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Spring Review: Wide Receiver

Playmakers needed

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Auburn vs Northwestern Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Bryan Harsin’s very first spring practice is in the books. Over the next 2 weeks, I’ll take a look at where each position group stands as we head into the long summer off-season.

Post Spring Depth Chart

Just a quick refresher on the new terminology. The X-WR in Harsin and Bobo’s scheme would be equivalent to the 9 in Malzahn’s or often called the “Split End”. He’ll often line up to the boundary by himself where he’ll be tasked with defeating press coverage. Think of guys like Seth Williams, Darvin Adams, and Sammie Coates.

The Z-WR is somewhat similar to the 2 in Malzahn’s scheme though he’ll be asked to do more under Harsin. This position is also often referred to as the “Flanker”. He’ll line up to the tight end side most often and can be on the line of scrimmage or off depending on the play call.

Finally, there’s the H-WR which is a true slot player. No more “Big” or “Little” slot. This player will most often line up off the line of scrimmage and be tasked with making plays over the middle and in the short passing game.

X-WR

  • #17 Elijah Canion | 6’4” | 214 lbs | Sophomore
  • #11 Shedrick Jackson | 6’2” | 196 lbs | Senior
  • #81 J.J. Evans | 6’2” | 224 lbs | Redshirt Freshman

Z-WR

  • #5 Kobe Hudson | 6’1” | 199 lbs | Sophomore
  • #80 Ze’Vian Capers | 6’4” | 195 lbs | Sophomore
  • #25 Caylin Newton | 6’0” | 209 lbs | Senior

H-WR

  • #6 Ja’Varrius Johnson | 5’10” | 159 lbs | Sophomore
  • #16 Malcolm Johnson Jr. | 6’1” | 195 lbs | Sophomore

Summer Additions

  • Hal Presley | 6’3” | 197 lbs | Freshman
  • Tar’Varish Dawson | 5’11” | 165 lbs | Freshman

Spring Review

No position group lost more production than the wide receiver room. Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz, and Eli Stove are gone along with their combined 144 receptions, 1,755 yards, and 10 touchdowns. Ze’Vian Capers, Shedrick Jackson, and Kobe Hudson are Auburn’s three leading returning wide receivers and two of them were limited all spring while recovering from injuries. Throw in a scheme change that now demands much more from Auburn’s wideouts and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s been a tough spring for this young group.

“We need to be more consistent at that position, and I think right now we’re going to be going through focusing on that as we get into summer time,” Harsin said after A-Day. “So between now and when those guys come back in June, there’s going to have to be a lot of work done from those guys of just understanding and just really seeing a lot of the things we can improve on.”

“On a talent level, we have the guys. The issue is we’re young and these guys aren’t experienced.” [Cornelius] Williams says it’s his job to accelerate the growth of his receivers. “We have to do every little thing right.”

The good news is Auburn appears to have a clear go to wideout emerging in this room. A former 3-star out of Hollywood, FL, Elijah Canion exploded onto the scene in Auburn’s bowl game loss when he caught 3 passes for 80 yards and touchdown.

He continued to impress at A-Day where he lead the team in receiving with 6 receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown. His blocking needs to greatly improve if he wants to become a more complete wide receiver but it’s clear he’s got big play potential and could become Bo Nix’s top target in 2021.

The breakout star on the offensive side of the ball this spring was Ja’Varrius Johnson. The diminutive but speedy wideout out of Hewitt-Trussville has been limited by injuries his first two seasons on the Plains but seems to have found a home in Harsin and Bobo’s new scheme. He was consistently praised by both Auburn’s new head coach and offensive coordinator for his consistency and was the star of the open practice last month.

It will be interested to see where Jackson and Capers fit in Auburn’s new offense. Capers especially is someone with tremendous upside who could play the X or Z. Jackson has proven to be one of Auburn’s best blockers on the edge but hasn’t had many opportunities to make plays in the passing game. Both will be welcomed additions this summer.

I am also very high on Auburn’s 2021 class. They aren’t as highly rated as some previous ones but when you turn on their tape there’s no denying these kids can play. Presley is a big bodied athlete capable of making plays anywhere on the field while Dawson reminds me a lot of Boise State’s leading receiver of the last two years Khalil Shakir. Don’t be surprised if one or both crack the rotation this fall.

War Eagle!