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Position Group Preview: Wide Receivers

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Auburn may have one of the deepest groups at WR they’ve ever assembled.

Georgia v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

So far this week, we have talked about the Quarterback and Running Back positions on the offensive side of the ball for Auburn. Today, we’re going to focus on Wide Receivers.

Two weeks ago, I came across the following tweet in regards to how one expert felt about the wide receivers at Auburn.

To whom will Stidham throw the football to? Well let me tell you, Stidham has a ton of options this year in regards to that question. Auburn looks to be set at the wide receiver for the next few years with both returning players as well as newcomers that will play an integral part in Auburn’s passing game this season. We’ll start by highlighting Auburn’s returning receivers.

RETURNING

Ryan Davis #23

Want a go-to guy? Give me Ryan Davis. All Davis did last year was set the Auburn all-time receptions record in a single season. In addition to breaking the Auburn season record for receptions, his 84 catches led the SEC as well. The St. Petersburg, Florida native returns for his senior season and looks to build off his breakthrough season. Davis averaged 9.7 yards a catch for 815 yards and scored 5 TDs. Most of Ryan Davis catches were on short-yard throws but he most certainly became Jarrett Stidham’s favorite target as the season went on last year. Davis has been placed on the Fred Biletnikoff Watch List for Best WR this upcoming season. Here’s some quick reminders about what Davis brings to the table.

Blocking was important on both of these plays but Davis used his speed out of space to turn these screen passes into points for Auburn’s offense. While Davis was very effective in the short passing game last year, perhaps we will see him used more on intermediate to deep passing routes this year.

Darius Slayton #81

While Davis was Stidham’s go-to guy on short routes, Darius Slayton was Stidham’s go-to guy on the deep routes last season. Slayton was tied for 2nd on the team with 29 catches for 643 yards and 5 TDs. The rising junior from Norcross, Georgia led the team with a catch average of 22.2 yards a catch (minimum 10 catches). One of Auburn’s most memorable plays from last season came in the Georgia game when he was able to haul in this pass from Stidham in what was then a 9-7 ballgame.

What an adjustment by Slayton on the goal line in order to haul that ball in! Another example of Slayton’s big play ability came against Texas A&M last year.

Slayton looks to become a more versatile receiver this season as he was primarily used on deep passes last season. If Slayton can become more involved in the intermediate passing game, his numbers could certainly increase from last season.

Nate Craig-Myers #3

Nate Craig-Myers was a 5 star recruit back in 2016 but has only caught 20 passes in his 2 years on the Plains. I feel like this season is his opportunity to step into a bigger role with the Auburn offense. Offensive Coordinator Chip Lindsey has described Craig-Myers as a “quiet leader” for the team and the coaching staff would like to involve Craig-Myers more in the offense. He should see more action in the slot, a spot that will need to be covered while Will Hastings continues to recover from injury. The junior from Dade City, Florida caught 16 passes for 285 yards and scored 3 TDs last season. Here is one of his brightest moments as an Auburn Tiger.

An absolute thing of beauty, from the play-call to execution.

Eli Stove #12

Stove tore his ACL during Spring Practice but should hopefully be back by the time Auburn enters the middle part of the year. A junior from Niceville, Florida, most can recall Stove for his role running the Jet Sweep. However, Stove’s numbers from last year would also indicate how important he is to Auburn’s offense in both the running and passing game. Stove was tied with Slayton on the team last year with 29 catches for 265 yards. He scored 2 TDs on the ground while accumulating 315 yards rushing. Going back to 2016 for this clip as it’s one of my favorite plays from that season in which Stove set the tone very early in Auburn’s 56-3 win over Arkansas. Stove took the Jet Sweep 75 yards untouched to the house on Auburn’s first offensive snap of the night.

But as mentioned above, Stove also has the ability to catch the ball on a deep route as evidenced here in last year’s game against Mississippi State.

Will Hastings #33

Once a kicker on Auburn’s team, Hastings has had quite the journey to get to where he is now. Like Stove, Hastings also tore his ACL in Spring Practice, but like Stove, both are ahead of schedule in their recovery and look to be back sometime midway through the season. Hastings became one of Stidham’s go-to guys early on last year. The senior from Little Rock, Arkansas caught 26 passes for 525 yards and 4 TDs last season. He also averaged 20.2 yards per catch. Here’s Hastings against Mississippi State early last season.

It will be good to see Hastings back on the field as he has a knack for getting open in the middle of the field.

Marquis McClain #12

The sophomore from Crestview, Florida had 2 catches for 47 yards last season but one was a 37 yard catch and run at the end of the Georgia game on the Plains. We’ll see if McClain will have a bigger role this year but with so many wide receivers to compete with, I’m not sure how much bigger of a role he will have this season. However, he did have a phenomenal catch in Auburn’s Spring Game back in April.

NEWCOMERS

And now, we get to the fun part. Auburn brings in a quartet of freshmen receivers that have the potential do major damage in Auburn’s offense this season. Based on what we’re hearing from Gus Malzahn and WR Coach Kodi Burns, I would expect all 4 guys to be a part of the offense this year in some capacity.

Seth Williams #18

Williams has seemed to have made the biggest noise in summer camp. The Auburn coaches were able to get him out of “that town up North” and he has big play potential written all over him. Williams, at 6-3 and 215 pounds, is built like the great Ronney Daniels and has the ability to go and get the ball. In the first scrimmage, he caught a slant and took it 60-70 yards for a TD. Williams gives Stidham another option to throw the ball to deep down the field which may open up Darius Slayton more as well.

Shedrick Jackson #11

While many will see him as Bo’s nephew, Shedrick looks to make his own mark on the Plains. A Hoover native, Jackson got a head start this year as he enrolled in Auburn back in January. This allowed Jackson to get a spring practice under his belt before entering his freshmen season. He should have a good grasp of the offense with that experience underneath his belt.

Anthony Schwartz #6

Known for his world-class speed, Schwartz is another receiver who will use his speed to play multiple roles in Auburn’s offense. So how is Schwartz you may ask? He won the silver medal in the 100 meters event and the gold medal in the 4X100 relay at the U20 World Championships so Schwartz is a speedster. To me, the Pembroke Pines, Florida native feels like he would be a perfect fit in the Jet Sweep package, especially until Stove returns from injury and it will be fascinating to see how Malzahn and Lindsey look to get him the ball with his speed. It also sounds like he will be involved with the return game as well. How Auburn uses Schwartz’s speed is one of the most fascinating things to look for as we enter the season.

Matthew Hill #19

Hill was one of the last guys to commit and sign with Auburn back in February. The Lawrenceville, Georgia native hasn’t let that slow him down as he’s had a great summer camp and has put himself in a position to contribute this year as well. Hill also played safety in high school so perhaps if he doesn’t get another reps at receiver, he might see some time on defense down the road. Regardless of where he plays, Hill looks like a player that will make some kind of impact on Auburn football this year.

So there you have it, in short, Auburn has a LOT of Wide Receiver options this year. There are a lot of questions in regards to who will be the primary running back this year but one of my biggest questions (and biggest fascinations) is how will Auburn use all of these weapons they have at receiver. Auburn has plenty of veterans returning but also have multiple freshmen that have the ability to play right away over the veterans. All in all, the competition should make the Wide Receivers one of Auburn’s strengths this year. Oh, and it also helps that one of the country’s best QBs will be throwing the ball to these guys this season.

A few questions to ponder as we close: Will Ryan Davis put up similar numbers as last year? Will there be a new go-to guy Stidham relies upon this year? Will there be a 1000 yard receiver? How will Stove and Hastings return mid-season affect/help the receiving corps? Which freshmen will be a breakout star on this year’s team?

We’re a week and a half away from beginning to find out answers to these questions and like you, I can’t wait. War Eagle!