The U has a long history of talented skill position players, and the 2018 Canes were no exception. Miami received a top-10 preseason ranking due to the elite defense, as well as the wealth of talent at WR and RB. The defense and RBs lived up to their billing, however the pass-catchers had trouble sustaining the same level of success.
Numerous factors contributed to the inconsistent output from the WRs this season. The injury bug made an appearance early, as star WR Ahmmon Richards had his season cut down to one catch for 9 yards in the season opener before suffering a career-ending neck injury. Richards was considered a possible first round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft before the injury, so losing him on the outside left an immediate hole in the receiving corps. That hole was filled almost immediately by sophomore Jeff Thomas, who opened the season on a tear, pulling in 11 catches for 304 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Canes first 3 games.
Questionable play-calling and shaky QB play limited the WRs production throughout the ACC schedule. Thomas finished as the leading receiver with 563 yards and 3 touchdowns, although his production tailed off down the stretch. Lawrence Cager was the Canes top redzone target, leading the team with 6 touchdown receptions and ranking second on the team with 374 yards.
Mike Harley came on late as a go to receiver, finishing third on the team with 240 yards. Darrell Langham also helped in the redzone with 3 TDs of his own, including this clutch grab:
There was a huge influx of youth into the WR depth chart coming into the season, with 5 freshman receivers making their way onto the field. Brian Hightower made a quick impact with a 32-yard TD against LSU, but otherwise the freshmen didn’t contribute much, with none cracking 100 yards for the season. That will have to change for all of them next season, as the position was hit hard with attrition. The Canes 4-game skid in the middle of the season took its toll on the team morale, leading to top receiver Jeff Thomas being dismissed from the program before the final game of the season. Following Miami’s loss in the Pinstripe Bowl, Lawrence Cager decided to transfer for his final season of eligibility. Darrell Langham just completed his senior season, meaning the Canes will enter 2019 without 3 of their top 4 receivers from the year prior.
The coaching staff has taken steps to reload at WR this offseason, by signing 4-star recruit Jeremiah Payton in the early signing period, and bringing in grad-transfer KJ Osborn from the University of Buffalo.
The Canes fielded a passing attack in 2018 that ranked 113th in the country. Hopefully, in 2019 this group can make positive strides with a new offense, improved play at the QB position and better playcalling.