Editor's Note: These lists feature our thoughts on the most players for Auburn heading into the 2016 football season. We are counting down 16 key Tigers for the offense and 16 more for the defense as Coach Gus Malzahn's team prepares to face Clemson in the season opener.
Auburn, Ala.--After three seasons of very little playing time and only 20 career receptions to show for it, 6-4 senior Tony Stevens has plenty of reasons to be excited about his opportunity heading into the 2016 season.
With Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray both gone and Marcus Davis as the only true veteran in the receiver corps, Stevens’ physical skills and knowledge of the offense should give him a chance to be part of the regular rotation for the first time in his career with the Auburn Tigers.
The biggest question for him is how much of a lead does he take at his position heading into preseason practices in August? Expected to battle with freshmen such as Kyle Davis and Nate Craig for playing time on the perimeter, Stevens knows the offense inside and out so that should be an advantage for him.
Best Case Scenario: Stevens takes advantage of his opportunity and seizes the day. That’s what Coach Kodi Burns is hoping he sees out of his big veteran receiver because the Tigers don’t have anyone else with the experience and the size of Stevens. If he can take a big step forward it would be one of the biggest boosts for Auburn’s offense as it tries to get back to being a big-play group under Gus Malzahn.
Tony Stevens is shown in action during an A-Day contest.
Worst Case Scenario: If Stevens can’t show the consistency that Burns is looking for it would leave the Tigers with very little experience at the position and throw at least one true freshman into the mix very early in the season. Facing Clemson, Texas A&M and LSU all in the first five weeks, learning on the run for a freshman receiver isn’t the most ideal of circumstances for Auburn.
Career Comparison: Watching Stevens and his combination of size and athletic ability reminds me of watching Prechae Rodriguez during his two seasons at Auburn. A junior college player, Rodriguez never found his role with the Tigers, but you could see that he was a player who had talent. He finally found that during his time in both the Canadian Football League and in the Arena Football League, but it took several years for him to come into his own after catching just 25 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown in two seasons on the Plains.
Stevens At His Best: We’ve only seen glimpses of Stevens, but he’s shown the ability to big a big-play threat against top teams with a 44-yarder against Ole Miss and a 32-yarder against Texas A&M. Those are the types of plays that Auburn is hoping to get from the senior in his final season on the Plains.
Quote: “This is his opportunity to prove himself and show what he can do,” said Burns, the new wide receivers coach. “He's slowly getting better. He's getting there. He's shown flashes. I think Tony is a good player. He ought to be one of those leaders like Marcus (Davis).”