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Perfect Position Room: Wide Receiver

Who are some of the greatest pass catchers in Miami history? Here’s one opinion.

Old Town Canes: Miami’s “Ruthless Posse” of wide outs (L-R): Darryl Spencer, Lamar Thomas, Horace Copeland and Kevin Willliams.
Facebook-Ghosts of the Orange Bowl

From exposing the archaic schemes of the Nebraskas and Oklahomas of the world to directly challenging the status quo, the University of Miami has spearheaded the modernization of college football for the better part of the past four decades.

Howard Schnellenberger brought his pioneering pro-style attack from the NFL in 1979. Later, Jimmy Johnson’s 4-3 defense provided the blueprint for disruptive D-lines at every level while Dennis Erickson’s avant-garde one-back offense helped win two national championships in three seasons. More recently, first-year offensive coordinator Dan Enos is attempting to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors by reigniting a stagnant offense with the implementation of his “Spread Coast” system. And while the Hurricanes’ past success earned them the moniker of “Quarterback U,” it was wide receiver units known as the “Ruthless Posse” or flankers nicknamed “The Playmaker” that helped transform quarterbacks like Gino Torretta and Vinny Testaverde into the Heisman Trophy-winning legends of today.

The University of Miami has had its fair share of national award winners on both sides of the ball, but one award that has eluded the Canes is the Fred Biletnikoff Award – given annually to the nation’s top wide receiver. And despite churning out 29 NFL draft picks from among its receiver ranks since 1975, Miami has only produced four 1,000-yard pass catchers in its history, with three of those coming in the last 17 years. And just in case you’re wondering, all four of the 1,000-yard receivers made this list.

The fact that Hurricanes rarely go for 1,000 receiving yards is a testament to the balance of the position room. During Miami’s glory days of 1983-2001, only one player hauled in 1,000-plus yards in a season despite its quarterbacks breaking records and piling up the accolades. While no Miami receiver has ever hoisted a national award, eight have been taken in the first round since 1985. Of the eight first-rounders – seven made this list. The only exception being Yatil Green, who finished with 84 catches, 1,477 yards and 10 touchdowns in three seasons. Despite putting up solid stats at Miami, the Gainesville speedster was expected to do even bigger things for the Dolphins, but 10 knee surgeries limited Green to only 18 catches in the NFL.

When a first-round draft pick is left out, you know this is one deep position room. As for my group, I’ll take these dozen guys and put them up against any skill group from any college across the country.

Let’s begin with the X receivers and work our way across the line of scrimmage.

X RECEIVERS (SPLIT ENDS)

STARTER - Andre Johnson (2000-2002): With the build of a Greek god and the speed and grace of a jaguar, if the perfect wide receiver were created in a lab, the final result would look a lot like Andre Johnson. In 2002, Johnson became the second Hurricane to record 1,000 receiving yards in a single season with 1,092 yards and nine touchdowns on 52 catches. His 21 yards per catch average that season is the highest in school history among players with 40-plus receptions; his 1,831 career yards ranks 10th and his 20 touchdowns remain tied for fourth in program history. As a sophomore in 2001, Johnson hauled in 10 scores – tied for third-most in a season at UM – including two scores and 199 yards in a Rose Bowl victory, earning him Co-MVP honors (Ken Dorsey) while helping Miami win its fifth National Championship. Johnson left after his junior season and was selected third overall by Houston in the 2003 NFL draft, where he was selected to seven Pro Bowls. Already a member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Johnson will become eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2022. And if the **** ever hits the fan, it’s good to have this man on your side. Just ask Cortland Finnegan.

BACKUP – Reggie Wayne (1997-2000): With 173 career grabs, Wayne’s school record has stood for 18-plus seasons since he was taken in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. His 2,510 career receiving yards is second only to teammate Santana Moss. His best season for receptions came as a freshman in 1997 when his 48 grabs broke the Miami freshman record. After racking up 42 and 40 catches, respectively, over the next two seasons, Wayne posted career bests as a senior in 2000 with 755 yards and 10 touchdowns – tied for third-most in a season at Miami. As a member of the Indianapolis Colts, Wayne was a Super Bowl Champion, recording 1,070 catches, 14,345 yards and 82 touchdowns. He will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.

RESERVES – Leonard Hankerson (2007-2010): After seeing limited action in 2007 and 2008, Hankerson burst upon the scene in 2009. Over his first two seasons, Hankerson caught just 17 passes while starting two games each year. He finally broke out in 2009 with 801 yards and six scores on 45 catches. After electing to return for his senior season, Hankerson reeled in a school-record 13 touchdowns to place him third on the school’s career receiving TD list with 22. His 72 catches and 1,156 yards were both school records (the yardage mark has since been broken) and he currently sits sixth in both career yards and career receptions at Miami. He was taken in the third round of the 2011 draft and is currently a receivers coach at Stephen F. Austin University.

Wesley Carroll (1989-1990): Carroll’s 1990 season is still among the best in Miami history. The Ohio native’s 61 catches and 952 yards were second-most at the time and still rank fifth to this day. He remains the only receiver in program history with three 10-catch games (twice in 1990) and the only Cane to record 10 receptions vs FSU (1989). His 208 yards at California in 1990 is the second-highest mark by a Hurricane and one of only three 200-yard performances in school history. In Miami’s 1989 National Championship season, he hauled in an 88-yard touchdown catch from Torretta – a program record at the time, now tied for fourth. After arriving in Coral Gables from Northwest Mississippi Junior College, Carroll was selected in the second round by New Orleans in the 1991 draft.

Horace Copeland (1990-1992): A personal favorite of mine so this selection might be a little biased, but hey, it’s my list (I wore No. 88 in middle school because of this guy). Known for his back-flip touchdown celebrations, “Hi-C” holds the unbreakable Miami record with a 99-yard touchdown catch in the 1991 opener at Arkansas. He also got the better of Florida State’s Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Terrell Buckley on a critical 4th-and-6 comeback route to extend the eventual game-winning drive in Miami’s 17-16 victory (Wide Right I), propelling them to the 1991 National title. A track star at the wide receiver position, Copeland finished his Canes’ career with 84 catches for 1,424 yards and seven scores. His 19.1 YPC in 1991 is still one of the best marks in school history among players with 30-plus catches. A member of Miami’s “Ruthless Posse” receiving corp, Copeland was selected by Tampa Bay in the fourth round of the 1993 draft.

SLOT RECEIVERS

STARTER – Santana Moss (1997-2000): Moss arrived as a track star but walked on to the football team, immediately flashing his “big play” potential and receiving a football scholarship three games into his freshman season. As a sophomore in 1998, Moss caught 30 passes for 631 yards and eight scores. The following year he had 54 receptions for 899 yards and six scores, along with two punt return TDs. In his senior season, Moss had 748 receiving yards and five scores while taking four punts to the house while averaging 18.2 yards a return. His 2,546 career receiving yards is the most-ever at Miami and his 143 catches are tied for fourth-best in school history. Meanwhile, his 17.8 career YPC average is the highest among Hurricane receivers with 100-plus catches. Moss’ six career punt return touchdowns is a school record and his 4,394 all-purpose yards is now second to Duke Johnson. He was the 16th pick in the 2001 draft and finished his career with 66 touchdown catches and three punt return scores. He also tallied 10,283 receiving yards on 732 receptions with the Jets and Redskins.

BACKUP – Phillip Dorsett (2011-2014): The last Hurricane wideout taken in the first round (2015), Dorsett’s 2,132 career yards are eighth-most at Miami. If not for an injury that cost him half of the 2013 season, he might have left as the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards. As a sophomore in 2012, he hauled in 58 catches – eighth-most in a season at UM. Dorsett rebounded from his injury with 871 yards as a senior in 2014 – eighth-most in school history. His 12-reception game vs USF in 2012 is tops among Miami receivers (tied with tight end Willie Smith for the school record) and his 201 yards vs Arkansas St. in 2015 are the third-most in school history. One of the fastest to ever wear the Orange and Green, Dorsett clocked in at 4.26 seconds in the 40-yard dash during his Pro Day in the spring of 2015. A first-round pick of Indianapolis and a Super Bowl LIII Champion with the Patriots, Dorsett currently has 95 catches, 1,237 yards and six touchdowns on his pro resume.

RESERVE – Randal Hill (1987-1990): Another first-round draft pick, Randal “Thrill” Hill arrived at (and left) the University of Miami with “guns-a-blazing.” As a true freshman on the 1987 National Championship squad, Hill set a program record (now 10th) for kickoff return yardage with 497 yards on just 19 returns. As a senior, he went out on the business end of a 48-yard touchdown pass in the Cotton Bowl, resulting in one of the most memorable touchdown celebrations in Hurricanes’ history (see below). He left Miami among the top-10 in career receptions, career receiving yards and career touchdown catches. He was the 23rd overall pick by the Dolphins, finishing his NFL career with 14 touchdowns, 262 catches and 3,849 yards in seven seasons.

Z RECEIVERS (FLANKERS)

STARTER – Michael Irvin (1985-1987): The “Playmaker” is still the greatest to ever man the wideout position at The U. A Freshman All-American in 1985, an All-American in 1986 and a second-team All-American and National champ in 1987, Irvin left Miami near the top in almost every pass-catching category in the school’s record books. His 26 career touchdowns is still a Miami record; his 2,423 yards (now third) was a record, as was his 143 receptions (now tied for fourth). Irvin’s 868 yards in 1986 were second (now ninth) and his 11 touchdowns were first (now second). As a redshirt-freshman in 1985, his nine touchdowns were tied for first (now tied for seventh) and his 840 receiving yards were a Miami freshman record that stood until 2016 (Ahmmon Richards). The 11th overall pick in the 1988 draft, Irvin won three Super Bowl titles with Dallas and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

BACKUP – Eddie Brown (1982-1984): The first 1,000-yard receiver at Miami with 1,114 yards on 59 catches in 1984, Brown’s 220 yards vs Boston College (“Hail Flutie” game) remains the Hurricane standard for single-game excellence. The 220-yard performance is a school record that has stood the test of time; his 1,114-yard campaign remains the third most in school history and his 59 catches are seventh-most – fifth among wideouts. A National Champion in 1983, he was drafted 13th overall in the 1985 NFL Draft (three picks ahead of Jerry Rice) and played seven seasons in the league (all with Cincinnati), earning ‘85 Rookie of the Year honors and a 1988 Pro Bowl bid after the Bengals reached Super Bowl XXIII. His 1,273 receiving yards in 1988 was a franchise record at the time and his 24 yards per catch average still stands as an NFL single-season record among receivers with 50-plus receptions.

– OR – (I’m choosing all of these guys as my backup, so you can call it a three-way tie.)

Allen Hurns (2010-2013): With 1,162 yards in 2013, Hurns broke the single-season receiving yards record just three years removed from Hankerson’s record year. After compiling 59 catches, 729 yards and eight scores combined through three seasons, Hurns blew up in 2013 with 62 grabs – fourth-most in school history – while piling up his record-setting yardage total and scoring six TDs. His 1,891 career yards rank ninth all-time at Miami and his 121 catches are tied for eighth. After going undrafted in 2014, Hurns has caught 209 passes for 2,964 yards and 23 scores in the NFL.

Miami’s all-time leader in single-season receiving yards is expected to be at full strength this fall after suffering a gruesome ankle injury in January.
John Auerbach/Getty Images

– OR –

Lamar Thomas (1989-1992): Is there a better way to finish off my perfect position room than with the leading receiver from Miami’s “Ruthless Posse” days? Thomas left Miami with a school-record 144 receptions, which has since been surpassed by Wayne and Stacy Coley. His 23 career touchdowns remain second only to Irvin. His 2,271 career yards were also second at the time to Irvin but currently rank fourth. As a sophomore in 1990, Thomas posted career bests with 743 yards and a 17.2 YPC average. His numbers dipped slightly in 1991, but as a senior, No. 36 hauled in career-highs with 47 receptions and 10 touchdowns to go with 701 yards. He was drafted by Tampa Bay in the third round of the 1993 NFL Draft. In six seasons with the Buccaneers and Dolphins, Thomas caught 101 passes for 1,558 yards and 10 scores.

MISSED THE FINAL CUT:

Travis Benjamin, Braxton Berrios, Larry Brodsky, Stacy Coley, Jim Cox, Dale Dawkins, Yatil Green, Devin Hester, Chris T. Jones, Bill Miller, Roscoe Parrish and Kevin Williams.

Who would make the final cut in your position room? Do you agree with these selections, or would you change it up? Tell us in the comments below or reach out on Twitter at @hotrodtodd25.