With the season almost here, we're taking a look at previewing the 2016 Auburn Tigers by each position group. The previous entries can be found in this story stream!
Key Losses -
Duke Williams, Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray, Jonathan Wallace
Key Returnees -
Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens, Stanton Truitt, Jason Smith, Ryan Davis
Newcomers (includes redshirts) -
Darius Slayton, Nate Craig-Myers, Eli Stove, Marquis McClain, Kyle Davis, Will Hastings
Causes For Optimism
Marcus Davis has been an effective receiver since his freshman campaign in 2013. He wasn't the most targeted receiver during that time, but he was reliable, and he's an excellent senior leader for this group. Stanton Truitt has blazing speed if he can stay healthy, Ryan Davis is one of the faster players on the team and great with trick plays, Jason Smith is a dynamic athlete with all sorts of moves, and Tony Stevens is still 6'4.
Then there are the newcomers. Darius Slayton redshirted last season, but he's supposed to have great speed and at 6'2 may be a prime option for the deep threat. Nate Craig-Myers and Kyle Davis each held the top spot in the wide receiver recruiting rankings for at least one of the services at some point last cycle. Eli Stove was a coveted 4* and Marquis McClain was a sleeper who had interest from a lot of schools but Auburn jumped on early last summer and locked him up.
Marcus Davis and Jason Smith should be locks to start. Both were reliable options last season and are capable of being great receivers. The biggest thing that excites me about the freshman class, though, is that all of them were wide receivers in high school. Auburn has had a big habit in the last few years of recruiting athletes and QBs and converting them to wide receivers. This time, we actually locked up some of the top actual wide receiver recruits. I look for them to be major contributors in 2016 and to start making names for themselves very early.
There is another name up on that list you've probably never heard of. Just remember it. You may hear it at some point.
Causes For Concern
CATCH. THE. FOOTBALL. Go back to the Sean White highlight video I posted Friday afternoon and watch how many times he hits a receiver in the hands (granted, not all of them were the best of passes, but still in the hands) and they were dropped. This unit has to be more consistent with catching.
They also have to be better blockers. Every one of them. Auburn had to sub out blocking WRs for pass-catching WRs last year, and it tipped the play call every time. There are so many screen passes where you see two defenders coming at the receiver who caught the ball because the other receiver whiffed on the block. That type of thing absolutely cannot happen if Auburn wants to have success in the passing game with the screens.
There's also just not much experience in this group. Marcus Davis has played every year since his true freshman season, but last year he had his most receptions at 30 and still only had 182 yards receiving. Jason Smith had 13 receptions for 203 yards, which is impressive, but that's the most out of any returning receiver.
Someone has got to step up and fill the role of Ricardo Louis, who caught 46 passes for 716 yards in 2015. Sammie and Duke combined for just shy of 1500 yards receiving on 79 receptions in 2014. We just don't know who will fill those shoes, and with Sean White as the starting QB, the Tigers desperately need production from the receivers or it's going to be a long year.
There will be growing pains. Marcus Davis will be the reliable option. Jason Smith will bust some big plays. By the third or fourth game, we're going to be seeing a lot of a combination of Craig-Myers, Stove, and Kyle Davis. By seasons' end, the freshmen wide receivers will have a huge part in the offense.
Someone among the older guys will step up and have a huge season. It's happened over the last few years with a senior like Quan Bray and Ricardo Louis having a big year. Marcus Davis is the most likely option, but I'm not counting out Tony Stevens if he's improved on catching the football. With his height and speed, he could be a brutal match-up for any DB in the nation if he puts it all together.
We're going to scream at them for dropping balls, but they're not going to drop as many as last season. Maybe it's the competition of the freshman that brings out the best in the older guys who want to prove they belong and make their way to the League, but the wide receivers will play much better than they have in recent years.
They're going to have to. Otherwise, we're in for a lot of heartache on the offensive side of the ball.