The Mario Cristobal era kicks off in South Florida with one of the country’s best signal-callers returning to the Miami Hurricanes. Tyler Van Dyke anchors the Canes’ roster as they look to win the ACC Coastal in Cristobal’s first year as head coach. Van Dyke isn’t the only college football star player returning as James Williams has superstar potential in the secondary.
Top 10 returning players at Miami (FL)
We’re counting down all the top 10 players returning to action on every team — we’ll deal with transfers later — from Air Force to Wyoming, from Miami to Hawaii, and all in between. Here are the top returning players to Miami.
10) Key’Shawn Smith, WR
Breaking out a season ago, Key’Shawn Smith is the de facto No. 1 for Van Dyke and Co. this season. He pairs with a talented receiving corps that should free up exploitable 1-on-1 matchups for him downfield. Smith is fast and has crisp routes at every level. He also has some of the top highlight-reel catching abilities and some of the conference’s best body control.
9) Kamren Kinchens, S
It was a terrific first season for the Miami safeties as Kamren Kinchens exceeded expectations a year ago. Kinchens finished fourth on the team with 44 tackles while chipping in with four pass breakups. He was terrific in the rushing game but was at his best when he was able to cover receivers 1-on-1. Kinchens limits not only receptions but any yards after the catch equally as well.
8) Corey Flagg Jr., LB
Leading the team in tackles last year, Corey Flagg Jr. was a defensive stalwart in 2021. Flagg ripped through for 60 total tackles, leading the team in both total takedowns and solo tackles (35). He mans the middle yet again where he’ll once again blow up rushing lanes, cover underneath receivers, and be a menace to the offense.
7) Tyrique Stevenson, CB
Even with a late-season injury, Tyrique Stevenson was one of the conference’s best cover corners. He limited nearly everything in his coverage, sticking with receivers of all kinds. He made an interception, half a dozen forced incompletions, and finished with four pass breakups on the season. Smith is a large cornerback with deceptive speed, plenty to keep up with even the fastest receivers while his physicality will bully smaller pass catchers.
6) Jaylan Knighton, RB
The Rooster is back as Jaylan Knighton returns to blow by defenders or just simply leave them grabbing for air. Knighton is one of the nation’s most elusive running backs both with his speed and his one-step cutting ability that sees him actually accelerate through his breaks. He’s a terrific pass catcher and has plenty of ability to create yards on his own both in the open field and through the tackles.
5) Will Mallory, TE
With an underrated ability after the catch, Will Mallory has proven to be a great all-around threat at tight end. He’ll stick in pass protection very well, but his bread and butter is certainly on the receiving end of Van Dyke passes at every level of the field. Once he’s in the open field, Mallory is a hard man to bring down with his elusiveness and sheer power through much smaller defensive backs.
4) DJ Scaife Jr., OL
Flipping back to the right tackle role this fall, DJ Scaife Jr. played very well once he was entrenched in his role at right guard last season. Back to his initial position with Miami, Scaife can utilize his strength at the point of contact and his tremendous balance to keep clean pockets for Van Dyke in 2022. He’s improved every season since stepping foot on campus, and he’ll pair with his bookend tackle to create one of the top tackle duos in the country.
3) Zion Nelson, OT
Proving his 2020 season was no fluke, Zion Nelson improved in every facet in 2021. Like many on this Miami team last year, Nelson improved as the season went on. He was terrific in the run game, moving laterally very well.
Yet, Nelson was at his best in pass protection once Van Dyke was his quarterback. He dominates smaller edge rushers with his size and has more than enough speed to move with even the speediest of rushers.
2) James Williams, S
No matter where he plays, James Williams is the player to watch on this Hurricanes’ defense. Williams, standing at a massive 6’5″, 224 pounds, is a mammoth of a man who plays like a missile being launched into orbit.
Whether he’s a free safety, allowed to roam free and blast pass catchers, or as far inside as strongside linebacker, Williams has superstar potential. A clean bill of health in 2022 and we’ll be putting Williams’ name on every preseason watch list next season.
1) Tyler Van Dyke, QB
The man who could potentially rewrite the Miami history books, Tyler Van Dyke is the most important and best player returning to the Canes in 2022. Van Dyke was tremendous a season ago, lighting the scoreboard up for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns despite not earning the full-time starting role until Week 5.
TVD effortlessly hits every level of the field and showed growth with his progressive reads as the season went on. He’s a candidate for top player in the conference and a darkhorse for the Heisman if things fall in place properly.
Honorable mention players returning to Miami in 2022
- Romello Brinson, WR
- Xavier Restrepo, WR
- Jakai Clark, C
- Al Blades Jr., CB
- Avantae Williams, S
- Andres Borregales, PK
- Lou Hedley, P