2019 Spring Preview: WR

2019 Spring Preview: WR

Cory Grimes
Additions: KJ Osborn (Buffalo Transfer), Jeremiah Payton (2019 signee)

Departures: Lawrence Cager (Transfer to UGA), Marquez Ezzard (Transfer to Ga. Tech) Darrell Langham (Graduation), Ahmmon Richards (Injury)

The entire Miami wide receiver group amassed a total of 106 catches, 1,519 yards, and 13 TD’s in 2018. Just for perspective, Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb racked up 140 catches 2,476 yards and 21 TD’s between the 2 of them. Just in case you didn’t get the point, the country’s leading receiver, UMass’ Andy Isabella, reeled in 102 catches for 1698 yards and 13 TD’s by his lonesome. Playmakers on the outside are never lacking on Greentree, but this group left much to be desired in 2018. Much of that can be attributed to a completely inept offense that showed minimal effort to fully utilize more than capable talent, a lack of continuity at the QB position and certainly some youth. The group was handcuffed in many ways. And of course, events like the unfortunate injury to Ahmmon Richards and the late season departure of Jeff Thomas didn’t help the group’s cause either. There may not have been any collection of receivers in America that would have been able to flourish under the given circumstances. With a new OC, a new WR coach and the birth of “The New Miami”, there might not be any other position group that will be more rejuvenated by a fresh start than this WR unit.

There’s no denying that new WR coach Taylor Stubblefield inherited a load of talent in the WR room in his move to Miami. Stubblefield is a guy who many have referred to as a technician, not only as a coach but also in his playing days as a record setting receiver at Purdue. He’s a coach that is going to enhance the receivers’ focus on the intricacies of route running and the art of getting open. Combine that with Dan Enos’ complex and multiple offensive schemes, the receivers will certainly have a lot to wrap their head around this spring. If it all comes together, it could mean unlocking the full potential of this crew of pass catchers.

In a whirlwind of offseason events since Mark Richt’s exit, one of the biggest moves was getting Jeff Thomas to return to Miami after a short hiatus. Despite missing the last 2 games in 2018, Thomas is the leader in catches, yards and TD’s among all returning receivers. Jeff is not only the top returning playmaker on the outside, but he is now one of the elder statesmen in the room and will have to be more of a leader going into his 3rd and possibly final year at Miami. Thomas’ skillset is an offensive coordinator’s dream. Despite being 5’10”, JT can play inside or out effectively. He’s a guy that can score from anywhere on the field, and showed time and time again that he’s not afraid to go into traffic and make contested catches. Dan Enos’ ought to have some fun this spring finding different ways to get Jeff Thomas the ball.

Mike Harley pulled in 21 catches for 240 yards in 2018 making him the second leading receiver out of all the guys who returned. While he did make noticeable improvement from his freshman campaign, it seems that Harley still has more to offer if he can put the pieces together. He is considered by many as one of the fastest guys on the team, but it hasn’t always translated to the field. It will be interesting to see what Harley’s time with coach Stubblefield does for his overall development. Beyond that, Harley appears to be a great locker room presence with tons of energy and will also look to be one of the leaders in this WR room in his junior campaign.

Other than Jeff Thomas, the only other returning Miami receiver that saw the endzone in 2018 was Brian Hightower. That was in the first game against LSU, and it had many thinking Hightower was poised for a breakout Freshman season. Things cooled off for Hightower, as he finished the year with only 4 catches, 60 yards and the lone TD. At 6’3” 210 pounds and the ability to run all the routes in the route tree, Brian Hightower has all the makings of being a #1 option on the outside. His role should increase tenfold going into spring practice. It will be intriguing to see if Hightower is ready to emerge as one of this offense’s go-to targets in 2019.

One of the biggest surprises among the WR’s in 2018 was that Dee Wiggins saw more playing time than his Miami Southridge teammate and 5-star prospect, Mark Pope. Wiggins saw action in every game and started 3 of them. He ended the year with 7 catches for 73 yards. He struggled with drops towards the end of the year, but the reason he was able to find the field so often was because of his physical presence as a blocker. Effort will never be an issue with Dee Wiggins. The guy goes all out, all the time. Wiggins’ development towards being a more all-around receiver is something to keep an eye on as spring practice begins.

The aforementioned Mark Pope was the most highly touted of the freshman WR trio last year (Hightower, Wiggins, Pope), but he didn’t get to showcase his talents much in 2018. He saw action in 9 games and caught just 1 ball for 11 yards on the year. Many people expect guys like Pope to come in as a freshman and pick up where they left off in High school, but that’s just not always realistic. Pope just wasn’t quite ready physically or mentally to really make an impact. A year in the weight room will have certainly done him justice. He still has an elite route running skillset with his ability to effortlessly change speeds and a great set of hands. Many people are looking for Pope to make a huge jump in development in round 2. Something to keep an eye on this spring is how Enos and Stubblefield plan to deploy Pope, whether it’s mostly in the slot or on the outside.

Evidence Njoku is the guy that often seems to get forgotten in this bunch. In his redshirt freshman year, played in 8 games and also had just 1 catch for 11 yards. At 6’6” 225, he’s a physical specimen. If he can figure it all out, it could be a huge bonus for this offense.

The portal brought Miami many gift’s this offseason. One of the most important being former Buffalo WR K.J. Osborn. The 2nd team all-MAC player finished 2018 with 53 catches, 892 yards and 7 TD’s. In his short time at Miami, his work ethic and leadership has already been praised by players and staff. He immediately gives the offense a boost with his experience and production. At 6’0” 200 pounds, he can also run any route and is effective after the catch. Expect Osborn to be an integral part of this offense from day 1 of spring practice.

Early enrollee WR Jeremiah Payton was Miami’s highest rated recruit and the only WR in the entire 2019 class. His work ethic and maturity has also already been noticed by the locker room in his early time on campus. He is one of those rare wide receivers that is just physical by nature. Combine that with his 6’1” around 190-pound frame, he appears physically ready to make an immediate impact. It will be exciting to see how fast he grasps the new offense. Good thing for him, it is new to everyone. He’s at a level playing field in that department. Payton will have a great opportunity to earn early playing time this year.

Finally, former walk-on WR Marshall Few was recently awarded a scholarship by Manny Diaz. He saw action in a few games in his sophomore year, mostly on special teams. Few will likely be seen on special teams as well in 2019.

Bottom Line

When I look at this Miami receiver group, I see a bunch of caged dogs ready to cut loose. Dan Enos is the man with the key. Enos says he puts an emphasis on specific players when creating his schemes. Getting guys in the best position to be successful. That’s something that was not done for these guys with the previous regime. Jeff Thomas is one of the most explosive players in the whole country, but can he now have the kind of production to match his talent? Can guys like Mark Pope and Brian Hightower take that next step in their development? Can K.J. Osborn pick up where he left off at Buffalo? The answers to these questions are predicated on Dan Enos’ being able to unlock that cage with his offensive scheme. Of course, finding an answer at the QB position will help the WR's a ton as well. This group has the talent, but that means nothing without production. With the help of Stubblefield, Dan Enos’ quest to turn this WR unit into one of the most productive in the ACC, if not the entire country, begins this spring.

Comments (21)

Talented group. I see JT4, Hightower, and Osborn having solid to big years between those 3. Based on the hype around Pope I hope he performs this year or I think he'll transfer out after the season. If Njoku stays healthy he'll be a redzone nightmare. Hartley is forgotten at times and I fear it will happen again this season. It sucks because he seems to bleed orange & green. We have a talented WR room that needs to develop and they will benefit from the new offensive playbook and better QB play.
Osborn, Thomas, Pope || Jordan/Mallory || Lingard/Davis/Dallas

Njoku, Hightower, Wiggins

Harley, Payton
Any chance evidence njoku switches positions to TE like his brother and bulks up some to reach his potential?
Great post @Cory Grimes. The WR group as a whole is loaded. Excited to see some of our young studs take the next step.
Any chance evidence njoku switches positions to TE like his brother and bulks up some to reach his potential?

Looks pretty thin to me. He doesn't have the bulk that his brother has. Longer and leaner.
Good write up. This group has all of the talent and power in their hands to prove what happened last season was a complete and utter anomaly under Richt’s direction. I’m looking forward to this group exceeding expectations and rising up to the challenge. I think they’re going to surprise with Stubbs as their coach. It would be wonderful to see JT drop 80-100 receptions, 900-1,000yds, and 7-8TD’s. That’s his potential in Enos’ offense. Then utilizing Osborne similarly to how his was at Buffalo and we’ve got the makings of the top ACC WR tandem.
Any chance evidence njoku switches positions to TE like his brother and bulks up some to reach his potential?
Just as much chance as Michael Irvin Jr slimming down and moving to WR.
I got a good feeling about Payton and I got a bad feeling about pope.
Idk why so many people are saying they have a bad feeling about Pope. He is an elite weapon who we can use in multiple ways and he’s one of the guys that you draw up plays for. It’s not his fault the previous WR coach made run blocking his primary focus.
Thomas is the only sure thing. Change my mind.