Editor's Note: These lists 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 more for the defense as Coach Gus Malzahn's team prepares to face Clemson in the season opener.
Auburn, Ala.--With a big need for playmakers at the wide receiver position, the Auburn Tigers signed four players in the 2017 class who should have a chance to get on the field early. One of those is physical Nate Craig out of Florida high school power Tampa Catholic.
A 6-2, 204-pounder with good speed and hands, Craig is fully healthy and ready to show why he was one of the top prep receivers in the country during his high school career. That’s good news for an Auburn passing game that is without top playmaker Ricardo Louis as well as Melvin Ray. Already a group that underachieved a season ago, Kodi Burns, the new receivers coach, will have plenty of new faces to work with in his first season on the job.
A talented pass catcher with very good hands, Craig is a hard worker who has had the opportunity to work with former Auburn and NFL wide receiver Jeris McIntyre for the last few years. That should give him an edge heading into his freshmen year because he knows what to expect from life in the SEC.
While Kyle Davis has an advantage after going through spring practice, you can lump Craig, Elijah Stove and Marquis McClain in a group together with at least one needing to step forward quickly in the fall to help out at wide receiver.
Best Case Scenario: Needing several freshmen to step up, Craig becomes a big play threat for the Tigers very early in the 2016 season. That’s a huge need area for Auburn’s offense and having someone making plays down the field will force defenses to defend the depth of the field instead of crowding the line of scrimmage like we saw in 2015.
Worst Case Scenario: The worst possible news for Auburn would be if Craig and the rest of the freshmen take too long to get comfortable in the offense. With Clemson, Arkansas State, Texas A&M, LSU and Mississippi State all on the schedule very early in the year, the Tigers need to be running the offense at a high level early in the season or it could be bad news.
Career Comparison: Ben Obomanu was a talented and very highly recruited wide receiver out of Selma when he arrived at Auburn and he became a dependable target for the Tigers during his career on the Plains. Physical and athletic, Obomanu wasn’t the biggest or the fastest, but he got the job done time and time again.
The wide receiver made a strong comeback as a senior from an injury that kept him on the sideline as a junior.
Craig At His Best: With more than 1,000 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior despite sharing the load with running back Devan Barrett, Craig has already shown he has got the ability to catch passes in bunches and make something happen with the ball in his hands.
Quote: “We identified him two years ago,” Coach Gus Malzahn said. “We really felt like he was one of the best overall players in the entire country. He's a big guy. He can go get the football. He's tough to tackle. He's got that competitive edge. He's got a great family. He's a wonderful person. We're excited about him. He's got a chance to be an impact player.”