, a changing of the guard.

Hit The Ground Running

2002 brought a second straight undefeated regular season for the Canes and another solid year at the safety and tight end positions thanks to "rookies" Taylor and Winslow.

As a sophomore, Taylor hauled in four interceptions – two in the National Championship game against #2 Ohio State. He was third on the team in tackles with 85, broke up fifteen passes, blocked a kick and returned a punt for a touchdown. His best outings of the season came against Ohio State and Syracuse, where he finished both games with 11 total tackles – 8 unassisted against the Orangemen - also, where he caught and ran for a 47-yard touchdown on a fake punt. Though Taylor didn't start a game his freshman year, he was named All-BIG EAST Selection before the 2002 season.

Winslow came on like a force in year two – 726 total yards, 8 touchdowns and an average of 55.8 yards per game. His numbers, slightly better than his predecessor, Shockey. His attitude and persona – even more intense.

Like Taylor, Winslow took it to the next level the greater the competition. 6 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown in a 28-27 squeaker over Florida State. 5 for 67 and a touchdown at Tennessee. The biggest performance obviously coming in the National Championship game where Winslow torched #2 Ohio State for 122 yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions. From then on, there was no looking back.

2002 ended 12-1. Fell short. 34-game win streak ended. Regroup. Another changing of the guard. Ken Dorsey left behind a 38-2 record as starting quarterback while the inexperienced Brock Berlin was next in line to lead. Not the best case scenario for Winslow, who proved to have solid chemistry with Dorsey in one of the better seasons in Miami tight end history.

A lack of stability at quarterback combined with the often double or triple team, kept Winslow out of the end zone – but he always rose to the occasion in crucial games. K2's biggest performances came back to back weeks in 2003 – against West Virginia and at #5 Florida State.

His 4th and 13 reception against the Mountaineers in the games final minutes kept the drive alive. A field goal with :11 left on the clock was the difference in a 22-20 victory while Winslow's 10 receptions for 104 yards meant everything to Miami's offense – which lost tailback Frank Gore in the first half to a torn ACL.

Nine days later against the Noles, Winslow snatched up 7 receptions for 106 yards – his long, a 39-yard rumble – both season highs.

Dominate and Move On

In 2003 , Taylor proved his knack for hunting down the ball is unmatched. Reed's nine interceptions in 2001 were surpassed by Taylor's ten in 2003 - tying him with former Hurricane and Detroit Lions safety (#3 pick, 1988 draft) Bennie Blades and the school record of ten interceptions in 1986.

October 11th - against rival Florida State in rain soaked Tallahassee - was Taylor's strongest outing. His two interceptions – one for a 49-yard touchdown - combined with 8 tackles and a sack, were the difference in the 22-14 victory. This came on the heels of an 11 tackle effort and interception against West Virginia. Both Winslow and Taylor chose to shine in two huge games when Miami needed them most – against the Mountaineers and Seminoles.

Taylor had his second two-interception outing in Miami's season finale at Pittsburgh – a must win game for the Canes. The BIG EAST Championship on the line. The difference between the Gator Bowl or BCS' prestigious Orange Bowl Classic. If you're the University of Miami finance department, the difference between a multi-million dollar payday or a lump of coal in your holiday stocking.

Four tackles on the day and the defensive play of the game, stepping in front of Panthers' receiver Larry Fitzgerald, picking off Rod Rutherford and ending a Pittsburgh drive that crept as close as the 10-yard line. At the time, Miami up 21-7 with Fitzgerald held to 1 reception for 5 yards on the day. He finished 3 for 26 with a score in the 28-14 finale.

Heading into NFL Draft weekend, everyone is talking Sean Taylor and Kellen Winslow II for one reason or another. Rumors fly all over the place. Each day a new headline.

Does New England trade up to New York's #4 in an attempt to nab Taylor? Will the Giants hang onto that coveted slot and choose him there? Washington picks #5 and has their sites set on both Taylor and Winslow – currently leaning towards K2, though there are whispers of disapproval due to his choice of agents (Carl and Kevin Poston.) The Redskins' new-old-new again leader Joe Gibbs coached Papa Winslow with the Chargers. Could that be the tie that binds? Another Hurricane added to the newly revamped Washington Redskins, who nabbed tailback Clinton Portis weeks back and linebacker Mike Barrow yesterday?

Detroit comes in at #6 and should choose whoever Washington doesn't. The Lions defense would start Taylor immediately as they got merely a decent season out of current safeties Terrance Holt, Brian Walker and Bracy Walker. Brock Marion was added in the off season and has a few seasons left in him and works for the Lions' present, but Taylor would be the perfect fit for the Detroit's future.

Winslow could fall to the Lions as well, which would mean an added offensive weapon for third year starting quarterback Joey Harrington. The return of the inured Charles Rogers and a beefed up rushing game do to tailback depth, would be infinitely improved with the addition of Winslow - a kid the Sporting News is quoted as saying, "could revolutionize the tight end position much like his father did twenty years ago."

Rumors of teams shying away from Winslow because of an occasional volatile outburst? Pure bull. NFL organizations see the second coming of former Charger Kellen Winslow only stronger, faster and better built. They'll scoop him up in a heartbeat. You don't pass up on someone who could "revolutionize the tight end position" because he threw a fit in the locker room after a heartbreaking loss. The kid is a winner. He steps up when called upon. He has a true swagger. 100% Hurricane. He'll dominate the NFL for a dozen years.

Any nonsense spewed about Taylor's stock dropping due to average workouts or his head not completely in the game? A farce. Don't sell it, ‘cause we're not buyin' it. If New England – with arguably the best front office in the NFL – is inquiring about Taylor's services with talk of a trade up, believe your ears.

San Diego, holding the #1 pick, spent some quality time with the young man. Don't put it past a gambler like Oakland's Al Davis to make a move for a Sean Taylor-type. New York's Giants talked of him at #4. Essentially the entire top ten covets Taylor and several below want to trade up to snag him.

Proof Comes This Fall

When the NFL season kicks off, no one will– to quote Hurricane Winslow - "give a hell" about combine numbers anymore. It will be about production – and this former Miami safety flat out produces.

In the strange event that Winslow or Taylor are still around when Cleveland picks #7 (barring they don't trade up for OT Robert Gallery of Iowa), former Miami head coach, Butch Davis will add them to the Browns' roster. Davis made a bad call in 2002 when he chose the wrong BIG EAST superstar back of the 2001 draft class, picking up William Green as opposed to former Hurricane back Clinton Portis. He was a target of criticism last season as Portis' stock climbed and the Browns' rushing attack stalled. History won't repeat itself in 2004 if Taylor or Winslow is available for Davis to bring aboard.

Players like Sean Taylor and Kellen Winslow don't come along all that often. Certainly not in the same draft. Never from the same team. It's almost incomprehensible.

Then again, this is Miami. 46-4 this decade. "Hit for the cycle" and played in each of the four BCS games consecutively - Sugar (2001), Rose (2002), Fiesta (2003), Orange (2004). Two title game appearances. One National Championship. A chance at six players chosen in the first 32 picks - breaking their own record of five top picks in 2002 – bringing it to a grand total of 19 first round draft picks over a four year span. Amazing.

Two seasons ago ESPN ran a commercial where a viewer made the statement, "The Miami Hurricanes would beat the Cincinnati Bengals". To date UM's 2001 National Championship has team produced 15 first round picks with a half dozen potential first rounders still remaining from the '01 class. In the end, possibly three dozen first rounders off the Canes most recent championship team.

Look out Bengals.

While six playmakers from ‘The U' are on the verge of life in the NFL as a first round pick – two of them have instant superstar written all over them. Sean Taylor and Kellen Winslow II. The will start immediately. They will dominate. They are difference makers. They are special. Don't be shocked if one - or both - make the 2004 Pro Bowl.

These boys will be around a long, long time. Miami is ‘NFL U'. Watch that point driven home again this Saturday.

It's a Canes thing… the NFL finally understands.

Born and raised in Miami, FL and a CanesTime.com columnist since 1996, Chris Bello now resides in San Diego, CA and handles online sales for www.allcanes.com. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him at cbello@san.rr.com

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