AUBURN, Ala. — On paper, Auburn football should have its most balanced roster under Gus Malzahn in 2017. But each positive aspect of the Tigers has a potentially troublesome flip side. Here’s a preview of Auburn’s upcoming season using each position’s biggest reason for confidence and its biggest reason for caution.
Outside of quarterback, the position for Auburn football that generates the most excitement on the Plains in 2017 might be the one that has the closest connection to the signal callers. Auburn’s retooled passing attack comes at a perfect time in the development of its young talent at wide receiver.
First-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and second-year receivers coach Kodi Burns have several potential stars to turn loose out wide this fall. After getting a few chances to shine in a run-heavy offense last fall, things should be different for the receivers in 2017.
“This year we’re adding a few more things to the offense as far as RPOs are concerned, a few more drop backs, a few more shots downfield,” Burns said this spring. “It’s going to kind of magnify that position a little bit more as far as receivers go. I think we’ve got the guys that can make plays. It’s just about us getting them the ball, which we’re going to now out in space, and letting them do what they do.”
Will more opportunities lead to a major jump in production for Auburn’s wide receivers? The Tigers have a lot of athletic ability out wide for projected starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham. However, he doesn’t have a true go-to guy yet in a group that still has a lot to prove heading into 2017.
2017 Auburn football wide receivers
- Darius Slayton (Sophomore; 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds)
- 15 catches for 292 yards and one touchdown in 2016
- Kyle Davis (Sophomore; 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds)
- 12 catches for 248 yards and two touchdowns
- Eli Stove (Sophomore; 6-foot and 183 pounds)
- 23 catches for 224 yards
- Ryan Davis (Junior; 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds)
- 25 catches for 194 yards
- Will Hastings (Junior; 5-foot-10 and 167 pounds)
- 11 catches for 98 yards and one touchdown
- Nate-Craig Myers (Sophomore; 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds)
- Four catches for 78 yards and one touchdown
- Jason Smith (Senior; 6-foot-1 and 186 pounds)
- Four catches for 60 yards
- John Franklin III (Senior; 6-foot-1 and 184 pounds)
- Marquis McClain (Redshirt freshman; 6-foot-2 and 226 pounds)
- Noah Igbinoghene (True freshman; 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds)
- JaTarvious Whitlow (True freshman; 6-foot and 216 pounds)
- Jaylen McGriff (Junior; 6-foot and 207 pounds)*
- Logan Rice (Junior; 6-foot and 208 pounds)*
- Griffin King (Sophomore; 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds)*
- Pace Ozmint (Redshirt freshman; 6-foot-1 and 181 pounds)*
- James Owens Moss (Redshirt freshman; 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds)*
CONFIDENCE: Balanced mix of young talent
After a couple of strong recruiting classes at wide receiver and a new influx of talent at quarterback, Auburn should be in the ideal position to succeed through the air. The Tigers return seven players who had multiple catches last season, and they added a few more playmakers to a balanced group.
The sophomore trio of Darius Slayton, Kyle Davis and Nate Craig-Myers have the ideal builds and athleticism for success on the outside. Slayton is the top returning receiver, Davis made several spectacular catches as a true freshman, and Craig-Myers outshone them all at A-Day this spring.
Fellow sophomore Eli Stove broke out in the second half of 2017 with his speedy work on the ground and through the air. He has a lot of potential as a slot receiver, along with the sure-handed Ryan Davis. Will Hastings was one of Jarrett Stidham’s favorite targets in spring practices with his short-range agility. Marquis McClain, who teammates say looks like a linebacker, has a ton of potential in Chip Lindsey’s offense.
Newcomers to the position add speed with accomplished track champions Noah Igbinoghene and JaTarvious Whitlow. Former quarterback John Franklin III will also bring his wheels to the mix as well after training at the position for most of the spring.
If Auburn has a quarterback who can truly make a wide range of throws this fall, he has an ideal receiving corps to match that. The Tigers have vertical threats, physical intermediate targets, short-yardage specialists and potential big-play weapons of all sizes.
CAUTION: No obvious leaders at the moment
There’s a downside to Auburn’s receiving corps being so young. The only two seniors are former quarterbacks from the junior college level. The Tigers lost their top player in receiving yards from last season in Tony Stevens — and the only player who had at least 30 catches.
Who will take over and lead this young group? It’s still unclear. Kyle Davis has the look of Auburn’s next great star receiver, but he missed the chance to further develop in spring ball due to a lengthy absence for “personal business.”
Slayton has the most receiving yards of any returning receiver this season, but he’s battled injury during his early days on the Plains. Craig-Myers, perhaps the most impressive one of the bunch this spring, has little experience after a quiet freshman campaign.
Auburn has time to develop those go-to guys for a quarterback such as Stidham. All of the top names at the position could come back for the 2018 season as well, so there’s a high ceiling among the group.
According to Bill Connelly of SB Nation, the biggest factor in an offense improving production from one year to the next is returning receiving yardage. Auburn returns a lot of talented names at wide receiver, but none who bring back a high amount of yardage from the previous campaign. The Tigers need someone to break out — and quickly — to make the leap forward it wants in 2017.