With eyes set on the NFL, the Hurricanes’ 2021 draft class continues the legacy of Miami football

Miami defensive end Jaelan Phillips celebrates intercepting a pass from Florida State during the first half of their game at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, September 26, 2020.
Miami defensive end Jaelan Phillips celebrates intercepting a pass from Florida State during the first half of their game at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, September 26, 2020. Photo credit: ACC Media

Few college football programs around the country can compare with the Miami Hurricanes when it comes to acquiring, producing and developing talent at the collegiate level. However, the University of Miami has proven for decades that it also excels at molding its student-athletes into NFL-ready prospects prepared to take the league by storm.

Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, UM has had 281 players selected in the NFL Draft, 60 of which were selected in the first round. According to The Athletic, between 1970 and 2017, Miami ranked third in top-100 and first round picks, fourth in top-10 picks and fourth in overall picks.

Canes alumni have also appeared in the Super Bowl 63 times, been selected to the Pro Bowl 151 times and eight former Hurricanes are forever immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Going into next season, the University of Miami’s legacy of creating exemplary NFL players continues as first-round defensive ends Jaelan Phillips and Greg Rousseau, defensive end Quincy Roche and tight end Brevin Jordan embark on their NFL rookie campaigns.

Phillips was the first Hurricane to be selected in the 2021 NFL Draft with the 18th pick of the first round and, in being drafted by the Miami Dolphins, his arrival in the NFL will find him in familiar territory at Hard Rock Stadium.

The 6-foot-5 defensive end spent only one season donning an orange, green and white uniform after spending two seasons at UCLA, but his first impression as a Miami Hurricane was a lasting one. Phillips started all 10 regular season games for the Canes, recorded 21 solo tackles, 45 total tackles and led the team with 15.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

Phillips was also named to the All-ACC Second Team, the Associated Press’s All-America Second Team, the American Football Coaches Association All-America First Team and he was a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award – which is given to the best defensive college football player in the country.

Ahead of his first professional season, Phillips has an official NFL prospect grade of 6.39, projecting him to be a starter within his first two seasons.

“Jaelan Phillips, to me, is the crown jewel of this class,” NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks said. “This is a guy that was the number one recruit in 2017 because of his athleticism and his pass-rushing prowess.”

Rousseau was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the 30th pick of the first round, capping Miami’s 2021 first-round draft picks. While the defensive end opted out of the 2020 season, he was excellent in 2019 as a redshirt freshman.

Through seven starts and 13 games of action, Rousseau paced the ACC with 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. By the season’s end, he was named to the All-ACC First Team and the All-America Second Team by the Football Writers Association of America. He also earned ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, marking the second time in program history that a Hurricane brought the award home to Coral Gables and the first time since Sean Spence in 2008.

Similar to Phillips, Rousseau’s prospect grade of 6.30 anticipates that he will claim a starting job within his first two seasons in the pros.

“[Rousseau] lacks prototypical get-off and needs more violence and pop in his hands, but his length, pursuit agility and wide-open throttle really stand out on tape,” NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein said. “He carries a bit of a boom-bust profile, but also has the makings of a player who can become a quality 4-3 end within his first three seasons.”

Four rounds deeper into the draft, Brevin Jordan was taken by the Houston Texans with the 147th pick in the fifth round.

During his three-year tenure with the Canes, Jordan was a perennial starter and award-winner. As a true freshman in 2018, he played in 12 of Miami’s 13 games, starting 11 times. The tight end caught 32 passes and recorded four receiving touchdowns, good for second-best on the team in both categories and was named to the All-ACC Second Team.

The accolades continued to mount for Jordan in his sophomore season when he was named to the All-ACC First Team and was one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, the honor given to college football’s best tight end.

In 2020, Jordan missed three games, but he started and delivered in each of the eight games he did play in. He ranked second on the team in receptions and receiving yards with 38 and 576, respectively, and was tied for the team lead with seven touchdown receptions. By the season’s end, he was named to the All-ACC Second Team and was a semifinalist for the Mackey Award.

With a prospect grade of 5.95, Jordan’s NFL scouting report lies in between two of the NFL’s grade categories. Grades between 5.80 and 5.90 are assigned to backups and special teams players and a 6.00 is assigned to a “developmental traits-based prospect.”

“We feel like we got a steal with [Brevin Jordan],” Houston Texas head coach David Culley said. “It was a no-brainer with the ability he has.”

Rounding off the Miami Hurricanes’ 2021 draft class is Quincy Roche, who was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round as the 216th overall pick.

After spending four seasons at Temple University, Roche took his talents to South Florida, where he was outstanding in his lone season with the Hurricanes. He was a full-time starter during the regular season and finished his campaign with 45 total tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Roche also registered two ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week awards in 2020 and was tied for first in the conference with three forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles.

As was the case with Jordan, Roche’s prospect grade of 5.96 places him in between the two scouting report thresholds assigned to grades between 5.80 and 5.90 and a 6.00.

“Roche has packed the stat sheets for the better part of four years, but he’s very average athletically and doesn’t have the mass to consistently hold up at the point of attack. He’s tight in his lower half, which limits his ability to corner sharply when attacking the pocket,” Zierlein said. “However, he’s limber in his upper body, which creates opportunities to slide off of blocks and make plays at awkward angles.”

When these rookies take on the NFL, they will be four of 42 active Canes alumni in the league. However, the first one that takes the field might just be a new face. With the Steelers hosting the Dallas Cowboys to kick off the NFL Preseason on Aug. 5, Quincy Roche has a chance to be both the first Miami alum and Canes rookie to be on national television this fall as he looks to represent The U with his new team.