Just three years ago, a highly-touted receiver out of Wellington spurned the Alabama Crimson Tide in favor for the Miami Hurricanes. Ahmmon Richards, who had decommitted from the Hurricanes after the firing of Al Golden, was sought out by Nick Saban himself and, unlike many local star receivers such as Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, and Jerry Jeudy, decided to stay home and play for his home town team.
And the results of that decision immediately paid dividends for Miami. Richards’ 934 receiving yards not only led the 2016 Hurricanes, but were enough to brake Michael Irvin’s record for receiving yards by a freshman — which stood for 31 years.
His 19.1 yards per catch also led the team and his 49 catches were the second most amongst receivers.
Fast-forward to today and the possibility of a freshman receiver making a similar impact isn’t insane to imagine. Jeremiah Payton showed flashes of greatness throughout the spring although he needed to be individually coached up at times during practice.
To me that just shows that Miami offensive coordinator Dan Enos realizes his potential and working with him directly is a reflection of how highly he thinks of the young pass catcher. But Payton impressed fans this spring, totaling 6 catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns in the two open scrimmages.
Especially with the way receivers struggled to catch the ball a year ago, it would not surprise me at all to see Payton take that step forward and start taking people’s positions. It also doesn't hurt that Enos and wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield saw all the receivers for the first time this spring, allowing Payton to make his first impressions at the same time as every other receiver on the roster. There were no pre-conceived notions about any of the guys and the fresh slate across the board benefitted the 17 year-old.
Besides ability, there is a remarkable similarity in size between Richards as a freshman and Payton today. Richards was listed at 6-1 191 pounds on the official 2016 Miami Hurricanes football roster and Payton is currently listed at 6-1 186 pounds. Offseason workouts alone will likely close the five-pound gap between the two, so, physically, they are virtually the clones of one another.
While expecting nearly 1000 yards from Payton is far off, especially considering Jeff Thomas, the Hurricanes top receiver in 2018, had 563 yards, it is not unrealistic to expect a very productive year out of him. He proved how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands all spring despite the Hurricanes having a lot of mouths to feed in this offense.
Tight ends Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory could eat up a lot of yards and catches this year and the graduate transfer K.J. Osborn may lead the team in receptions and Thomas in yards, but that only leaves a hungry and capable Jeremiah Payton waiting for the defense to overlook him, allowing him to do what he does.
It may not be Richards-esque, but a strong freshman year is on the horizon for the young number 12.