Does UM’s first-round drought end in 2011?

The Miami Hurricanes were once THE PREMIERE university NFL teams turned to for draft prospects.

There was nearly a two decade stretch where not only did PLENTY of first-round picks deliver, but most of the players drafted in the later rounds – or signed as free agents - turned into solid NFL contributors.

There’s been a drought in the first round since Kenny Phillips was selected as the 31st pick in 2008. However, I’m pleased to report that it’s highly likely that the first-round shutout concludes this season because UM has three prospects – receiver Leonard Hankerson, defensive end Allen Bailey, and cornerback Brandon Harris – who are all top rated athletes.

“There are players here,” Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland told me during his earlier visit to UM (the first Pro Day, which got cancelled due to rain). On that day the Dolphins had six members of their front office, coaching staff and scouting department in attendance.

New England’s Bill Belichick and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin were both on campus, and I’m told each spent about a dozen hours at the Hecht, conducting individual two-hour sessions with many of UM’s draft prospects.

The Dolphins will get another look at the Hurricanes during the team’s local prospect showcase, which will be on April 8th.

Even though Randy Shannon’s team failed to deliver on all the team’s talent, Hankerson, Allen and Harris are each projected to be taken no later than the second round. And it’s highly likely that one – if not more – will sneak into the bottom half of the first round.

Right now the safest guess is Hankerson, the receiver who broke Michael Irvin’s school records, will end the drought. Hankerson’s one of the hottest names on the scouting circuit because he’s answered every question, and silenced all the doubt.

Hankerson’s Senior Bowl and Combine showing has helped him established himself as the third best best receiver in the 2011 class. Expect his name to get HOT once his private workouts and team visits begin.

His first trip will be to Kansas City, a team that possesses the No. 21 pick and CLEARLY has receiver at the top of their list of needs because no receiver outside of Dwayne Bowe caught more than 22 passes last season.

Hankerson would be an ideal fit as the guy who lines up opposite Bowe.

I’m told that Harris was the guy who impressed the most at UM’s Pro Day on Friday.

Harris is rated as one of the 2011 draft’s top five cornerbacks, and teams like the Steelers, Patriots and the Falcons have expressed plenty of interest in this three-year starter, who possesses quick feet and plays with above average game speed.

The concern about Harris, who is 5-foot-10, is whether he has the size to match up against the Brandon Marshalls of the NFL, or will he have to play the nickel to get on the field?

If you asked me to invest in one of these three players, putting my $10 million on the table, Bailey would be the player I’m gambling on.

Why? Because God only makes so many athletes like him, and what he has can’t be taught. However, a GOOD coaching staff could teach him how to become a dominant 3-4 end, 4-3 end, 4-3 tackle, or 3-4 outside linebacker.

Bailey, who played linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle, is probably one of the most versatile players in this draft.

Come back later and I’ll breakdown some of the other Hurricanes in this draft, including the one player who has made it to my man crush list, which last year featured Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who is now one of the NFL’s rising stars.

So, which of these first-round Hurricanes would you put YOUR money on?


Omar Kelly

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