Rueben Bain, the Mauigoas and a fleet of linemen: Ranking Miami’s 24 best returning players

The last time we ranked the top returning players heading into spring football at the University of Miami, Kamren Kinchens and Tyler Van Dyke topped the list. They’re both gone.

Kinchens left UM for the NFL and Van Dyke left for Wisconsin via the transfer portal. In fact, if you look at the top 50 players we ranked a year ago — transfers and incoming freshmen included — seven of the top eight and 10 of the top 20 are no longer Hurricanes.

Things change quickly in college football. So does the way we do this list. After writing Wednesday about the 11 best additions to the roster since the end of the season, now we are ranking the 24 top returning players.

1. Rueben Bain, DL, sophomore: Pound for pound, there’s no better player on Miami’s roster than the ACC’s 2023 defensive rookie of the year. Bain’s 7 1/2 sacks were tied for fifth most in the league and his 12 1/2 tackles for loss were tied with Clemson’s T.J. Parker for most among freshmen.

2. Francisco “Kiko” Mauigoa, LB, senior: The 2023 Washington State transfer led the ACC in tackles for loss (18), tied for the team lead in sacks (7 1/2) and led the Hurricanes with 82 tackles. It earned him only second-team All-ACC honors, but it’s safe to say the Samoan tackling machine will get a lot of attention.

3. Xavier Restrepo, WR, fifth-year senior: The first-team All-ACC selection is the top returning receiver in the league with 85 catches for 1,092 yards and six touchdowns. Quarterback Cam Ward has been effusive in his praise for Restrepo’s leadership since his arrival.

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Xavier Restrepo is one of the top offensive weapons in the ACC. (Sam Navarro / USA Today)

4. Jalen Rivers, LT, fifth-year senior: The second-team All-ACC selection finally got through a season unscathed by injury in 2023 and was credited with allowing only three sacks and 15 pressures on 483 pass-blocking snaps, according to TruMedia. He’s given up only six sacks in his college career and enters the 2024 season as one of the top returning tackles in college football.

5. Anez Cooper, RG, junior: The 6-foot-6, 350-pound Alabama native has started 18 consecutive games since the middle of his freshman year and is a shining example of Mario Cristobal’s ability to find diamonds in the rough and turn them into bona fide standouts. Cooper was ranked No. 1,150 in the 247Sports Composite in the Class of 2022.

6. Francis “Cici” Mauigoa, RT, sophomore: The 6-6, 315-pound former five-star recruit more than lived up to the hype, starting every game for the Hurricanes and earning Freshman All-American honors along with Bain. Mauigoa allowed five sacks and 23 pressures on 478 pass-blocking snaps, according to TruMedia. He also led all true freshman offensive linemen nationally in snaps played (866) and could become the best draft-eligible offensive tackle by the end of the 2025 season.

7. Mark Fletcher, RB, sophomore: There was no better freshman running back in the ACC than the 6-2, 225-pound former Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage star. He ran for 514 yards and five touchdowns on 105 carries and made four starts before being sidelined by a foot injury in the Pinstripe Bowl. A source close to Fletcher said he’s expected back after the spring.

8. Jacolby George, WR, senior: Outside of drawing a few dumb penalties (mostly in the bowl loss to Rutgers), George did a lot of good things in 2023. He caught 57 balls and finished third in the ACC in receiving yards (864), fourth in touchdowns (eight) and fifth in yards per catch (15.2).

9. Akheem Mesidor, DL, fifth-year junior: The 6-3, 280-pound Ottawa, Ontario, native was sidelined by injury for all but two games last season after leading the Hurricanes with seven sacks and 10 1/2 tackles for loss in 2022 after transferring from West Virginia. If Mesidor is healthy, Miami’s pass rush could become one of the best in the country with Bain, Marshall transfer Elijah Alston and others mixed in.

10. Jared Harrison-Hunte, DL, sixth-year senior: Only Bain played more snaps on Miami’s defensive line last season than the 6-4, 285-pound native New Yorker. Harrison-Hunte started 11 games and produced 26 pressures to go with 26 tackles and two sacks.

11. Daryl Porter Jr., CB, fifth-year senior: The 2022 West Virginia transfer and South Florida native started 10 games last season and allowed only 12 catches for 114 yards and no touchdowns in pass coverage, according to TruMedia. With 24 career starts, Porter is the second-most experienced player in Miami’s secondary behind only Washington transfer Mishael Powell. Porter and Powell are the only two members of Miami’s secondary with five or more career starts.

12. Damari Brown, CB, sophomore: The Hurricanes have only six blue-chip recruits among 15 players in their secondary, and Brown, a four-game starter last season, is the second-highest-rated prospect coming out of high school among them behind freshman safety Zaquan Patterson. Brown started the final four games of the 2023 season and allowed 19 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns on 32 targets in coverage.

13. Wesley Bissainthe, LB, junior: The 6-1, 205-pound outside linebacker started the final 10 games of the season and got more work in part because Miami went to a 3-3-5 lineup following injuries to the defensive line. Bissainthe contributed 44 tackles, including 6 1/2 for loss and two sacks, last season and will get the bulk of the snaps next to Kiko Mauigoa as a host of young players develop behind them.

14. Nyjalik Kelly, DL, junior: The 6-5, 250-pound edge rusher started three of five games last season before suffering a season-ending injury at North Carolina. He showed a lot of promise as a true freshman, producing 15 pressures and four sacks in about 15 snaps per game off the bench. He could be ready for a true breakout season as a junior as he comes back from injury.

15. Henry Parrish Jr., RB, fifth-year senior: He’s led the Hurricanes in rushing each of the last two seasons since transferring in from Ole Miss and has a total of 2,057 yards and 15 touchdowns over 44 college games. The issue is it’s a crowded backfield at Miami. Although the 5-10, 190-pound Goulds, Fla., native was steady last season (6.3 yards per carry), he’s more of a share-the-load guy. Miami has TreVonte’ Citizen (back from a serious knee injury), 2023 Nebraska transfer Ajay Allen, redshirt freshman Chris Johnson Jr. and others pushing Parrish for carries.

16. Andy Borregales, K, senior: He’s one of the best kickers in the country. The first-team All-ACC selection was 21 of 25 on field goal attempts, including 4 of 6 on kicks of 50 yards or longer.

17. Matthew McCoy, OL, redshirt sophomore: With Indiana transfer Zach Carpenter replacing Matt Lee as Miami’s starting center, the Hurricanes have one spot to fill on the offensive line, at left guard. McCoy was essentially Miami’s sixth man last season in the offensive line rotation, averaging about 13 snaps per game mostly as an extra blocking tight end. But he did play 50 snaps over the final two games at left guard, essentially preparing himself for the lead role in 2024.

18. Isaiah Horton, WR, redshirt sophomore: With the productive Colbie Young transferring to Georgia, the Hurricanes need a new starting outside receiver to pair with George, and Horton is the favorite to fill those shoes. He started Miami’s final two games and had five catches for 54 yards in the bowl loss to Rutgers. At 6-4, Horton is the tallest receiver on the team, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he won’t see a lot of work this fall.

19. Jayden Wayne, DL, sophomore: The 6-6, 245-pound former top-100 recruit from Tacoma, Wash., made his first start in the bowl game and averaged close to 17 snaps in his eight appearances on defense as a true freshman. He produced nine pressures, 13 tackles and half a sack in those limited opportunities and stands to be a key rotation piece on the edge this season.

20. Jadais Richard, DB, redshirt sophomore: The Louisiana native and 2023 Vanderbilt transfer started against Florida State last season and appeared in seven other games. With Jaden Davis, Te’Cory Couch and Davonte Brown (Florida State transfer) gone, the Hurricanes need someone to step up and play more meaningful reps at cornerback. Richard is best positioned to be the No. 3 guy behind Porter and Brown.

21. Cam McCormick, TE, ninth-year senior: Cristobal loves having a blocking tight end in his offense, and the 6-5, 260-pound 2023 transfer from Oregon served that purpose for the Hurricanes last season. His eight catches for 62 yards were simply a bonus in an offense where the tight end was targeted 30 times on 436 passing attempts, according to TruMedia.

22. Elijah Arroyo, TE, redshirt junior: The 6-4, 235-pound former four-star recruit hasn’t been able to stay healthy over the past two seasons and has produced only 11 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown over 23 appearances in three years. But there’s always the upside of Arroyo finally getting healthy and becoming the downfield threat. If that doesn’t happen, Riley Williams, a 2023 top-100 recruit, could be ready to pass him for good on the depth chart.

23. Jacurri Brown, QB, redshirt sophomore: With Ward and Reese Poffenbarger (Albany) transferring in, Brown can spend another season developing in Coral Gables or enter the portal after the spring. He showed some improvement in the bowl loss to Rutgers, rushing for 57 yards and two scores and completing 20 of 31 attempts for 181 yards and a score.

24. Emory Williams, QB, sophomore: Williams burned his redshirt when he started in place of Van Dyke in a loss at Florida State. He also earned the respect of his teammates when he broke his left arm as he reached for a first down late in the game. Can the former Elite 11 Finalist become the full-time starter in Coral Gables in 2025? That’s tough to say.

(Photo of Rueben Bain: Andy Lewis / USA Today)

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