The Miami Hurricanes were once a premier producer of top NFL talent. Names like Michael Irvin, Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis once roamed the professional fields, making highlight-reel plays on a weekly basis.
Miami has continued to send successful players—such as Jimmy Graham and Colin McCarthy—to the pros, but the 'Canes have not had a first-round pick since defensive back Kenny Phillips in 2008.
The Hurricanes' roster is starting to show signs of top-round talent, though. Senior quarterback Stephen Morris and sophomore Duke Johnson are two players that have the potential to change the 'Canes' recent first-round drought.
Although that awful "potential" word can eventually mean little, which Miami player is a better NFL prospect?
Stephen Morris, QB
Morris started to grab the attention of draftniks during the offseason—especially because of his performance at the Manning Passing Academy, when the gunslinger won the skills competition.
Earlier this year, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com said Morris might be the most talented quarterback in college football and could rate as one of the top pure passers.
However, hype surrounding the senior has not been matched by performance. Morris has struggled lately and a nagging ankle injury is not helping the quarterback. Through five games, Morris has currently thrown for just 950 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
"With Morris I see a complete disconnect between ability and eyes. His ball placement and decision-making aren't there," Miller said. "He's a project player. Athletically, he's got it, but he needs to learn what to look for and how to get the ball in better. [Morris is a] mid-rounder right now—fourth or fifth round."
Morris has certainly unleashed a few fantastic throws so far during the 2013 season. Against the University of Florida, he stood in the face of pressure and took a huge hit to launch a beautiful downfield pass.
Of course, he has missed some wide open receivers too. Later in the Florida game, Morris overthrew Phillip Dorsett on 3rd-and-25—when Miami had a legitimate chance to convert with an on-target pass—and Gators defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III snagged an easy interception.
Morris is not necessarily erratic, but he must be more consistent in connecting with his targets. In a pass-happy league like the NFL, a player with a history of missing open receivers simply will not attract teams on draft day.
Duke Johnson, RB
To be clear, Duke Johnson is a true sophomore, so he is not eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.
He has breakaway speed, as evidenced by his kick returns—a role which could land him an NFL future. Granted, the NFL has seen the number of kickoffs actually returned drop significantly since kicks were moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line.
His ball-carrier vision is also superb, locating running and cutback lanes with the agility and explosiveness to quickly hit the hole.
The two biggest issues with Johnson are his size and a newfound fumbling streak.
Johnson is listed at 5'9" and 196 pounds, so he is physically comparable to Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey at 5'10", 198 pounds. Considering Carey is touted as one of the top backs in the 2014 class, Duke will not be overlooked—no pun intended—because of his stature.
As a freshman, Johnson received 193 touches and did not lose a single fumble. Over the last two games, however, he has fumbled three times.
The All-American-caliber running back absolutely must correct his recent ball-security problem because committing turnovers is not tolerated by NFL teams.
Which Player Is the Better NFL Prospect?
Stephen Morris has the physical ability, but the ability to properly and consistently use those tools has eluded him so far.
"Morris is not a better prospect than Matt Barkley was, and look how far he fell in a class that lacked quarterback talent," Miller wrote.
Essentially, Morris is currently a fourth-round prospect at best.
Johnson has time to improve his draft prospects, but it also means that he has at least 20 games to be unimpressive. Now, do I expect that to happen? No, but a player progressing into a top pick is never a given.
Former Miami running back Lamar Miller was drafted with the first pick of the fourth round (97th overall) by the Miami Dolphins during the 2012 NFL draft. Johnson and Miller are comparable players, but Johnson has at least 20 collegiate games remaining, so predicting his potential draft position two years in advance is difficult.
As of this moment, Morris and Johnson are equal NFL prospects, though the latter is a more promising and versatile talent on account of the time he has to improve his draft stock.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.