AUBURN, Ala. – Will it be Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Myers, Darius Slayton or somebody else who winds up as the answer to this trivia question: Who was the first Auburn receiver to finish a season with 1,000 yards with Gus Malzahn on staff?
That hasn’t happened, but with Jarrett Stidham starting at quarterback, Chip Lindsey at offensive coordinator and the talent on the outside, Malzahn should have a 1,000-yard receiver in 2017.
“It’s just a matter of that group just taking that next step,” Malzahn said after Auburn’s second scrimmage Saturday. “That’s what we challenged them with. Last year, a lot of them played. They were very inexperienced. They were learning on the job, learning on the go. Now they’ve had a spring and now we’re in the middle of fall camp and they’ve got to raise their level as a group.”
Reports from the scrimmage, which was not open to the public, have Slayton catching a 99-yard touchdown pass and Craig-Myers hauling in a touchdown from 50-plus yards out.
While Malzahn didn’t provide names, he may have been talking about Slayton and Myers when describing two pass plays for scores in the scrimmage.
“I thought our young wide receivers really responded well,” Malzahn said. “Had some explosive plays. Couple of them caught the ball, made something happen after they caught the ball. Broke some tackles.”
Juniors Slayton and Ryan Davis seemed to have emerged as leaders. Malzahn raved about the competitiveness of Slayton, who was second on the team in receiving last season with 292 yards.
Craig-Myers, a sophomore, showed his potential in the A-Day game (five catches, 154 yards). Sophomore Eli Stove is solid. Junior walk-on Will Hastings competes.
Then there’s senior John Franklin III. The quarterback-turned-receiver is the fastest of them all, but Davis is the most physically gifted of the group. At 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, he’s full grown with muscles, has serious hops and should be Auburn’s top downfield threat this season. He averaged 20.7 yards a catch last season.
So someone out of perhaps Malzahn’s deepest collection of receiver talent should finish 2017 with 1,000 yards receiving.
That hasn’t happened under him. Trust me, I checked.
2013: Sammie Coates – 902 yards
2014: Sammie Coates – 741
2015: Ricardo Louis – 716
2016:Tony Stevens – 487
Even in Malzahn’s three seasons as Auburn’s offensive coordinator, it didn’t happen. Darvin Adams fell just short in 2009 and ’10 with 997 and 963 yards, respectively. Emory Blake managed 613 in 2011.
Duke Williams had 730 receiving yards in 2014. Coates and Williams may have each reached 1,000 if Nick Marshall had been a better passer and Auburn hadn’t been so run-heavy.
Auburn’s quarterback play hasn’t delivered enough the past two seasons to have a 1,000-yard receiver. Jeremy Johnson lost his starting job in 2015 after failing to meet high expectations. Sean White is a gamer, but has been injury-prone; when upright, he hasn’t generated many explosive plays in the pass game.
It wasn’t all on the quarterbacks, though. Marcus Davis had a combined 47 catches the past two seasons – for a total of 342 yards (7.3 yards per reception).
Receivers haven’t been game-changers and play-calling was suspect at times – but that should change this season, right?
The Tigers have the receivers and the quarterback, are considered talented and versatile on the offensive line and have a new offensive coordinator who knows the passing game well.
So, no more excuses. Someone should establish the “Auburn 1,000-yard WR Club Under Malzahn” in 2017.
(Duane Rankin is an award-winning columnist/videographer for the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser whose work also can be found in USA Today. You can follow him on Twitter @DuaneRankin)
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