AUBURN, Ala. — Ryan Davis doesn’t want to be called the “old man” yet for Auburn football’s wide receivers — but the title fits him well.
As a junior heading into the 2017 season, Davis is the oldest player with experience at wide receiver. Senior John Franklin III just converted from wide receiver. Fellow junior Will Hastings was a walk-on kicker until the 2016 campaign.
The rest of Auburn’s wide receivers are mostly sophomores, the stars of a 2016 recruiting class that hoped to turn the tide in the Tigers’ recent passing woes. And while the likes of Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Myers, Darius Slayton and Eli Stove receive the most attention out wide for Auburn, the defense still speaks highly of what Davis can do in space.
“I think I did one of these interviews one time, and I said something about Ryan being the toughest receiver that I had to guard when I had to go out the box,” junior linebacker Darrell Williams said. “He’s just taken it to another level every time, so I applaud him for that.
“He sticks out to me because he’s been a good player, but his drive to be even better and even help the team even more than what he’s done — you can see that. The coaches can see that.”
Davis doesn’t have the size or the same amount of recruiting hype as Auburn’s sophomore receivers. But the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Florida native has plenty of speed and a pair of sure hands.
In 2016, Davis had the second-most receptions on the team (25), behind the now-departed Tony Stevens. According to Football Study Hall, Davis caught 69.4 percent of his targets in 2016, second-best among receivers behind Stove.
If Auburn needed a quick pass over the middle to pick up tough yards, Davis was there. His role isn’t as glorious as a vertical receiver such as Kyle Davis or Craig-Myers, but the junior says he’s perfectly fine with that.
“I just do what I’m asked to do — just make plays when I have an opportunity,” Davis said. “I’m not trying to be the standout guy. I’m just trying to do what I’m asked to do and contribute anything I can to this team.”
Teammates said Davis has been one of the top receivers during the first two weeks of Auburn fall camp. Although he’s wearing a new jersey number — No. 23, a tribute to his grandfather — that familiar speed is still out there for Davis.
“He’s definitely still quick as a cat,” Slayton said. “He’s doing a really good job, too.”
To those on the outside, Davis might not be viewed as a key piece to Auburn football’s passing revitalization project under first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and quarterback Jarrett Stidham. But the team’s leading returner in receptions will have an important role to play this fall.
As the most experienced receiver in a young unit, Davis knows what it takes to succeed.
“We have to make plays down the field,” Davis said. “We have have to make those 50-50 catches. It’s the SEC, nothing is going to be easy. Everything is going to be contested. We just have to make the plays going down the stretch, and that’s what’s going to take this offense over the top.”