PFF names 3 Miami Hurricanes as 2022 breakout candidates to watch

Oct 30, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Three Miami Hurricanes were named by Pro Football Focus in “2022 College Football: 31 breakout candidates to watch.” Defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, safety James Williams and wide receiver Brashard Smith were all named to the 2022 31 breakout candidates. Taylor and Williams are both projected starters.

Smith is projected to back up Xavier Restrepo as the slot receiver. The list by PFF does not include any quarterbacks and does not have a specific order. Smith flashed game-breaking ability last season with 14 receptions for 199 yards and two touchdowns and six carries for 23 yards as a true freshman.

With Mike Harley graduated, Smith will have a much greater role for the Miami Hurricanes in 2022. Restrepo had 24 receptions for 373 yards and two touchdowns as the backup to Harley last season. Smith is expected to be lined in multiple different places for Miami under new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.

Miami has a mostly inexperienced, but talented WR corps. Key’shawn Smith is the only returning starters at WR for Miami in 2022 with the loss of record setters Harley and Charleston Rambo after the 2021 season. Smith has high expectations in 2022 with the analysis from PFF as a potential breakout player.

"WR BRASHARD SMITH, MIAMI HURRICANES“Everyone knows that new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis likes to get tricky so expect a good amount of end-arounds, reverses, sweeps and other trickery to keep the defense on its toes, and Smith will likely be the playmaker Gattis uses in these scenarios.The 2021 four-star recruit has the speed to turn schemed touches into big gains, as the 5-foot-10, 194-pound receiver earned an 88.3 receiving grade from 25 routes last season.He was targeted 14 times at an 0.9-yard average depth and averaged 13.4 yards after the catch from his 14 receptions with four broken tackles.”"

Taylor was an impact player for Miami as a true freshman. Playing in the final nine games of the season, Taylor had 26 tackles, tied for the team lead with 8.5 tackles for loss, had 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Playing the entire season as a starter, Taylor should smash those numbers as a sophomore in 2022.

"DI LEONARD TAYLOR, MIAMI HURRICANES“Taylor was a 2021 five-star recruit who performed well as a freshman but is just scratching the surface. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound interior defender’s positively graded run-play rate in 2021 would’ve led the ACC had he played enough snaps to qualify (29.3%). In all, he earned a 71.7 PFF grade across 200 snaps.If Taylor reaches his ceiling sooner rather than later, Miami might boast one of the best defensive lines in the country.”"

Williams was impressive as a true freshman in 2021 with 31 tackles, 0.5 TFL, led Miami with two interceptions and added two pass breakups. Miami will have a deep safety corps in 2022 with Brian Balom, Kamren Kinchens and Avantae Williams with James Williams. PFF expects great play from Williams in 2022.

"JAMES WILLIAMS, MIAMI HURRICANES“Williams has superstar potential thanks to his off-the-charts physical traits. It’s not a matter of if — it’s a matter of when — the 6-foot-5, 224-pound safety makes the major jump. The 2021 five-star recruit produced the fourth-highest coverage grade in the ACC (78.1) as a true freshman last year.”"

The Miami defense has the potential to improve significantly under first-year veteran co-defensive coordinators Kevin Steele and Charlie Strong. Miami hired Jahmile Addae as their new defensive backs coach under new head coach Mario Cristobal. Expect Williams to be used on defense similarly to Smith on offense.

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Williams’ size will allow Addae, Steele and Strong to line up Williams in multiple positions defensively. Williams is adept at playing in the box or in coverage. Expect Kinchens, Avantae Williams and James Williams to play together frequently. Miami should have a versatile defense in 2022.