Auburn, Ala.--Losing seniors Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens off the 2016 football team, the Auburn Tigers have the bulk of a wide receiver group back that made strides under first-year Coach Kodi Burns. With new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey expected to bring a different look to the passing game, the group could get plenty of opportunities to showcase what it can do beginning in the spring.
Back as the veteran at the position is the only senior for Burns, Mobile native Jason Smith.
A player who has shown the ability to make big plays at times, Smith had very little impact as a junior when he caught just four passes for 60 yards. Catching 13 passes for 203 yards and a pair of scores in 2015, Smith has shown he can get the job done, but needs a big spring to hold off the younger players behind him.
One of just three upperclassmen period for the Tigers at wide receiver, Ryan Davis returns as Auburn’s leading pass-catcher after grabbing 25 balls for 194 yards and a score last season. The other veteran at the position is walk-on Will Hastings, who caught 11 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown last season after spending most of his freshman season as a kicker.
Behind them is a large group of young receivers who have the talent to really take a big step forward beginning with spring practice.
Leading the way is speedster Elijah Stove, who was third on the team last year in catches with 23 for 224 yards while adding 11 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown on the ground. His big play ability is something that should be a big deal for Lindsey.
The same is true of several more young guys hoping to see their roles increase from a season ago. Catching 15 passes for 292 yards and one score, redshirt sophomore Darius Slayton is looking to become a more consistent target beginning in the spring.
Catching 12 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, Kyle Davis led Auburn’s receivers in yards per catch (20.7) and should be a target who can stretch the field. After missing playing time during the preseason and season with minor injuries, a year in the strength and conditioning program should mean a better Davis this spring.
Battling injuries as well during his first season with the Tigers, Nate Craig showed the physical skills to be a big-time weapon in the offense as long as he stays healthy. As a true freshman he caught just four passes, but they went for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Perhaps the most physical player at the position is redshirt freshman Marquis McClain, who was impressive last season while sitting out. At 6-2, 218, McClain has a chance to make some noise in the spring because of his ability to block at the point of attack and also because of his combination of size and speed.
A pair of walk-ons also have a chance to help out as well. Logan Rice earned a scholarship prior to the 2016 season and played some in a reserve role last year. Redshirting a season ago, Pace Ozmint has some history on his side as the son of former Alabama defensive back Lee Ozmint.