The top 10 Miami football players you need to know for 2016. These are the Hurricane stars to watch out for.
1. QB Brad Kaaya, Jr.
True, the numbers weren’t eye-popping in 2015. But Kaaya took another stride in the direction of being one of the game’s best young quarterbacks. And now that he has two seasons of starting experience and Mark Richt as his head coach, No. 15 is expected to lay the groundwork for possible early entry into the 2017 NFL Draft. Kaaya is a polished and poised pocket passer who completed 238-of-389 passes for 3,238 yards, 16 touchdown and five interceptions. Bank on much better production in 2016.
2. RB Joseph Yearby, Jr.
Yearby took the next step in his evolution, nearly doubling his rookie year rushing output to 1,002 yards and six touchdowns on 205 carries. He also caught 23 passes for 273 yards and two more scores, showing off his trademark elusiveness and open-field burst. Yearby has lightning quick feet and soft hips, but he’ll also navigate for yards between the tackles. And now that he’s up to 5-9 and 202 pounds, he’s better positioned to shoulder the load, though it probably won’t be necessary in the deep Miami backfield.
3. DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, Jr.
Muhammad is coming off the breakout season locals expected when he signed as a blue-chip high school prospect. He flashed explosiveness and athleticism off the edge, ranking third on the team with 54 tackles and first with 8.5 stops for loss and five sacks. The 6-3 and 256-pound Muhammad is sudden off the snap and very physical for his size, with the force to knock much bigger linemen off their base.
4. WR Stacy Coley, Sr.
Coley rebounded from his sophomore slump to catch a career-high 47 passes for 689 yards and four touchdowns. League coaches named him to the All-ACC Second Team, symbolic of his growth into a more complete and consistent weapon. The 6-1, 187-pound Coley has always had the wheels to get separation on opposing defensive backs. But in 2015, he ran better routes and dramatically improved his hands and ball skills.
5. LB Jermaine Grace, Sr.
Grace is the quintessential weakside linebacker for the Canes—fast, experienced and steadily consistent. However, this year he’s moving to strongside to create an opening for the young Miami linebackers. In his first season as a full-timer, the 6-1, 221-pounder racked up a team-high 79 tackles, six stops for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups. Grace can struggle at times when locking horns with bigger opponents, but his range, intensity and fearlessness will continue to be major assets for the entire defense.
6. CB Corn Elder, Sr.
Elder thought about leaving school early. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, he’ll play his senior year in Miami. Elder is the new leader of a secondary that’s lost Artie Burns, Deon Bush and Tracy Howard, with a chance to use 2016 as an audition for NFL scouts. The 5-10, 183-pound All-ACC candidate performed well in coverage as a seven-game starter in 2015, making 41 stops, four tackles for loss, two sacks, two picks and a team-high 11 pass breakups.
7. RB Mark Walton, Soph.
Walton has brought unexpected depth to a backfield that already includes QB Brad Kaaya and RB Joseph Yearby. In his first season out of Booker T. Washington (Fla.) High School, Walton amassed 1,054 all-purpose yards, including 461 rushing and 293 receiving, and scored a team-high 10 touchdowns. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, he’s an explosive quick-twitch athlete who’ll be difficult to sideline, even with Yearby back and big Gus Edwards returning from injury. Walton’s biggest challenge right now is getting out of the doghouse following a spring suspension for a DUI arrest.
8. TE David Njoku, Soph.
The sky is the limit for Njoku, a freakishly athletic former track star at 6-4 and 244 pounds. He showed flashes of his potential as a rookie, catching 21 balls for 362 yards and a touchdown. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Njoku possesses uncommon speed, burst and leaping ability for a player of his size. Bank on the Hurricanes making greater use of a playmaker who can create matchup nightmares for opposing linebackers.
9. PK Michael Badgley, Jr.
In Badgley, the Hurricanes boast one of the most accurate kickers in America. He built on a solid 2014 debut by nailing 25-of-30 field goals, including a school record tying 57-yarder versus Georgia Tech and 7-of-7 from 40-49 yards. Badgley was named honorable mention All-ACC a year ago, with a chance to raise the stakes even higher this fall.
10. DE Trent Harris, Jr.
Harris is coming off a solid sophomore season, which could go down as a building block for the future. The convert from strongside linebacker has good size, 6-2 and 251 pounds, and the instincts to be in the right place at the right time. Harris started 10 games at various positions a year ago, testament to his smarts, savvy and selflessness. And he notched 49 tackles, five stops for loss and 3.5 sacks in a freelancing role.