AUBURN, Ala. — Whenever Kevin Steele looks at Texas A&M’s wide receiver group, his mind immediately goes from the gridiron to the hardwood.
“The analogy is a basketball team,” the Auburn defensive coordinator said. “They’ve got a point guard. They’ve got a shooting guard. They’ve got a 3. They’ve got a post player. They’ve got it all. They didn’t get them all alike.”
That variety of speed, skill, height and length has led some to call Texas A&M’s wide receiver unit the best in college football. And the Auburn coaching staff isn’t here to argue with that claim.
“I think they’re in the conversation,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “Looks to me like they’ve got a lot of guys that are going to play at the next level.”
Steele’s basketball comparison is a perfect one for the Aggies wide receivers, who will square off with Steele’s Auburn defense Saturday evening in a highly anticipated SEC opener.
The point guard of the unit is the 5-foot-11 Speedy Noil, who, as his name suggests, prefers to torment opponents with his quickness and agility. Noil was a 5-star prospect out of high school who still commands the attention of a floor general.
The shooting guard would be the similarly sized Christian Kirk, an all-around weapon with his hands, explosiveness and versatility. Like many shooting guards in basketball, he’s the primary scorer for Texas A&M’s wide receivers. The sophomore leads the team in receptions (13), yards (164) and touchdowns (2) through two weeks of the season.
The “3” Steele had in mind is most likely Josh Reynolds, a senior who is another high-scoring star for the Aggies. At 6-foot-4 and 193 pounds, Reynolds is a vertical matchup problem who has the ability to beat opponents in a number of ways. He’s had back-to-back 800-yard seasons and has 19 touchdowns in his A&M career.
The powerful post player undoubtedly is Ricky Seals-Jones, who at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds towers above most defensive backs. When Texas A&M gets near the goal line, its quarterbacks can throw it up and let Seals-Jones finish like a post-up center.
“I don’t know how you could put together four or five guys that would present any more problems than they do,” Steele said. “They’re very, very good.”
Steele’s analogy could go even further than the four-man starting lineup Texas A&M uses at wide receiver. Senior Damion Ratley is the veteran bench player all basketball teams need. The 6-foot-6 Frank Iheanacho is the gigantic young post player the team looks to bring along behind the stars.
The NFL prospect-heavy Texas A&M unit will be quite a challenge for the Auburn secondary. Only one player in the Tigers’ two-deep depth chart there — Miami-Ohio transfer cornerback Marshall Taylor — stands taller than 6-foot-1.
That means Auburn will have to rely on top-notch play from sub-6-foot players such as Joshua Holsey and Javaris Davis to lessen the impact of Texas A&M’s length advantage.
“Those kind of big, long guys, you’ve just got to practice hard and get your mind ready to go for Saturday,” Holsey said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re ready to take away deep balls, because they’re going to come in here and, I’m pretty sure, throw the ball a lot.”
Although they’re at a size disadvantage, Holsey said Auburn’s defensive backs won’t be intimidated by the Texas A&M wide receivers on Saturday. They look at the challenge as a major opportunity.
“We kind of embrace coming into these games,” Holsey said. “They want to throw the ball, and they’ve got good receivers. It’s just going to be another task for us to step up to. As a secondary, we know the game kind of depends on us. We can’t let them toss the ball around for 300 or 400 yards in the air.”
As Steele has helped Holsey and the secondary prepare for Texas A&M’s receivers, he’s not 100 percent sure the Aggies have the best wideouts in the country.
But that’s only because he hasn’t seen all the competition.
“It’s not like the NFL where you see everybody all the time,” Steele said. “I’d be wrong if I just ventured out and said that because I don’t see the West Coast teams. I will say this: They’re a very, very impressive group … I know this: You could probably make that statement and have a chance to be right.”