AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football hasn’t had a true go-to receiver since Sammie Coates in 2013 and 2014. But wide receiver coach Kodi Burns says the Tigers have a player on their 2017 roster that fits the current Pittsburgh Steeler wideout’s mold.
This receiver isn’t the most hyped player at his position for Auburn. He wasn’t a part of the star-studded 2016 recruiting class. He didn’t make highlight-reel plays last season like Kyle Davis or Eli Stove — and he didn’t have a massive spring game like Nate Craig-Myers.
However, sophomore Darius Slayton is the one drawing comparisons to Coates, the last Auburn receiver to have more than 900 yards and 5 touchdowns in a season.
“I think Darius Slayton’s a guy that can absolutely run,” Burns said. “He’s gotten better each and every day. … Darius is a lot like a Sammie Coates-type guy.”
Slayton doesn’t have as much buzz among fans as Davis, Stove or Craig-Myers, but he has the stats. He is the top returning receiver for Auburn, as he made 15 catches last year for 292 yards.
Burns praised the mindset of Slayton, who sounded like he wanted to be a No. 1 receiver this spring in Auburn’s revamped passing attack.
“He is a guy that he looks out there and says, ‘I want the ball, give me the ball,’” Burns said. “He’s a guy that wants to make plays. He’s a guy that if you tell him something, he wants to make sure he goes out and does it.”
Slayton’s sophomore year didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts, though. He underwent hernia surgery in the offseason and missed the first few practices of spring camp.
But when he returned, the Georgia native showcased great progress to his coaches and teammates.
“Darius Slayton, without a couple weeks early, I saw him come back,” offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said. “So that wasn’t a surprise, because that guy’s really talented. I think he’s done a good job.”
Auburn would love to get a Coates type of year out of Slayton. Both receivers boast impressive straight-line speed and stand 6-foot-2.
Slayton won the Georgia state track titles in the 100 meters and 200 meters in high school. He showcased that breakaway ability in the annual A-Day spring game, when he caught a 46-yard pass from new quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
“He’s got the ability to kind of be one of the leaders of that group,” head coach Gus Malzahn said last month. “It was good to have him back out there (this spring).”
Slayton proved to be one of Auburn’s most consistent weapons at wide receiver last season. Now, with a new offense and potentially a new arm at quarterback, he has the chance to become a top player — much like Coates did as a sophomore in 2013 with JUCO transfer Nick Marshall.
“His overall approach to the game has been very impressive,” Burns said. “He’s an intellectual guy, he’s very smart. He does everything you ask. I think he’s going to do nothing but get better.”