The Canes’ wide receivers group is going to be a mix of talented vets and young potential. One of those young talents is freshman and second-year player Keyshawn Smith. And while he’s been a huge help off the field in the past few months (Trequon Fegans said he built a bond with him), he’s also been turning heads during the spring game and beyond. With the inconsistency of Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins in 2020, a playmaker like Smith seems to have found an avenue to push for snaps and for Miami’s starting slot.
It’s the 6-foot-1, 184-pound speedster’s (clocked 22 mph in practice) time to shine and to use his athleticism, smoothness, and reliable hands to crack into the rotation.
An ESPN and Rivals three-star prospect from San Diego, California, Smith was the 78th ranked prospect coming out of the state. A prospect known for his speed and return ability, he chose Miami over the Boise State Broncos, Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, San Diego State Aztecs, Tennessee Volunteers, Washington State Cougars, and others.
In his first season, Smith laced up his cleats for eight games. By the time the 2020 season concluded, he totaled 58 yards and two receptions. A good chunk of that yardage came on a 42-yard bomb against the Clemson Tigers. His second catch, a 16-yarder against the Pittsburgh Panthers, came in a 31-19 blowout.
Smith played only 106 offensive snaps but, according to PFF and probably because of the snap differential, was able to grade higher than Mark Pope and Dee Wiggins.
Smith was a standout in the spring game. He pulled down three receptions, for 63 yards, and two touchdowns. He showed off his short-area quickness on the first score and his ability to make people miss. QB Ryan Rizk hit him on a deep ball in the next one.
The Hurricanes have a lot of young talent like Jeremiah Payton, Xavier Restrepo, and Keyshawn Smith pushing for playing time. Talented freshmen Romello Brinson and Brashard Smith have also been added to the roster. But Restrepo and Smith seem to be the clear-cut favorites to battle it out for the third wideout spot behind Rambo and Harley.
QB D’Eriq King even noted the depth at WR during ACC media day, “We have a really good receiving corps this year. We have a lot of young guys that didn’t play a lot last year and they were able to develop in the spring. We have a lot of guys coming back and adding Charleston Rambo will be big. It is time for us to have a really good year.”
Coach Manny Diaz also noted Smith’s development during the spring.
“He can run really fast, and he has a knack for coming up with the football when it’s thrown to him...Made a really nice play deep down the field...Even in the bowl game, he made a very difficult catch out of bounds. He’s got a little bit of that confidence in him that, when the ball is in the air, it’s his.”
The bottom line is that Smith plays down the field. The deep-threat has shown a knack to flat out fly and flat-out outrun defenders since high school. Already possessing the speed, Smith needs to develop his prowess to excel in underneath routes and his strength. If he’s able to develop his short route-running and releases, he could be a terror.
The offense averaged 73 plays per game in 2020. With a second year in the scheme and a growing comfortability with it, that number can increase. And with the high tempo, Harley and Rambo will not be in for every snap. A fast-paced offense like Miami’s needs at least six WRs or more that they can depend on. The top two are set. There’s plenty of opportunities for Smith to emerge.
Who do you think will be the starting slot when Miami takes on Alabama?
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