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2019 Hurricanes Position Preview: Wide Receiver

Coach Taylor Stubblefield has one of the most talented position groups to lead heading into the 2019 season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Florida State at Miami
Jeff Thomas seems poised to be one of the top receivers in the ACC in 2019, while Mike Harley hopes to build on the accomplishments of his first two seasons in green and orange.
Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In 2019 Miami should boast some of the best skill position talent in the country, and the wide receivers room is no exception. However, while this position room has talent, it will need to find production that the 2018 Wide Receivers didn’t. There’s no doubt that an improvement in quarterback play would help this group out, but drops and mental mistakes left yards on the table for what was already a struggling offense last season.

Key Departures

The Hurricanes don’t lose that much production coming into 2019, but the biggest departure is undoubtedly the loss of Lawrence Cager, who transferred and decided to play for the Georgia Bulldogs after the end of the season. Cager was a red zone threat for Miami and had 21 receptions for 374 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2018. The Hurricanes might turn to the tight ends room to fulfill Cager’s role this season.

Marquez Ezzard also decided to transfer following the 2018 season, heading back to his home state of Georgia to play for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Ezzard didn’t see much action in his first season at Miami, only logging two receptions in three games. He came in with a talented receiving class, and transferring to Georgia Tech should let him see the field more often as the Yellow Jackets transition from the triple-option to a more conventional offense.

Darrell Langham is another notable departure. Langham became a Miami sports legend after two consecutive game-winning catches in back-to-back weeks in 2017, but struggled to see the field in 2018. For Miami, replacing Langham will be much like replacing Lawrence Cager. Both receivers played a physical game, using their height to their advantage.

The Newcomers

K.J. Osborn transferred into the University of Miami after a standout season at Buffalo in 2018. Some were skeptical of Osborn’s ability to adapt to the higher level of competition at Miami. However, he showed what he could do during the Spring Game at Camping World Stadium, ripping off an 80 yard touchdown on a throw from Tate Martell. Osborn had a fantastic season at Buffalo in 2018, catching 53 passes for 892 yards and seven scores.

Additionally, Osborn has become a leader for the entire position room, displaying a work ethic that has consistently impressed the coaching staff. Coach Diaz even brought the newcomer to ACC Kickoff, despite the fact that Osborn has only been in the program for about five and a half months.

Another newcomer who could make an immediate impact is Jeremiah Payton. The freshman enrolled in the spring and impressed the coaching staff and everyone around the program with how quickly he picked up the offense and his playmaking ability. The biggest challenge for Payton to overcome could be the experience and talent ahead of him on the roster, which could limit how much he sees the field. However, some have said that Payton has the talent to break Ahmmon Richards’ freshman receiving record.

2019 Outlook

The Starters

  • K.J. Osborn
  • Jeff Thomas
  • Brian Hightower

K.J. Osborn and Jeff Thomas will almost certainly start August 24th against Florida barring injuries in fall practice. Osborn and Thomas are a 1A and 1B pairing and are two of the best wide receivers in the ACC and the country.

However, after those two at the top of the depth chart things get considerably less clear. Dan Enos has already said, and shown in his years at Arkansas, that he tends to go with the hot hand, whether that be in the backfield or at wide receiver. For August 24th the third starter will come down to whoever has the best fall camp. Brian Hightower showed flashes of immense potential in 2018, including a spectacular catch against LSU in the first game of the season. Later in the year Hightower had a few injury issues that pushed him down the depth chart, but his penchant for making tough catches and 6-3 frame could push him into a starting role for a ‘Canes team looking to replace height at the wide receiver position.

The Backups

  • Mike Harley
  • Dee Wiggins
  • Mark Pope
  • Jeremiah Payton
  • Evidence Njoku

All of the players listed above should receive playing time at receiver in 2019, and all of them could start at some point throughout the season. Mike Harley has the most experience in this group and should thrive in Dan Enos’ movement-heavy modern offense. Dee Wiggins and Mark Pope each had their fair share of struggles during their freshman seasons. Wiggins struggled with drops throughout the season, something he’ll have to clean up in 2019. While Pope reportedly had issues learning the offense last year, which resulted in him having a freshman season that didn’t live up to the hype of his five-star recruiting ranking . Pope took responsibility for not knowing the playbook, and he’ll have a fresh start with a new staff and new scheme in 2019.

Jeremiah Payton has as much talent as anyone on the roster, but he faces an uphill battle as a freshman with so much talent in front of him. The biggest key for him will be taking advantage of opportunities early in the season that could bring an increase in playing time later in the year. Meanwhile, Evidence Njoku remains a physical beast at 6-6 and will have to separate himself from the rest of the receiving corps by using his height. He could play a crucial role in goal-line situations this season.

Wide Receiver should be one of the Hurricanes strongest positions in 2019. There is talent and depth throughout this group, and each player in this position room has the capability to change the game when they get their hands on the ball. If Taylor Stubblefield and Dan Enos can eliminate the mental mistakes this group had last season, the ‘Canes pass-catchers could be in for a fantastic year.