Miami Hurricanes football: Led by Ahmmon Richards, UM has a receiving corps to be proud of

The Hurricanes are back on Greentree on Aug. 1. Let’s go position-by-position and tell you what we know, what we don’t know, and what we want to learn this month. 

2017 Miami Hurricanes Camp Preview Series
QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB | ST

Things are starting to look like Miami wants.

Because of injuries and attrition, the Hurricanes’ wide receiver unit has been a skeleton crew at times the last two years. After scoring a freshman All-American last year and adding four quality wideouts in this recruiting class, UM’s scholarship numbers are close to ideal. A promising 2015 recruit is back off injury and ready to make an impact. Miami has one senior, a versatile, intelligent player with leadership capability, and nine others could return next year. A lot of teams would trade their freshmen and sophomore wideouts for Miami’s. And don’t look now, but more blue-chippers are coming in the 2018 class.

For all the talk of Miami’s defense returning to its roots, it is building a group of wideouts that, in a different era, would have helped the Canes win titles. It has receivers of all sizes who run by defenders or bully them for catches. The group boasts one of the nation’s top talents and several impressive youngsters who could make an impact. Eight of the 10 scholarship receivers were four-star recruits. Though it is a young unit, Miami should not struggle to find receivers worthy of targets.

The major question is, can Miami’s quarterback find them?

Ahmmon Richards hauls in a deep ball against Pitt. (Getty Images)

Roasting defenses was a habit for Ahmmon Richards in 2016 (Getty Images)

Projected depth chart

X
18 — Lawrence Cager, R-Soph., 6-5, 218
80 – Dayall Harris, R-Jr., 6-3, 195
81 – Darrell Langham, R-Jr., 6-4, 220
83 – Evidence Njoku, Fr., 6-6, 196

Y
8 – Braxton Berrios, Sr., 5-9, 186
4 – Jeff Thomas, Fr., 5-10, 175
3 – Mike Harley, Fr., 5-9, 160

Z
82 – Ahmmon Richards, Soph., 6-1, 190
84 – Dionte Mullins, Soph., 5-10, 200
13 – DeeJay Dallas, Fr., 5-10, 200

Numbers to know

The Hurricanes lose immensely talented, often-injured Stacy Coley (63 catches, 754 yards, nine touchdowns), who finished second in program history in receptions (168), fourth in touchdowns (20) and fifth in yards (2,218). He was a seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. They also say goodbye to Malcolm Lewis, whose career was hampered by a 2012 ankle injury. He signed a free-agent deal with the Miami Dolphins.

No freshman in the nation had more yards than Richards (934), who broke Michael Irvin’s 31-year-old program record for receiving yards by a freshman. Richards’ total was sixth-most by a Hurricane in a single year. Richards also led freshmen in yards per catch (19.06); only four players nationally who had as many receptions as Richards (49) had a better average. Among returning ACC wideouts, only Virginia Tech’s Cam Phillips had more yards last year (983), but he did it on 76 catches.

Berrios caught more punts (19) than passes (12) last year and racked up more return yardage (216) than receiving (178). Much like 2015, when he broke a 60-yard run in a snowy Sun Bowl, Berrios did his best work from scrimmage in UM’s final game. He caught a season-high four balls for 64 yards and a touchdown in Miami’s Russell Athletic Bowl win over West Virginia. He had a 21-catch freshman year, but 12 in each of the last two years.

Miami has four receivers on its roster who have caught a pass in college: Richards (49), Berrios (45), Harris (nine) and Cager (eight).

Quote of note 

“Cleaned up. Did a hell of a job, and it’s only going to make everyone better.” — Safeties coach Ephraim Banda on the group of wide receivers position coach Ron Dugans recruited for 2017

Breakdown

A rising star 

There’s a chance Richards could be the best Miami receiver since Andre Johnson. He was electric last year, burning defenses with shifty moves, rugged work at the catch point and outstanding top-end speed. Only two ACC players (Syracuse’s Amba Etta-Tawo and Pitt’s Jester Weah) had more receptions of 30-plus yards than Richards (10). He’ll once again be Miami’s top deep threat, and a much-needed outlet for whomever wins the starting quarterback job. Again: If the Canes struggle to throw, it won’t be for a lack of talented options.

Who’s second, third and fourth? 

With Coley and David Njoku drawing attention from defenses, Richards had a little more breathing room (and of course, he created plenty on his own). He’ll now be a primary focus of enemy plans. That could help Thomas and Harley, especially, who have the short and long speed to make teams pay for tilting coverage toward Richards. Thomas, who won MVP at the Under Armour All-American Game in January, and Army All-American Harley should be on the field plenty. Cager wants to make this his bounce-back year, while Berrios wants to be more than a return specialist. Dallas, who enrolled early and is also an emergency option at running back, and Mullins are intriguing prospects. Harris had a quiet debut after transferring from junior college. Langham, who was praised by coaches in the spring, has yet to make a catch in a game and could be passed on the depth chart by Evidence Njoku, David’s brother.

A versatile group

Miami, as it did last year, will cross-train receivers at different spots to help get its best players on the field. Richards played the ‘X’ (outside) spot last year, but is likely to shift to Coley’s spot at  ‘Z’ (flanker). Njoku and Coley spent time at the ‘Y’ (slot), so that’s now open for Berrios, and since Thomas and Harley may be too talented to keep off the field, look for them to play inside and outside. Dallas and Mullins seem to fit the ‘Y’ and ‘Z’. The tall guys — especially Cager and Harris — will likely work the outside. UM will make regular use of tight end Chris Herndon (28 catches, 334 yards, two touchdowns) and running back Mark Walton (27-240-1) in the passing game.

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