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 top wide receiver position of split end, also known as the 9 or X.
- Darius Slayton (Junior)
- Nate Craig-Myers (Junior)
- Matthew Hill (Freshman — summer enrollee)
- Seth Williams (Freshman — summer enrollee)
Answers from spring practice
How can Darius Slayton take the next step as Auburn’s top outside receiver?
Slayton dealt with injury issues early in the 2017 season, going three straight games without a single catch. Then he turned it on, putting up four games of at least 60 receiving yards in the back half of the season. Slayton averaged 22.17 yards per catch and was Jarrett Stidham’s most reliable deep threat.
This spring, Slayton said he was working on his route running and becoming more of an intermediate threat — an area where Auburn’s passing game needs improvement. He got some looks on those types of routes on A-Day. If he can be more of an all-around receiver, Slayton could be in for a huge season.
Can Auburn find a way to get Nate Craig-Myers more involved this season?
There will be more written about Craig-Myers later this week when Summer School takes a look at the slot receivers. But the injuries to Eli Stove and Will Hastings could have opened the door for the junior to be more of a playmaker in 2018.
With Stove and Hastings out, Ryan Davis might see more time on the outside at flanker. In a standard three-receiver set for Auburn, Craig-Myers saw more opportunities on A-Day as a big slot target. Since Craig-Myers’ speed and separation aren’t quite what is expected of the split end, there’s a good chance he won’t have to compete against Slayton on the outside. He can get his looks down the middle.
Numbers to know
22.17. Slayton averaged 22.17 yards per catch last season on 29 receptions. That single-season mark is the fourth-best in Auburn history for receivers who had at least 20 catches, behind Freddy Weygand (1984), Alexander Wright (1989) and Alvin Bresler (1970).
39.2. Slayton’s catch rate last season, per Football Study Hall, was 39.2 percent. He was the only scholarship receiver on the roster with a catch rate of less than 50 percent. That’s not all on Slayton — he ran a lot of deep routes that are tougher to complete. More intermediate routes will be key for him in 2018.
Questions for the fall
Can Slayton become a more consistent target for Jarrett Stidham?
If Slayton gets opportunities to run more than his standard fly routes and screens at split end, Stidham will have another go-to target in 2018. Davis averaged 6 receptions per game last season. Slayton only had 2.2. With his ability to create big plays, Slayton needs to be more involved in the passing game this fall.
A lot of signs point to that happening. Slayton will be in his second season with Stidham, so the chemistry from all of those long passes in 2017 should continue to grow. Now entering his fourth year with the program, Slayton should become a bigger playmaker in an offense that is made for his talents.
Where will Auburn’s new freshman receivers line up?
Freshman Matthew Hill told SEC Country last week that Auburn coaches saw him in Slayton’s role at split end. Slayton could use a dedicated backup, especially if Craig-Myers gets more opportunities as a slot receiver this fall. A source told SEC Country that Auburn expects Hill to be an instant-impact playmaker this fall, so getting in the rotation at split end makes perfect sense for the Georgia native.
But don’t forget about Williams, the 6-foot-4 product from just outside Tuscaloosa, Ala. Williams is a big body with impressive athleticism who can work either inside or outside. Only time will tell if Auburn sees Williams as a split end or more of a big slot. That will be something to watch early in fall camp.