Auburn had one of its most anticipated groups of Wide Receivers coming into last season in years. With all the high ranking recruits the Tigers had signed at the position, and a big-armed quarterback in Stidham, many thought we would see wideouts put up big time numbers in 2017-18. To some extent, Auburn was really successful at the position, and even had the SEC’s leader in catches last season (Ryan Davis). On the other hand, Ryan Davis and Will Hastings were not the highly-regarded talents we thought would be lighting up the scoreboard, they were our emergency QB and a walk-on kicker, respectively.
This Spring, more members of the Auburn depth chart at wideout have missed practices due to illness or injury than haven’t. Why is that? Is it the strength program? Doubtful. Is it a sabotage by Kodi Burns, who really is still mad he wasn’t named Offensive Coordinator? Not Likely. Did the renovations on Jordan-Hare Stadium unearth an ancient Native American burial ground? That’s my theory.
Who is left? Who is healthy? If Will Hastings and Eli Stove miss the entire 2018 season (a real possibility), then who will gobble up all those available catches from Stidham (who is maybe also hurt, sweet Lord)? Let’s take a look at who has a shot at being a breakout star, based on who is actually walking without crutches and on campus.
Group 1: Names You Know
Everyone’s favorite Davis on the Auburn offense returns. Yes, even he had shoulder surgery in the off-season and has missed some reps due to illness, but there’s nothing keeping him from the starting lineup against Washington. Auburn’s single-season record holder for receptions will be looking to build on a season where he was basically Wal-Mart for Stidham—always open, has just what you need. This, his senior season, is his chance to make his case for being a top-two round draft pick, which I think he could be. Auburn hasn’t had one of those in ages. Literally I can’t think of who the last receiver Auburn had who went in the first two rounds. It could be Ryan Davis.
Slayton tied with Davis for the Auburn lead in receiving touchdowns last season with five. He was good for one long catch per game, and Chip Lindsey has shown a desire to throw it deep—sometimes to the consternation of Auburn fans. That said, Slayton is a fast receiver who stretches the field to the tune of 22 yards per catch last season. With him on the outside, the middle of the defense definitely has to make tough decisions—allowing the middle of the field to open up for players like Ryan Davis. I like Slayton a lot, and if we can cover him in bubble wrap and isolate him from the rest of humanity, he should be a healthy option looking to tear up a very skilled Washington defense. Slayton’s biggest issue is drops, but those can be counterbalanced with enough big plays (see: Coates, Sammie).
One of the only guys who can say he ended the season on a high note. Craig-Myers had his best game of the season against UCF with three catches for 54 yards. He is a big guy who is valued as a blocker, but we are all dying to see the guy from his high school highlight tapes. If Stove and Hastings miss the entire season, NCM might be poised for a big year. As good of a blocker as he is, he will definitely be on the field. Coaches Burns and Malzahn have both shown a history of favoring wideouts who can run block. He was good for one catch a game last season, seemingly always in the first quarter, and then he would be an afterthought in Auburn’s aerial attack. That should change after what seems to be another positive Spring for NCM.
A runningback a season ago, Barrett was Auburn’s 7th leading receiver in terms of catches. You knew he had a lot of targets, because he got a swing pass thrown to him every time he checked in, right? I think this is a quality move by the offensive brain trust. Barrett is a quick player with a ton of shifty speed. Maybe he takes some of Will Hastings’ snaps at slot receiver? I also think this might be a sign the coaches like what they have at runningback. If you are willing to move one of the only guys on the team who actually got carries in football games to a different position, you must think you can replace him with something better.
Group 2: Newcomers
Marquis McClain and Shedrick Jackson both seem to be having good spring practices. Several other receivers will join the team after A-day, but they will get plenty of articles written about them when that happens. I like to focus on the guys who are already in practices or have actually been in games. McClain and Jackson need to step up if the position is going to have any depth. McClain is a third year player, but is really only now starting to get a chance to make an impact. Jackson is the nephew of the greatest athlete this world has ever known. He definitely has the bloodline to be an amazing Auburn player, and his teammates have been positive about his play this spring.
All told, the hype isn’t really there around this position this time around. I think that’s fine. Auburn isn’t WRU, but there are definite weapons here. Any time Ryan Davis is on the field, Auburn has a shot at getting a first down. He is a baller. Whether the other guys will rise to his level is yet to be seen.
Can Auburn break the curse and appease whatever spirits are crippling its wideouts? I hope so. Otherwise we are in for a lot of #HotTakes about the strength and conditioning coaches, and no one has time for that mess.