Make no mistake, when it comes to Miami’s passing game, the conversation begins with sophomore WR Ahmmon Richards as the Hurricanes’ best passing option. After approaching 1,000 receiving yards in his freshman year (934), the mention of his name brings praise and comments such as “enjoy him while he’s still there.”
Richards is not an anomaly. For the past nine seasons, Miami has produced an average of three players who have met or surpassed 400 receiving yards per season, with 2013 having the highest number of players (Allen Hurns, Stacy Coley, Clive Walford, Herb Waters). Allen Hurns was the last Hurricane wide receiver before Richards came close to entering the 1,000 receiving yard club (1,162 yards in the 2013 season). Before Hurns and Leonard Hankerson (1,156 in the 2010 season), the last ‘Cane to surpass the threshold was future Hall of Fame WR Andre Johnson in 2002 (1,092 yards). To put the achievement in perspective, Virginia Tech produced their first 1,000 receiver in 2015 with Isaiah Ford. (Before 2002, Bowl stats did not count toward regular season numbers.)
Each of the ‘Canes receivers previously mentioned had quality support. TE Kellen Winslow II (726) boosted Johnson’s tremendous season. RB Willis McGahee, WR Roscoe Parrish, and WR Ethenic Sands finished with 300+ receiving yards on the 2002 season as well.
So the question remains regarding who should co-star along with Richards when it comes to targets and opportunities in the passing game. The obvious answer is whoever is open and has the ability to take advantage of Richards’s presence, as well as vulnerabilities in the opponent’s defensive coverage.
Tight end David Njoku shone in 2016. He lined up at various spots along the offensive formation, tasked with bubble and tunnel screens and with running the typical intermediate-to-deep routes. He now moves forward, trying to establish himself with the Browns organization.
SOTU has selected several wide receivers and a tight end who could step up in the 2017 season, including Dionte Mullins, who is set up for a breakout performance in his sophomore year, and Lawrence Cager, who made a miraculous recovery. Darrell Langham has entered the conversation as being another viable option.
The offense will look much different in comparison to seasons past, with Brad Kaaya wearing a Lion on the side of his helmet instead of a U. Whether it’s Malik Rosier, Evan Shirreffs, or N’Kosi Perry barking out the cadence on Saturdays this season, it’s unknown what kind of impact a mobile QB will have not only on RPO (run-pass option) but also on the rest of the passing game.
Would the new quarterback benefit smaller receivers such as Braxton Berrios, Mike Harley, DeeJay Dallas, and Jeff Thomas in the shallow-to-intermediate passing game? Can another tight end, be it Michael Irvin Jr. or Jovani Haskins, earn meaningful playing time to help broaden the offense’s ability to line up in multiple formations? Mark Walton’s reception total has only climbed as a ’Cane. Will he be able to continue that trend, with a shot at exceeding his career high in receiving yards (293)?
If you were taking odds on who could see more targets his way, TE Christopher Herndon IV would be among the leaders. During spring practices, Herndon indicated that he was being moved around the formation, yet we will have to wait and see if his situation is similar to Njoku’s in 2016.
Why focus on the supporting cast? That’s a fair question. Finding a number one option is a task in itself to accomplish, but it is important because it can possibly create favorable matchups for other receiving options. There are many talented receivers in college football, but how many of them would qualify as being great? Considering that Ahmmon Richards is a great playmaker at the position and will be eligible for the NFL draft soon, the team will need to get the most out of him and capitalize on defensive coverages that slant toward his side of the field as soon as possible.
There is always talent at Miami, so there is no excuse for the team’s inability to put their best players in a position to excel.