Monday, December 15, 2014

How Absurd Were the 2001 Miami Hurricanes? Could an NFL Team Afford All That Talent?

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

As I was watching the amazing ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, The U Part 2, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia.

I grew up in South Florida, and was in high school when The U returned to national prominence in 2001, capturing a national title, bringing swag back and producing the greatest college football rap song of all time.

I also remember everybody at the time claiming that the 2001 Miami Hurricanes were the best team in college football history, and if you head back to Miami-Dade or Broward County now, they're all pretty positive they were right.

Still, the fact remains that those Canes, like the USC Trojans that would follow a few years later, only won a single BCS national championship, making them, essentially, the '85 Bears of college football. There was no historic dynasty, just a singular, dominant team that will go down in history as one of the greatest ever over the course of a season.

To be fair, Miami was a horrible mistake by the BCS in 2000 (Florida State got into the national title game over Miami, despite the Canes beating the Noles that year and both finishing with a single loss), and a pretty terrible pass interference call in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State away from winning three-in-a-row.

But they didn't get their historic three-peat, so we can't remember the 2000s Canes the same way we do their 80's counterparts, or Nick Saban/Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide, or even Bobby Bowden's 90s Florida State teams.

No repeat means no dynasty, but sit back and take in how absurdly dominant and talented the 2001 Miami Hurricanes really were:

First, the obvious stats. Miami rolled to a 12-0 record, culminating with a dominant 37-14 win over Nebraska in The Rose Bowl, a game Miami led 34-0 at the half.

The Canes defeated opponents by an average margin of 33 points per game, scoring over 43 points each time out. Miami also set a record for largest margin of victory against consecutive ranked opponents, blasting No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington by a combined score of 124-7 in back-to-back weeks. The U also handed Joe Paterno the worst home loss of his storied career, smashing the Nittany Lions 33-7 in the season opener. Again, a game Miami had effectively won by halftime. They led PSU 30-0 at the break.

Miami's offense featured a passing game built around future All Pro receiver Andre Johnson and All Pro tight end Jeremy Shockey, and a ground game built around a trio of future Pro Bowlers. One of the greatest backfields in college football history was headlined by Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore, all of whom went on to make multiple Pro Bowls in the NFL.

Even the team's fullback, Najeh Davenport, and quarterback Ken Dorsey had their cups of coffee in the league, while Shockey was backed up at tight end by another future Pro Bowler, Kellen Winslow II.

The offensive line wasn't bad either, featuring future NFL Pro Bowlers Bryant McKinnie and Chris Myers, along with NFL stand out Vernon Carey (though Carey wouldn't start for the Canes in 2001), plus several other NFL linemen.

If Miami's 43 points per game don't impress you (after all, we live in an era where the best offenses routinely score in the 50s), keep in mind that Miami had won most of its games by halftime, and that scoring was much lower in 2001 than it is today.

In 2001, the average NCAA offense scored just 25 points per game, as opposed to 30 points per game in 2014. Miami scored 72 percent more points per game than the average offense in 2001, the equivalent of a team averaging 52 points per game in modern college football. That would be 3.5 more points per game than this season's top scoring offense, Baylor, and four points more than second place TCU.

Now imagine if Baylor or TCU had one of the greatest defenses in college football history.

Well, Miami had that, holding opponents an NCAA-low 9.4 points per game. The defensive line featured future NFL All-Pro Vince Wilfork (who came off the bench), and future first round picks Jerome McDougle and William Joseph. Behind the nation's best defensive front, stood linebackers Jonathan Vilma, and D.J. Williams, both of whom would go on to become first round picks and enjoy successful NFL careers.

But the heart of The U's defense lied in its secondary.

Six defensive backs from that team would go on to become 1st round picks, including future All Pro safeties Ed Reed, Antrel Rolle and Sean Taylor.

In all, 17 players on the 2001 roster went on to become 1st Round NFL Draft picks, including five the following year in 2002, then a record six in 2004. In total, 38 members of the 2001 Canes would go on to be drafted, with 13 of them making a total of 43 trips to the Pro Bowl.

If you were to project the 2001 Miami Hurricanes as an NFL team, you would certainly have a solid core to build around, with 39 NFL players (38 drafted and center Brett Romberg, who went undrafted but played in the league for the better part of a decade), 13 Pro Bowlers and 7 players that earned All Pro selections.

For comparison, last year's Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl with six Pro Bowl selections and three All Pro players, plus three other players who had earned Pro Bowl status within the last five seasons. When you look at it this way, the Canes compare very favorably to a dominant Super Bowl champion.

The problem is, most of Miami's Pro Bowl/All Pro talent would be located at just a few positions, most notably running back and defensive back. You wouldn't have a star quarterback to build around, but with two Pro Bowl offensive linemen, an All Pro receiver, a pair of Pro Bowl tight ends and a trio of Pro Bowl running backs, it's hard NOT to see this offense scoring points.

Then, on the defensive side, you would have one of the best secondaries in the league, with a trio of All Pro safeties in their prime, including guys like Ed Reed and Antrel Rolle who have both excelled in one-on-one coverage throughout their careers. The front wouldn't be great, but with a two-gapping nose tacke like Wilfork and a solid linebacker like Vilma, it wouldn't be terrible either.

The 2001 Canes would have Pro Bowl/All Pro talent in the following places:

Running Back: Clinton Portis (All Pro), Willis McGahee, Frank Gore
Wide Receiver: Andre Johnson (All Pro)
Tight End: Jeremy Shockey (All Pro), Kellen Winslow II
Offensive Line: Bryant McKinnie, Chris Myers
Defensive Line: Vince Wilfork (All Pro)
Linebacker: Jonathan Vilma
Defensive Back: Ed Reed (All Pro), Sean Taylor (All Pro), Antrel Rolle (All Pro)

This also obviously does not include the career starting outside linebacker Chris Campbell could have had. Campbell died in a car accident just a month after Miami captured its 2001 national championship.

On the whole, the 2001 Canes would have an absurd amount of talent, but maybe not enough talent at quarterback or in its front-seven to be a great NFL team. Still, this group certainly wouldn't be a walk-over either. More than perhaps any college team in history, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes project, potentially, as a very dangerous team at the next level.

Affording The Canes as an NFL Team

So, if the 2001 Miami Hurricanes were an NFL team, could you afford them?

To find out, I have listed all the pro players from the 2001 Canes and their highest cap hit from the time they were drafted until 2009.

I then filled in the roster with veteran minimum salary players (and an average priced backup quarterback, who turned out to cost WAAAY more than Ken Dorsey) and compared it to the 2009 salary cap.

I chose 2009 because it was the final year I could get detailed salary information on every player in the league, and because by that time every player from the 2001 Hurricanes would have become at least a restricted NFL free agent.

Remember, these numbers represent a player's hit against the cap that particular year, not necessarily their actual salary.

2009 NFL Salary Cap: $128 million
2009 Veteran Minimum Salary: $620,000

2001 Miami Hurricanes Players and Salaries


Ken Dorsey: $753,000 (2006 with Cleveland)

Running Back/Fullback

Frank Gore: $6.26 million (2009 with San Francisco)
Clinton Portis: $6.18 million (2009 with Washington)
Willis McGahee: 3.12 million (2009 with Baltimore)
Najeh Davenport: $801,340 (2007 with Pittsburgh)

Wide Receiver

Andre Johnson: $9.8 million (2006 with Houston)
Roscoe Parrish: $4.3 million (2008 with Buffalo)
Daryl Jones: $236,883 (2002 with NY Giants)

Tight End

Kellen Winslow II: $4.6 million (2008 with Cleveland)
Jeremy Shockey: $4.37 million (2007 with NY Giants)

Offensive Line

Bryant McKinnie: $8.6 million (2006 with Minnesota)
Vernon Carey: $5.4 million (2009 with Miami)
Chris Myers: $2.76 million (2009 with Houston)
Rashad Butler: $1.02 million (2009 with Houston)
Brett Romberg: $882,280 (2009 with Atlanta)
Joaquin Gonzalez: $559,840 (2005 with Indianapolis)
Martin Bibla: $484,768 (2004 with Atlanta)
Carlos Joseph: $450,000 (2004 with San Diego)

Defensive Line

Vince Wilfork: $2.84 million (2009 with New England)
Jerome McDougle: $2 million (2006 with Philadelphia)
William Joseph: $1.33 million (2007 with NY Giants)
Andrew Williams: $454,600 (2004 with San Francisco)
Jamaal Green: $390,950 (2004 with Philadelphia)
Orien Harris: $370,000 (2008 with Cincinnati)
Matt Walters: $262,500 (2003 with NY Jets)


D.J. Williams: $8.24 million (2009 with Denver)
Jonathan Vilma: $4.5 million (2009 with New Orleans)
Rocky McIntosh: $1.52 million (2008 with Washington)
Darrell McClover: $562,300 (2008 with Chicago)
Leon Williams: $559,420 (2008 with Cleveland)

Defensive Back

Ed Reed: $6.4 million (2009 with Baltimore)
Antrel Rolle: $5.12 million (2009 with Arizona)
Sean Taylor: $4.37 million (2006 with Washington)
Phillip Buchanon: $4.26 million (2009 with Detroit)
Kelly Jennings: $1.62 million (2009 with Seattle)
Mike Rumph: $1.27 million (2005 with San Francisco)
James Lewis: $250,535 (2002 with Indianapolis)
Alfonso Marshall: $163,824 (2004 with Chicago)
Marcus Maxey: $129,411 (2006 with Kansas City)

Total Salary of 39 Players from 2001 Miami Hurricanes: $108.64 million
Price of 11 Veteran Minimum Salary Players: $6.82 million
Price of 1 Average Salary Backup Quarterback: $2.4 million
Price of 2 Average Salary Kicker/Punters: $2 million
Projected Price of 2001 Miami Hurricanes as an NFL Team: $119.86 million

Conclusions: Even without a big-time quarterback (a commodity teams spend most of their money on), or the biggest cap hits of Vince Wilfork, Ed Reed and Andre Johnson being factored in, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are pretty darn close to reaching the salary cap. Their cap number of $119.86 million would have made the Canes the 7th-highest paid team in the league in 2009, just ahead of the then-defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

If you threw in the higher salaries of some of the team's bigger stars, or added in players that left the year before or came shortly thereafter (guys like Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss, or Calais Campbell and Greg Olsen), you would have a team right at the salary cap.

Bottom line is, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes were absurdly talented, and may as well have been a young NFL team. With all that talent and all that swag, you gotta know it's all about The U.

You could make a case that other college teams were better, but in terms of producing NFL talent, the early 2000s Hurricanes stand alone.


Anonymous said...

Roscoe Parrish was not on the 2001 team. He was a true freshmen entering the 2002 season.

Anonymous said...

not according to his Miami bio. redshirted in 2001.

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