Editor's Note: The list will feature our thoughts on the most important players for Auburn heading into the 2016 football season. We are counting down 16 key Tigers for the offense and 16 for the defense as Coach Gus Malzahn's team prepares to face Clemson in the season opener.
Auburn, Ala.--With Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray gone from last season, Auburn's need for players to step up at wide receiver is a major one and that makes junior Jason Smith an important piece of the offensive puzzle in 2016.
An electric athlete who is still finding his way as a receiver after being signed as a quarterback, Smith has worked hard to improve his game and this season could see more of the benefits of that work.
Marcus Davis returns as the only receiver with extensive game experience for the Tigers so that makes Smith’s development even more important for the 2016 offense. Finding guys who are capable of being playmakers has always been a key component for Gus Malzahn’s offensive system and Smith has the talent to be one of those performers.
Best Case Scenario: Smith’s development continues to take strides forward and he becomes the dynamic player the Tigers were hoping to get when he signed out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he redshirted one season and played the other. Last year he caught just 13 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns, but showed some big play ability with one of those going for 77 yards and a score against Alabama. Both of his touchdown receptions came in the final two games of the season, giving the Tigers hope that his best is yet to come.
Worst Case Scenario: The downside to making a move from quarterback to receiver is that it’s sometimes tough for the consistency to show up as a pass catcher. That has been the case with several recent players for the Tigers, including Louis. Smith had a little experience at receiver before arriving at Auburn, which should help his development, but he is already a junior so his time to become a polished receiver is limited.
Career Comparison: There are plenty of examples of quarterbacks turned wide receiver for the Tigers, but Tyrone Goodson’s career path closely resembles what Smith has gone through. He was an All-State defensive back who played quarterback as a senior in Brooksville, Fla. Getting to Auburn, Goodson redshirted his first year on campus and had just 14 catches for 106 yards in his first season before breaking out as a sophomore with 37 catches for 597 yards and a score.
Goodson had the opportunity to play at a time when Auburn threw the ball a whole lot more than the Tigers do now, but he finished his career with 136 receptions for 2,283 yards and 12 touchdowns. It would be a surprise if Smith can get to those numbers in the next two seasons, but Goodson’s development came with more time at wide receiver and Smith has the chance to do the same.
Jason Smith was a star quarterback at McGill-Toolen High in Mobile. He originally signed with Auburn as a high school senior.
Smith At His Best: It’s definitely his big play against Alabama because that is what he brings to the table--the ability to take it the distance at any moment. With an offense that is still trying to find a home run threat in the backfield, Smith’s speed and quickness makes him a player the Tigers need to target early and often this fall.
Quote: “He's a really talented guy who can stretch the field out,” Marcus Davis said. “Just having a year converting from quarterback to receiver, I know for a fact that he's a guy that can really help the wideout room.”