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Miami Hurricanes 2021 Spring Position Preview: Wide Receivers

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In Their Second Year With Rhett Lashlee, Rob Likens, and D’Eriq King, Miami’s Mike Harley-Led Wide Receiving Group is in Need of Consistency Across the Depth Chart

Miami will continue wide receiver competition, wants to see linebackers cut it loose Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Last year, the Miami Hurricanes wide receiving corps had its fair share of ups and downs and was in dire need of a breakout leader. And after coach Manny Diaz called for an open competition, it was Senior, Mike Harley, who answered the call as the team’s most productive target. However, after the season ended, many suspected the dedicated Hurricane, Harley, had played his last snap in the orange and green. Thus, it came as a pleasant surprise to the Canes’ faithful when the heart and soul of the 2020 wide receiver group announced that he would be partaking in the #RunItBack campaign and return for an additional season.

While Harley has proven to be the on and off-field anchor of this unit, Miami once again proved to be TransferPortalU as they secured one of the most prized transfer wideouts in Oklahoma’s Charleston Rambo. The dynamic duo of Harley and Rambo not only should conjure up some badass nicknames, but also could result in one of the most formidable tandems in college football that will be fun to monitor throughout spring practices.

After Harley and Rambo, Miami returns immense depth at the position as 12 Canes make up the receiver depth chart. This is a stark contrast from previous year’s turnover as Miami has seen the likes of K.J. Osborn, Jeff Thomas, Brian Hightower, Darrell Langham, Lawrence Cager, Ahmonn Richards, and Braxton Berrios depart in the past three seasons.

The depth will be key in the second year under the tutelage Rhett Lashlee’s uptempo spread offense as the Canes will harp on distribution - aka spread - of the numerous weapons. That important factor in Lashlee’s offense, as well as another year of working with 2020 additions QB D’Eriq King and wide receiver coach Rob Likens, bodes well for a group that includes several players who are on the cusp of breaking out. That is, of course, if the collective unit can address the elephant in the room that plagued the position throughout the season which was too many dropped passes.

Despite not having the opportunity to work more with King next week in spring camp as he recovers from a knee injury, nine of the 12 options will be checking in and besides Harley and the prospect of Rambo, there is no proven star. Lastly, according to 247Sports, none of the three freshman have enrolled early so Rambo will be the only new addition in early action.

Meet the 2021 Spring WR Class:

Mike Harley: 5’11”, 180 (2020 Stats - 11 Games Played, 57 Receptions, 799 Yards, 7 TDs) Mike Harley will the most productive returning WR for the second year in a row as he heads into his super-Senior season. Back in December, and in light of Harley’s possible departure, I wrote about how the slot receiver spearheaded the cultural transformation with his “make-it attitude” and constantly being a leader by stepping up on-and-off the field.

This past year, the 5’11”, 180lb slot target took the initiative with a monster 10-reception, 170-yard, 1 TD performance just a week after coach Diaz called for the open competition. His leadership and passion out of the slot has evoked comparisons to Canes’ legend Braxton Berrios and WR K.J. Osborn. At this point, Harley has an opportunity to re-write the record books at Miami and set himself up as a top tier slot receiving target in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The likelihood of an even more consistent breakout campaign from Harley is elevated with another year of working with Lashlee, who has been incredibly effective at getting the most out of his receivers by assimilating them into the offense, especially out of the slot. The most recent example of this is Baltimore Ravens rookie WR, James Proche. The fun to watch slot receiver with reliable hands, Proche, was the highlight of the SMU offense by collecting 93 receptions and 111 receptions in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, respectively, the years he worked directly with Lashlee.

For a direct comparison of Lashlee’s impact, Proche only garnered 40 receptions in 2017 and 57 receptions in 2016, the years prior to Lashlee’s SMU arrival.

As to his pure slot receiving capabilities, Coach Likens has described Harley as “courageous across the middle. He’s not afraid and that’s what you need with some guys that are going to play in the inside.” This trait was definitely displayed on a game-winning catch and run TD against NC State.

In order to boost his draft capital and despite a muffed punt in the Cheez-It Bowl, Harley may be given the opportunity to serve as kick returner and/or punt returner.

Charleston Rambo: 6’1” 175 (2020 Stats - 9 Games Played, 25 Receptions, 312 Yards, 3 TDs) Rambo’s 2020 stats were underwhelming in an Oklahoma offense that featured breakout seasons from a true freshman (Marvin Mims) and sophomore (Theo Wease). However, the upside of Rambo in Miami’s formation is extremely promising as the wideout delivered during a productive Sophomore season that included 43 receptions, 743 yards, and 5 TDs.

That big play capability of 17.3 yards per catch could be a much needed lift for Miami signal callers who often sought the deep ball but would fall up short due to the repeated drop passes or incomplete passes in coverage. Rambo, on the other hand, has great ball-tracking ability, as well as size and length, and exhibits downfield speed. All of which are exemplary traits for an elite deep threat target with a large catch radius. Miami’s wide receiver need to improve in 1-on-1 matchups, especially on the outside.

While Lashlee often mixes in a vast array of targets in the spread formation, Wide Receiver Coach, Rob Likens, has routinely produced consistent downfield threats which help optimize his WRs. N’Keal Harry and Brandon Aiyuk were drafted in the first round of the 2019 and 2020 NFL drafts, respectively, out of ASU where Likens coached. Both Harry and Aiyuk displayed strengths as possession receivers. Notably, Aiyuk never dropped a deep pass of 20+ yards in his career at ASU and averaged 18.3 yards a catch in 2019. Miami could use someone who assists with limiting pass drops, an issue that was very prominent this past year.

Even more, according to Pro Football Focus, no quarterback in the ACC attempted more deep throws of 20 yards more in 2020 than King’s 68. However, his adjusted completion percentage among the 22 quarterbacks with at least 10 throws 20 yards downfield or longer ranked 17th (33.8%).

Mark Pope: 6’1”, 172 (2020 Stats - 10 Games Played, 33 Receptions, 403 Yards, 2 TDs, 5 Kick Returns, 111 Yards) The last memory of Pope is unfortunately a catchable deep pass along the sideline during crunch time that very well could have helped Miami seal a Cheez-It Bowl victory. Pope indubitably was hard on himself as Oklahoma State got the ball back as he walked over behind the medical tent, tossed his helmet, and slumped against the wall, likely rehashing the play in his head.

Based on that flashback, the uber-athletic and former five-star recruit should have all the motivation he needs to seize the opportunity and realize his potential on the field in a collegiate career that has been underwhelming to date. He did improve on getting himself open and creating separation in 2020, as well as some acrobatic catches, but he needs to be more sure-handed in order to take the leap.

To that end, Pope could complement the slot receiver, Harley, and deep threat, Rambo, by filling in as the trusted target on intermediate-to-deep passes. However, if he comes out flat in multi-receiver sets and the drop woes continue, then the coaches may begin to assimilate the younger options into the mix.

Daquiris “Dee” Wiggins: 6’3”, 195 (2020 Stats - 10 Games Played, 31 Receptions, 358 Yards, 3 TDs) In that Cheez-It Bowl, Pope’s high school teammate, Wiggins, also dropped two key passes that could have changed the outcome. In fact, according to David Lake of Inside the U, “Pro Football Focus credited Wiggins with dropping six catchable passes in 2020 and drop percentage rate (the percent of drops against catchable passes) was second-worst among ACC receivers that were targeted.”

Similar to Rambo, Wiggins could be relied upon as another option to stretch the field due to his big frame and flashy speed so long as he becomes more sure-handed. Despite underwhelming stats, Wiggins has shown flashes of brilliance in the past two seasons.

In 2019, he strung together back-to-back weeks against Florida State and Louisville where he collected a combined 7 receptions, for 169 yards, and 3 TDs. In those games, Wiggins had a 56-yard TD against FSU and a 67-yard TD against Louisville. Similarly, in 2020, Wiggins tallied a combined 15 receptions, for 183 yards, and 1 TD in back-to-back weeks against NC State and Virginia Tech - nearly half of his production on the season.

The biggest target in Miami’s wide receiver arsenal should be the other candidate besides Rambo capable of taking the top off the defense if he can remain reliable for a full season.

Jeremiah Payton: 6’1”, 195 (2020 Stats - 4 Games Played, 5 Receptions, 35 Yards) This is a make-it or break-it year for 247Sports’ number 54 overall recruit in 2019. Payton’s untapped strengths include his ability as a capable route-runner and as a long, rangy target with good ball skills. Despite focusing on gaining weight last offseason, none of the potential was realized in 2020. At this point, Payton is looking to breakthrough but needs to prove he can be reliable in five-receiver sets, at a minimum.

Michael Redding III: 6’2”, 202 (2020 Stats - 2 Games Played, 3 Receptions, 19 Yards, 1 TD) Beyond Wiggins, Redding III is another bid-bodied receiver who could be used as a red zone threat, contested catch specialist, or on short passing downs for screen passes that require powering through for a few yards. Redding III offers a different dimension than the aforementioned targets as a nice addition on short jump balls and an offensive bruiser that can play punisher on undersized CBs. Redding did not get much action in 2020 but made the most of it especially in mop up duty, which included a TD vs FSU.

Xavier Restrepo: 5’10”, 196 (2020 Stats - 4 Games Played, 1 Reception, 12 Yards, 3 Punt Returns, 9 Yards) The X-Man has mostly been a Greentree hero to date but could definitely carve out a niche as a hard-working player who loves doing the dirty work, including fielding punt returns. The Deerfield Beach product may be able to display an ability to get it done as a gadget-type slot receiver option on short passes across the middle or sweeps in the backfield. Restrepo has been highly praised as a young leader and tough competitor and could provide some relief for Harley on occasion.

Keyshawn Smith: 5’11”, 180 (2020 Stats - 2 Games Played, 2 Receptions, 58 Yards) Likens has said Smith has elite speed and could really factor into playing time down the road. Even more, Likens says he sees an extremely bright future once Smith becomes “assignment-sound.” This may be reading between the lines, but Smith could benefit exponentially from a normal offseason. If he is ready, he could be primed to take on the deep threat role if Wiggins’ 2020 qualms carry him into this season. Smith most notably has the capability to break plays open on deep patterns and on simple screen passes.

Dazalin Worsham: 6’1”, 175 (2020 Stats - 0 Games Played) Daz is another second year guy who could benefit from a normal offseason to develop and put on some weight after coming off a hip injury prior to his arrival in Miami. The Alabama native shows some quickness and an ability to operate out of various routes with reliable hands. And after Alabama’s DeVonta Smith put up Heisman numbers, it is certainly premature to rule out sinewy receivers such as Worsham.

For the 2021 season, the nine spring practice participants will likely sufficiently round out the wide receiver depth chart. That means, even though the Canes welcome three promising freshman receivers who rank 144th, 173rd, and 217th nationally according to 247Sports, the summer arrivals of Romello Brinson, Jacolby George, and Brashard Smith, could redshirt this year.

Way-Too-Early Projected Depth Chart:

Wide Receiver 1: Charleston Rambo | Dee Wiggins | Michael Redding III
Wide Receiver 2: Mark Pope | Keyshawn Smith | Jeremiah Payton | Dazalin Worsham
Slot Receiver: Mike Harley | Xavier Restrepo
Redshirt: Romello Brinson, Jacolby George, Brashard Smith

As mentioned above, Harley and Rambo offer immense promise as a dynamic duo. However, after that, the other outside receiver is completely up for grabs and could be configured on a rotational basis that utilizes numerous targets in the spread formation. Pope, Payton, and Wiggins have left a lot to be desired to this point and may result in leaving the door open to opportunities for wideouts Michael Redding III and/or Keyshawn Smith, so long as they can make the leap in year two.

The big name receivers such as Harley and Rambo come with the territory of operating a successful offense. However, the ability to successfully distribute production is equally important, especially with Miami who has a deep wide receiving corps. This component should be no issue for Likens who is used to rotating many receivers and has played up to 10 receivers in a game.

Again, this will benefit a Canes WR group that does not necessarily have a clear cut star after the potential of Harley and Rambo, but should have a wealth of quality options.

Another thing to monitor in spring practices is how the receivers operate with more traditional pocket passing QBs such as Tyler Van Dyke, Jake Garcia, and Peyton Matocha, as King continues to rehab his knee. That is, King has successfully operated an Air Raid system in a spread system due to his capabilities as a dual-threat QB, so there may be an adjustment phase for the group, especially Rambo, depending on the timeline for the King’s return.

Regardless, like the invisible hand and similar to the open competition in the second half of 2020, it will be exciting to see who separates from the bunch by putting in the work and rises to the top.

According to the leader-of-the-group, Harley recently said “they’re hungry,” when referring Miami’s young wide receivers. “I talk to our offensive coaches and told them that everyone should have a fair chance. That’s what the coaches say they’re going to do, starting this offseason when we’re in the weight room pushing. Then, when we get to the spring, it’s going to speak for itself.”

Poll

Beyond Mike Harley and Charleston Rambo, Who Will Emerge As The Hurricanes Next Most Productive Wide Receiver?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Mark Pope
    (77 votes)
  • 4%
    Dee Wiggins
    (33 votes)
  • 7%
    Jeremiah Payton
    (51 votes)
  • 43%
    Keyshawn Smith
    (299 votes)
  • 4%
    Michael Redding III
    (33 votes)
  • 21%
    Xavier Restrepo
    (147 votes)
  • 6%
    Dante Johnson
    (45 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (1 vote)
686 votes total Vote Now