One key position that will be important to watch as the first spring practice of the Bryan Harsin era begins on the Plains is the wide receiver corps.
Spring practice, which is expected to start on March 16, will focus on the position, which will need a large overhaul. With so many of Auburn’s top receivers leaving, it will be key to find out who is ready to step up to the plate when fall rolls around.
The Tigers will lose some big names that fans have gotten used to saying over the past three years. Juniors Anthony Schwartz, Eli Stove and Seth Williams all decided to forgo their senior years and try their chances at the NFL.
Stove leaves after spending five seasons with the Tigers, amassing 136 catches for 1,186 yards and six touchdowns. He was also a consistent run threat with 554 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Right as Stove went down with an ACL injury, Schwartz stepped onto the scene as arguably the fastest player in college football became a staple in the Auburn offense. Schwartz’s three seasons at Auburn saw him reel in 117 catches for 1,433 yards and six touchdowns as well as 323 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. With both of these speedsters gone, the Tigers will need to find a new slot receiver to rise to the occasion.
Auburn’s biggest loss at wide receiver is undoubtedly Seth Williams.
In Williams’ three years on the Plains, he had 132 catches for 2,124 yards and 17 touchdowns, which ranks seventh, fourth, and third, respectively, all-time among Auburn receivers. His ability to make physical 50-50 catches led to spectacular moments and caused the defense to respect him, which freed up other receivers. A consistent force on the field, his presence will be greatly missed in 2021.
While three veterans may have left, there are plenty of receivers returning to Auburn. Experience, however, is hard to find among them.
Caylin Newton, Jackson Billings, Trent Mason and J.J. Evans are all returning but have seen no action for the Tigers. Newton, brother to former Auburn great Cam Newton, is the most experienced among them. He has been with Auburn for two years, but prior to that he played quarterback for Howard University, where he passed for 2,629 yards and rushed for 504 yards for a total of 26 touchdowns.
There are several receivers returning, though, who have seen limited action over the past few seasons.
Ja’Varrius Johnson, Malcolm Johnson Jr., Tommy Newsmith, James Owen Moss, Malcolm Russell and Jackson McFadden are all returning — they have only appeared in games but have not recorded a catch or carry. James Owen Moss has appeared in the most games, playing against Alabama State, Liberty, and Purdue, all in 2018. McFadden is the only one who has actually recorded a catch in the one game he appeared in — for four yards against Samford in 2019. He primarily served as the backup holder in 2020.
The most experienced returning receivers in 2021 are Kobe Hudson, Shedrick Jackson, Elijah Canion and Ze’Vian Capers.
Only Jackson has been with the Tigers for more than one year, with the other three playing as true freshmen. Hudson and Capers flashed onto the scene as true freshmen, with both recording seven catches for 70 yards and 77 yards, respectively. Canion had less on-field time, only appearing against LSU and Northwestern, but he made the most of it with 3 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. Jackson has spent three years with the Tigers and is the most experienced Tiger returning. In his three seasons, he has 10 catches for 130 yards.
Auburn will be adding two receivers from their 2021 signing class into the mix as Tar’varish Dawson Jr. and Hal Presley join the Tigers.
Dawson hails from Fort Myers, Florida, where he had 28 catches for 690 yards and nine touchdowns in his senior season. Presley comes to the Plains from Mansfeild, Texas, where he had 32 catches for 755 yards and 13 touchdowns in his senior season.
With all of the young talent in the Auburn receiving corp, these two athletes will be hoping to get ahead quickly and potentially earn some early playing time.
While the Tigers may have plenty of names returning, there is clearly a lack of experience and spring games are the perfect time to assess young players to see how they react in game-like situations. There is a massive void left by Williams, Schwartz, and Stove, and who will fill it remains to be seen.
A-Day will be held at of Jordan-Hare Stadium on April 17.