Auburn wide receivers: Deep, experienced and primed for huge 2018

Auburn football will return to action in less than three weeks with the start of spring practices on March 1. Between now and then, SEC Country will preview each of the Tigers’ position groups heading into camp. Up next, the spotlight swings to the wide receivers.

Auburn wide receiver depth charts

Stats from 2017 unless noted.

Split end/X/9

  • Darius Slayton (Junior)
    • 29 catches for 643 yards (22.17 YPC), 5 TDs
  • Marquis McClain (Sophomore)
    • 2 catches for 47 yards (23.50 YPC)

Big slot/Y

  • Nate Craig-Myers (Junior)
    • 16 catches for 285 yards (17.81 YPC), 3 TDs
  • Sal Cannella (Junior)
    • 3 catches for 31 yards (10.33 YPC)

Flanker/Z/2

  • Eli Stove (Junior)
    • 29 catches for 265 yards (9.14 YPC)
  • Noah Igbinoghene (Sophomore)
    • 6 catches for 24 yards (4.00 YPC)
  • Shedrick Jackson (Freshman)

Slot

  • Ryan Davis (Senior)
    • 84 catches for 815 yards (9.70 YPC), 5 TDs
  • Will Hastings (Senior — walk-on)
    • 26 catches for 525 yards (20.19 YPC), 4 TDs

Note: There is often overlap in terms of personnel and positioning for Auburn with the X and Y, as well as the Z and slot. Think of them as combinations — Craig-Myers and McClain will often play inside and outside for the Tigers. Davis and Stove both split out wide and line up in the slot, depending on the formation.

The departures and the arrivals

  • Departures: None
  • Arrivals: Jackson (early enrollee), Matthew Hill, Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams
Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Darius Slayton
Auburn receiver Darius Slayton was a major deep-ball threat in 2017. (Michael Chang/Getty Images)

The question

How much can Auburn’s receivers improve after a breakout 2017 season? 

Gus Malzahn’s usually run-heavy offense aired it out last season in a big way with new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The Tigers completed 255 passes last season, a new school record by 20-plus passes. Most of that work came from the wide receivers, as Auburn’s strong recruiting at the position started to pay dividends.

Every single receiver who finished the 2017 season with Auburn is set to come back. That experience combined with Stidham returning should generate a lot of excitement on The Plains. Only two — slot receivers Davis and Hastings — are seniors. This should only be the beginning of a receiving corps that will get deeper over the summer with the additions of three more 4-star targets.

SPRING PRACTICE PREVIEWS:  QB | RB

Spring ball will be a great opportunity for leaders such as Slayton, Davis and Stove to round out their skill sets while others to rise up the depth chart. The lone red flag, if there is one, is Stidham’s absence for at least the first half of camp after offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Still, it will be good for Auburn’s receivers to get work with Malik Willis and Joey Gatewood — and all that experience out wide should do wonders for the young quarterbacks’ own progression.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Ryan Davis
Auburn receiver Ryan Davis stands alone in the program’s record books for most receptions in a season. (Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics)

The star

Ryan Davis

Davis set a school record last season with 84 receptions. He increased his yards per catch by almost 2 yards, showing a greater ability to create bigger plays. Stidham and Davis clicked early, and they should continue that into the 2018 season. As the lone scholarship senior at wide receiver, Davis will undoubtedly be the leader for this unit.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Marquis McClain-Auburn wide receivers
Auburn wide receiver Marquis McClain broke into the rotation last season but only had a pair of catches. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)

The wild card

Marquis McClain

McClain saw the field a decent bit as a redshirt freshman, often lining up in big slot positions on power-running plays. He finally made a highlight play in the Peach Bowl with an impressive catch near the sidelines. McClain is, in the words of his teammates, “built like a linebacker” and has plenty of upside with his versatility. Watch out for the sophomore this spring.

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Nate Craig Myers-Iron Bowl
Auburn receiver Nate Craig-Myers made two big catches against Alabama in an Iron Bowl upset last season. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The prediction

Nate Craig-Myers sets the tone for a big 2018 season with a strong spring camp.

Craig-Myers hasn’t quite become the star receiver Auburn fans expected when he enrolled, but he’s shown some flashes. With Auburn returning so much experience in the passing game, Craig-Myers should see more targets his way in 2018 thanks to more four-wide receiver sets. If he can avoid the minor injuries that hampered his first two seasons at Auburn, Craig-Myers having a strong spring is a good bet.

The stat

  • 196. Auburn returns 196 wide receiver catches from a season ago. If you take away all catches from running backs and the tight ends, along with the 7 from Kyle Davis before his dismissal, that number alone would rank just outside of the top 10 all-time at Auburn for most team completions in a single season. It’s safe to say Auburn has never returned this much production at wide receiver.

The quote

Ryan Davis on the position’s potential in 2018:

“I feel like we could definitely take another step. I feel like this is just the beginning of Auburn offense’s passing game. Auburn’s running game is always going to be there, that’s what Auburn does is run the ball. It’s always going to be a part of the program, but I feel like the passing game has definitely took a big, huge leap. I think statistically you can see that, as well. I feel like going forward it’s only going to prove more and more. … All the receivers are coming back. I think you’re going to see a big difference next year.”

The post Auburn wide receivers: Deep, experienced and primed for huge 2018 appeared first on SEC Country.

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