Auburn football preview 2013: Who's going to step up at wide receiver?

Todd Van Emst/Auburn University photo

Wide receiver is a huge unknown for the Tigers going into this season.

Everyone wants to talk about the quarterback race, but wide receiver could be the most intriguing position for Auburn going into 2013. No matter who starts under center -- or, more accurately, in shotgun -- Nick Marshall or Jeremy Johnson will need his pass catchers to have an impact and open up the offense. Will any of Auburn's outside targets step up and make that happen?

If we're going with the hot hand, the player who performed the best during Saturday's scrimmage, Ricardo Louis would have to be the leading candidate to become a playmaker. While the practice was closed to media, other players told reporters afterward that the 6'2, 215-pound sophomore had a big day, maybe the biggest day other than true freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Gus Malzahn used that scrimmage as an opportunity to make some decisions and narrow down the battles for playing time at various positions, and Johnson's performance earned him a spot in the final two in the race to be named starting quarterback. You'd have to think Louis' production gave him a leg up on some of his competition at receiver.

As a freshman last season, Louis didn't make much of an impact. It's hard to hold that against him, though, as pretty much no one on offense, aside from Tre Mason, did anything of note. Louis played in the final 10 games of the year, catching three passes for 36 yards. We've said it before and we'll say it again: Louis has the size and speed to be great. The offense should be much better this season with Johnson or Nick Marshall running Malzahn's system, and Louis has every opportunity to be the go-to target in the passing game.

The thing about such an unproven group of wide receivers is that anyone -- really, anyone -- can come out of nowhere and rise to the top of the depth chart. While they might not end up taking the majority of targets, and their praise from coaches could be simply a result of them being newcomers, true freshmen Tony Stevens and Marcus Davis have apparently done some good things during camp. Of the two, Stevens probably has the higher ceiling. He's 6'4, 190 pounds (Davis is 5'9, 176) and was a four-star recruit in the Class of 2013. He's been running good routes this fall and with his height, whoever plays quarterback can just throw the ball up and let Stevens go get it. That's a nice option in the red zone.

Of anyone if Auburn's wide receiver corps, Sammie Coates may be the guy we'd most like to see take the next step. He has the size (6'2, 201 pounds), the speed (4.32-second-40-yard dash) and the talent (four-star rating out of high school). Like Louis, he didn't contribute much during his freshman campaign last year, but he did have six catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Honestly, we'd like to see him put up those kind of numbers in individual games. As he showed in the Louisiana-Monroe game, he knows how to get behind the defense and out-jump DBs for the football. We haven't heard his name much during practice, but hopefully Coates will earn some playing time and prove himself on the field.

Quan Bray and Jaylon Denson are two of Auburn's rare upperclassmen receivers, but that doesn't mean they have any advantage over their younger counterparts. Bray only had 14 receptions for 94 yards last season, and Denson made just one 12-yard catch. (We should point out that other than Emory Blake, no Auburn pass catcher recorded more than 139 yards in 2012, and no true wide receiver on this year's roster had more than 122.) Standing 6'3 and weighing in at 219 pounds, Denson has a great build, but he hasn't made much of a name for himself in practice. Bray was considered to be the top receiver coming out of spring ball, so we'll have to see if that remains true after a few weeks of competition with some new faces.

Melvin Ray (6'3, 213) would be a nice story in his second year since returning from minor league baseball. However, it's hard to see the 24-year-old sophomore doing a whole lot. He played in all 12 games on special teams last year, and that, along with use as an outside blocker, could be his role again in 2013.

And that leaves us with Trovon Reed. It seems like every year since football was invented was going to be "the year Trovon finally steps up." Well, it's 2013, and we're still waiting. He was rated as a five-star prospect and the No. 2 athlete in the Class of 2010 by 247Composite, but he hasn't come close to meeting the hype. Reed took a medical redshirt his first year. In 2011, he caught 21 passes for 164 yards, and last year he had 122 yards and a TD on nine receptions. Could this finally be the year the redshirt junior breaks out? Eh, we're not holding our breath. Obviously, Reed is loaded with talent, but he just can't seem to come up with the performance to match. Maybe he'll surprise, but at this point, we'll have to see it to believe it.

So, what do you think? Will one of these receivers step up, or will it be someone we didn't mention who is flying under the radar? Or will Auburn have zero quality receivers in 2013? Hopefully, that last possibility won't ring true.

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