Marcus Davis (above) will be back this fall as an experienced receiver for the Tigers.
When it comes to evaluating pass offense most fans tend to gravitate towards the performance of the quarterback. In reality, there are multiple components involved in the achievement of any successful passing attack. Quarterbacks tend to receive too much credit when an offense is successful and too much of the culpability when the offense is not.
During the 2015 season the Auburn offense finished No. 79 nationally in pass efficiency, a dramatic drop from its No. 8 national ranking during 2014. One of the reasons for this decline was the lack of a vertical success, which was ranked No. 72 nationally in producing pass plays of 15 yards or more. During the 2014 season, Auburn was No. 8 nationally in generating impact plays from its passing attack.
The loss of Sammie Coates and the eventual dismissal of Duke Williams was a combination that Auburn struggled to replace during 2015. Coates and Williams combined for 36 plays of 15 yards or more during the 2014 season. During 2015 they were replaced by Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray, who combined for 23 such plays.
Quarterbacks are primarily the heart of the passing game, but wide receiver play is the lifeline that completes the aerial assault. Auburn has a long history of producing quality running backs, but the same cannot be said about wide receivers. Former Auburn wide receiver Frank Sanders (1994) is Auburn’s last first-team All-SEC receiver and All-American. Sanders was an instrumental player in Auburn’s 20-1-1 record from 1993 to 1994.
During the last 50 years of Auburn football Frank Sanders, Lawyer Tillman and Terry Beasley are Auburn’s only three receivers to be named first-team All-SEC. Of the wide receivers taken in the NFL Draft from 1992-2015, Auburn is seventh among the 12 original Southeastern Conference teams. If you took the top 100 receiving (seasonal) performances from 1992-2015, Auburn has the 11th fewest players on the list (three) among the current 14 SEC members. Florida, LSU and Tennessee combined for 37 of the Top 100 list.
How important is wide receiver play? From 1970-2015 Auburn has fielded 10 teams with receiving corps averaging at least 17 yards per reception during an entire season. Those teams finished with a combined winning percentage of .804 while the remaining teams won 64 percent of their games.
During the last 30 years of Auburn has fielded 12 teams that won at least 75 percent of its games. The leading wide receiver from those dozen teams averaged 16.6 yards per reception while scoring a touchdown every eight receptions. The leading receiver from the remaining 18 teams averaged 14.7 yards per reception and a touchdown reception every 11 receptions.
When you consider that more than 67 percent of Auburn’s plays of 30 yards or more the past 30 years have come via the passing game, the magnitude of wide receiver play is significant. Since 1992 Auburn is ninth among the 12 original SEC teams in producing wide receivers with at least 800 yards receiving. The 2015 Auburn offense was 10th in the SEC in producing pass-plays of 15 yards or more.
With the departure of Louis and Ray, the 2016 Auburn offense must now replace more 66 percent of its pass-plays of 15 yards or more.
Tony Stevens could have an expanded role in the offense this fall.
Entering spring practice 2016 the focus will once again be on Auburn’s future starting quarterback. Although this is essential, identifying the best group of wide receivers will be just as important. Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Jason Smith will be the top returning wide receivers. Stanton Truitt and Ryan Davis saw minimal playing time this past season and Darius Slayton will be in the mix as a redshirt freshman.
Auburn has added wide receiver depth through its 2016 recruiting class with four signees at that position, but overall the receiving corps will lack experience this fall.
From 2000-2015 nearly one-fourth of the nation’s Top 100 wide receivers have been underclassmen, which means the 2016 Tigers won’t be unusual if they rely heavily on young players to catch passes. The combination of Auburn’s quarterback competition and wide receiver development will make for one of the most competitive spring and fall camps in recent memory.