If opposing defenses underestimated Jared Wayne in 2021, that was on them. If it happens again in 2022, well, they’ve already been warned.
Perhaps lost in Jordan Addison’s ascent to the peak of college football and the addition of freshman All-American Konata Mumpfield, Wayne is one of the most underrated wide receivers in the ACC — if not all of college football — and the early offseason has already led to a bigger, stronger, faster version of himself as spring practices begin to heat up.
“I don’t know if I surprised (opposing defenses in 2021),” Wayne said after Pitt’s spring practice earlier this month. “I would say my first two years here, I couldn’t really stay healthy, just couldn’t really get in a rhythm. Last year, I stayed healthy and got a little bit of rhythm.”
Wayne more than doubled his freshman and sophomore production as a junior in 2021, hauling in 47 receptions for 658 yards and six touchdowns — up from the 39 receptions for 587 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games in 2019-20.
Wayne operated primarily out wide in 2021, nearly 70 percent of his offensive snaps, and he provided Kenny Pickett a sure-handed target (just two drops in 64 targets) who forced 10 missed tackles with the ball in his hands — second on the team behind Addison.
And in putting on a couple of pounds, seemingly pure muscle from watching early spring practices, Wayne’s primary task for the 2022 season is to play with more physicality and strength than he did in 2021. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Wayne is a big, strong receiver, and while he wouldn’t say he wasn’t physical last season, he can always do more.
“I’m trying to play more physical this year,” Wayne said. “That’s the part I’ve been focusing on in my game, first day of pads today, so got to show that a little bit. Just looking to continue that.”
After playing at 207-ish pounds in 2021, Wayne said he’s officially playing at 210 pounds this season. And during a season in which Wayne was a strong depth threat (786 yards and 10 touchdowns on 40 targets run more than 20 yards downfield), he also made an impact on passes behind the line of scrimmage and on short and intermediate routes — earning 90 plus receiving grades on all four route types in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus.
Pitt’s 2022 offense will continue to operate in a pro-style offense under offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., but an additional focus on establishing a run game identity next season will take away some targets through the air. However, Pitt’s new-look offense should be powerful enough to feed the multitude of hungry faces next season.
Despite the presence of Addison, Mumpfield, Gavin Bartholomew, Israel Abanikanda and a plethora of multi-talented running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, Wayne is too talented to slip through the cracks.
Hail 2 Pitt! pic.twitter.com/lCoq2qzZzF
— Jonathan DiBiaso (@Coach_JDiBiaso) March 10, 2022
With Cignetti and new wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Tiquan Underwood in place, Pitt’s 2022 offense will look different. However, the steps taken this spring, in just three spring practices, have already shined a light on an offense that should once again lead the ACC. Underwood, who’s looking to put together the best receiving corps in the country, is having his message echoed by Wayne.
“I mean, it’s great,” Wayne said about Pitt’s wide receiving corps. “It’s loaded. Everyone’s pushing each other, everyone’s running their own race. We all have our own goals and aspirations, and as a group too, we have our goals and aspirations.”
Even with Pickett off to the NFL, USC transfer Kedon Slovis has entered into the program to compete with Nick Patti, and Wayne said Slovis has been a ready and willing addition to Pitt’s quarterback room already.
“It’s been great,” Wayne said of Slovis’s entry into the program. “He throws a nice ball. It’s really easy when a guy comes in like that, comes to work ready to go and wants to throw with us extra. Whenever we can, we’re throwing with him.”
Wayne said Pitt’s wide receiving corps only wants to make Slovis’ — or Patti’s — job easier as he enters into the starting role and make the contested or difficult catches that fuel an offense. After all, a starting quarterback cannot complete 100 percent of his throws.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback in 2022, Slovis or Patti, Wayne said he’s always trying to push the standard at Pitt. Good isn’t good enough, and an ACC championship last season certainly isn’t good enough.