Losing Ahmmon Richards to a career-ending injury already depleted Miami of ‘superstar’ talent in the receiving corp — but with Jeff Thomas playing at a similar level that Richards accomplished in his Freshman year, it wasn’t thought to be catastrophic.
Fast forward 6 weeks from when the news broke about Richards’ and Miami had lost both of their best receivers in the same season.
Unfortunately, we never truly got to experience Richards and Thomas playing side-by-side. Both receivers had standout Freshman seasons, but Ahmmon Richards sadly caught the injury ‘bug’ early in his Sophomore season, eventually leading to his forced-retirement from football.
The loss of Jeff Thomas and Ahmmon Richards may seem devastating, but the ‘Canes still have a pack of young, skilled receivers who could develop into Miami’s next superb wide-out.
This season, we’ve already observed flashes of greatness from Freshman receivers Brian Hightower and Dee Wiggins — a promising sight to witness. Freshmen Mark Pope and Marquez Ezzard have also seen the field, but haven’t made a significant impact quite yet.
Hightower may have a head start over his peers in the competition — snagging his first touchdown in Miami’s season opener against LSU, leaping above a defender to secure the score.
However, coming into the 2018-19 season, Mark Pope seemed like he would be Miami’s next great Freshman receiver. A 5-star recruit (Rivals), Pope was highly-touted but hasn’t developed into the player Richt knows he can be. His enrollment came after Hightower’s though, and his later start may hold the reason as to why he hasn’t progressed at the same rate. Hopefully, Pope will remain patient and focus on getting better instead of becoming frustrated with his minimal role.
Aside from the Freshmen, Miami will presumably still have Mike Harley and Lawrence Cager on the roster. Both Cager and Harley have become some of N’Kosi Perry’s favorite targets, and it’s safe to assume that trend will continue barring injury or transfer. However, while their roles are significant, neither of them would be considered ‘superstars’ like Richards or Thomas.
Evidence Njoku will also be a returning wide receiver. He brings size and experience to the table as he’ll be a Redshirt-Sophomore in 2019 — but he’s yet to receive much playing time in his 2 years at Miami.
Luckily for Miami, recruiting great players at ‘skill’ positions is typically not an issue. As of now, Miami’s 2019 recruiting class contains 1 wide receiver. Jeremiah Payton, a 4-star (274) recruit, is also Miami’s highest-rated member of the ‘19 class (0.9655, according to 274Sports). Payton would be thrown into a fierce competition for snaps and targets in his Freshman season, but he holds the potential to be a ‘gem’ for Miami.
Improving to a ‘superstar’ level won’t happen overnight, but with a year of experience under their belt, Miami’s Freshmen receiving corp could all develop into strong playmakers. Hopefully, we won’t have to feel the losses of Jeff Thomas and Ahmmon Richards quite as much.