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Kiper sees Kaaya potentially rising to top of draft; Eye-opening Tannehill number; Dragic without Wade; Whiteside; Mattingly/Marlins-Tebow




Once dubbed Quarterback U, the University of Miami hasn’t had a quarterback drafted in the first round since Vinny Testaverde (main draft) in 1987 and Steve Walsh (supplemental draft) in 1989. More surprisingly, UM hasn’t had a quarterback selected before the seventh round since Craig Erickson was taken in the fourth in 1992.

That’s very likely to change. ESPN’s Mel Kiper not only ranks Kaaya the 13th-best prospect among players who will be draft-eligible in April, but also tells me he could see Kaaya rising to the first or second pick overall next April. If that’s the case, it would be awfully tempting for Kaaya to turn pro, though he’s not in great need financially. Kaaya, mature and sensible, has made clear he won’t speculate on the issue because it would be a disservice to teammates.

“Kaaya could be this year’s Jared Goff; no reason he can’t be,” said Kiper, referring to the former California quarterback who was selected first overall by the Rams in April. “You look at where Kaaya is in August, I have him in the middle of the top 25. No reason he can’t jump to 1 or 2. The way he can throw it, there’s a lot of Goff there. I was conservative in my ranking. Some may have Kaaya higher.

“There’s nothing Kaaya is lacking. The kid can make every throw you want. Good head on his shoulders. He has that it factor. He’s a natural. If he can put together the year he’s capable,” then going in the top five becomes very realistic.

One scout told me Kaaya still has to prove he can throw with defenders in his face. What else does he need to prove?

“The consistency week to week,” Kiper said. “The defense has to improve a lot. You don’t want to get into a situation like Clemson last year, where [Clemson] scores four or five touchdowns and [Miami] can’t make a play. You have to give this kid a fighting chance. He has weapons around him. He has got the receivers. Stacy Coley has enormous talent.”

NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said: “Kaaya is very smooth and has plenty of arm talent. I'll be looking for him to show more poise under pressure this fall. If he can clean that up, he will take his game to a new level. He also needs to work on connecting his feet to his eyes. He quickly works through progressions with his eyes but sometimes his feet fail to catch up, which causes some balls to sail.

“His deep-ball accuracy is another area that needs improvement. It will be interesting to see how he functions in Mark Richt's system. I see some similarities to Jared Goff and Teddy Bridgewater. They share similar physical builds and arm talent, but I thought Goff and Bridgewater performed better under duress. [Kaaya] is at his best on quick-rhythm throws. The ball comes out quickly and accurately. He isn't much of a threat as a runner but he will occasionally escape and buy time.”

• Among UM’s other prospects who will be draft-eligible, Kiper said Coley “flashed early of being a star, and I want to see him step forward. He has a chance to emerge. Corn Elder has a decent grades. Elder showed he can be a decent corner. [Center] Nick Linder will be a future standout.”

Kiper said Al-Quadin Muhammad had a "decent" grade, but not a first round grade, before he was dismissed from the UM team on Saturday. Muhammad, a redshirt junior, has college eligibility remaining.

A UM source said safety Rayshawn Jenkins also has been attracting interest from scouts in the past month.

• Where has the talent in the UM program diminished over the past decade?

“Front seven on defense,” Kiper said. “That has been their staple, going back to the great defensive tackles and pass rushers, the middle linebacker brigade. It was like Linebacker U and defensive tackle U --- one after another. They had it all; that’s what allowed the defensive backs to have great success. They still have [quality] DBs but just haven’t produced the front seven players.”

• Kiper, on Richt: “Richt recruits very well. He is a pleasure to be around, classy, considerate, respectful. Players love playing for him. Nobody is not going to like Mark Richt. Nobody can have a bad word to say about him.  He is a Miami guy. Pays attention to detail, gets a good staff around him.

“You are getting a guy with great recruiting ability, very good offensive mind. He has run a top level SEC program under enormous pressure. They were never going to be satisfied at Georgia unless won a national title. He’s not Nick Saban. He’s in that next level.”

• According to a UM official, this staff not only believed last year’s team was not mentally or physically tough enough, but also wanted to eradicate a sense of entitlement among players. As one player said, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz likes to tell his players: “If you can’t do this [a particular skill], you can’t play.”

• For a look at how UM replaces AQM and Jermaine Grace (both dismissed from the team today) and the two reasons why they were dismissed, please click here.


• It’s time to put to rest criticism of Ryan Tannehill’s deep ball, and not because of the long throw to Kenny Stills against Dallas. Consider: Presnapreads.com says Tannehill was accurate on 54.4 percent of 68 passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air last season, which includes well-thrown balls that were dropped. That was tied with Tyrod Taylor for fourth-best in the NFL behind Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.

“He can throw a deep ball fine and it will definitely improve,” Dolphins quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree said.

And on all passes, Tannehill lost 717 yards last season (second behind only Newton) on catchable passes that weren’t caught. And that doesn’t even include potential yards after catch.

• Biggest surprise of camp pushing for a roster spot? Defensive lineman Julius Warmsley, who entered the weekend tied for the NFL preseason lead in sacks (three).

• Click here for a look at where the Dolphins' draft class stands with a week left in preseason.

• The Heat will expect Goran Dragic to be more assertive offensively without Dwyane Wade.

So how did Dragic play without Wade?

Since joining the Heat, Dragic has averaged 14.8 points and 5.7 assists and shot 48.3 percent overall.

In the eight games he played without Wade, he produced bigger numbers (17.6 points, 6.6 assists) but shot worse (43.2 percent).

Erik Spoelstra, who likes to strengthen relationships with his players during the summer, is visiting Dragic in Slovenia this weekend. And Spoelstra said on a Heat video released Friday that he wants to accommodate Dragic's preferred style of play.

"It only makes sense for us to maximize Goran's strengths, and Hassan [Whiteside's] strengths, Justise Winslow's strengths," Spoelstra said. "Their strengths are their speed, their athleticism. Goran is one of the best fast-break, transition point guards in this game. He will force tempo regardless of how you want to play or how you want to defend. Goran is going to run....

"You don't find many players that can attack, that can play fast, that can make other players better in that type of game. And he's relentless in getting to the rim. And Goran is that kind of player. And I think young players gravitate to Goran. They want to play that style."

 • Whiteside, who finds fuel in snubs, has another: The NBA released video of the 50 best blocks last season and not a single Whiteside block was among them, even though his 3.7 blocks per game were the NBA’s highest since Theo Ratliff in 2000-01.

When asked about that by a fan on Twitter, Whiteside said: “The NBA never gave me much love” and that most blocks “go out of bounds and give the team the ball back. Guess that's cooler.”

• Though the Heat is capped out, the Panthers have $9.8 million in cap space (perhaps to use on an in-season trade) after Thursday’s Dave Bolland deal with Arizona.

▪ The Marlins plan to attend former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow’s workout for teams Tuesday in Los Angeles, according to a source. The Marlins have a scout based close to where the workout is being held and are merely doing due diligence.

Tebow, 29, was an all-state baseball player as a junior in high school before winning two national championships with the Florida Gators.

Tebow, who hasn’t played baseball in more than 10 years, was drafted by the Denver Broncos and last played in the NFL for the New York Jets in 2012. He has been working as a TV analyst for ESPN in recent years.

More than 20 teams reportedly will attend the workout. Tebow’s representation said he has been training for an opportunity to audition for MLB teams and insist this is not a publicity stunt.

• Don Mattingly entered August with 18 consecutive winning months (14 with the Dodgers, four with the Marlins) – which is third-longest among managers since 1946 - and his hiring has been an unquestioned success, regardless of whether Miami makes the playoffs. The Marlins entered this weekend's series 9-13 in August.
“This,” he said in a quiet moment, “has been one of the most enjoyable years of my career, trying to get these young guys to another level. And it has been really good for my life, getting back on the East Coast.” That’s partly because his wife, who has children, spends some time in Indiana during the season.

Mattingly, thoroughly respected in the clubhouse, said he never fretted about two issues that concern some others: “I never worried about the payroll here; that was part of the enticement. I saw a club with a lot of young players that could buy time through the system where you don’t have to go buy position players for the next couple of years....

"I heard a lot of Jeffrey [Loria] type stuff but I wasn’t concerned. I like working for him. He wants to win. A lot like [deceased former Yankees owner George] Steinbrenner like that.”

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