Over the next few weeks, SEC Country will take Auburn football fans to Summer School. Each session will focus on one position on Auburn’s 2018 roster, finding answers from spring practice and looking ahead to what might be the biggest questions for the fall.
Let’s continue with the slot wide receiver positions.
- Will Hastings (senior — out indefinitely with torn ACL)
- Ryan Davis (senior)
- Noah Igbinoghene (sophomore)
- BIG SLOT/9/Y
- Nate Craig-Myers (junior)
- Marquis McClain (sophomore)
- Sal Cannella (junior)
- Seth Williams (freshman — summer arrival)
Answers from spring practice
How will Auburn deal with the absence of Will Hastings?
Shortly after Eli Stove went down with an ACL injury in March, the same thing happened to Will Hastings. While he wasn’t a high-volume target for Auburn (1.9 receptions per game in 2017), he could create big plays in an instant with his trademark double moves (20.19 yards per catch and 4 touchdowns in 2017).
When asked about how Auburn would deal with the loss of Stove and Hastings, offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey mentioned that the Tigers “can play with a bigger set.” That is the most likely scenario, as Davis getting more reps at flanker in Stove’s absence opens the door for the big slot to be the most-used third receiver in Auburn’s standard formations.
Will Auburn get the ball more to Nate Craig-Myers in 2018?
The spring signaled a new confidence in Craig-Myers, the former top-100 recruit who has had only 20 catches in his first two seasons on the Plains. Craig-Myers said he felt the Tigers are “finally believing in me,” and there seemed to be a concerted effort from the coaching staff toward creating more plays downfield for the big-bodied receiver.
With Stove and Hastings out, Craig-Myers becomes one of the most productive returning receivers on the roster, even though his stats haven’t lived up to early expectations. That could change in 2018, as he’ll have another year to do damage over the middle of the field with a more experienced Jarrett Stidham at quarterback.
Numbers to know
24: Craig-Myers was targeted only 24 times last season in the passing game. That ranked behind running back Kerryon Johnson and was fifth among Auburn receivers.
66.7: Auburn’s success rate on plays that ended with receptions by Craig-Myers, per Football Study Hall, was 66.7 percent in 2017. That was the highest mark of any Auburn receiver with at least 10 receptions last season.
Questions for the fall
How will the newcomers factor into the slot positions?
Auburn has options at the big slot position, but Williams could make a move down the middle. He has the size and the athleticism for that role, and the Tigers didn’t get much production out of either Marquis McClain or Sal Cannella last season. New blood could be just what Auburn needs behind Craig-Myers.
If Auburn uses smaller slot receivers in four-wide sets, opportunities will be there for several freshmen. Shedrick Jackson has the versatility but was limited by injury in spring practice. Anthony Schwartz could see time there if he doesn’t stay exclusively at the speed sweep role of flanker. And then there’s the intrigue of running backs Shaun Shivers and Harold Joiner — two vastly different players who have both said they could play in the slot early in their careers.
How will the four-wide sets look?
Auburn went with four wide receivers more often in 2017 than it had in any other season under Gus Malzahn. Those sets included both a traditional slot receiver and a big slot receiver. Without Hastings and Stove, those formations might be works in progress early in the season.
If Davis lines up in the slot, who will be the flanker? Can Auburn trust a converted running back such as Barrett or a newcomer to be a strong route runner in obvious passing situations? Those questions will have to be answered in fall camp and beyond as the receiving group gets to full strength with Hastings and Stove.