Even before spring practice began, there was a lot to like about the future of Auburn’s passing game.
The reason was Jarrett Stidham.
With the former Baylor transfer in tow at quarterback, maybe Gus Malzahn’s uptempo attack can pick up steam again. Maybe he can stretch the field the way Nick Marshall and Cam Newton did before him.
But while Marshall had Sammie Coates and Newton had Darvin Adams, Stidham’s potential deep threats are a question mark. Tony Stevens and Marcus Davis are gone. Eli Stove, Jason Smith and Will Hastings are familiar names, but not exactly inspiring. Even if John Franklin III makes a successful move from QB to receiver, there would be a steep learning curve.
And then there was more bad news when Malzahn announced that Kyle Davis, arguably the most promising young receiver coming out of last season, was sidelined while he dealt with “personal business.”
But Davis’ absence might have opened the door for another sophomore. Nate Craig-Myers, who was actually ranked slightly ahead of Davis coming out of high school, burst onto the scene during Auburn’s spring game, planting his flag as Stidham’s go-to target a year after catching just four passes in 11 games.
Myers, the No. 2-ranked receiver nationally in the 2016 class, caught a 50-yard deep ball from Stidham on the second play from scrimmage and wound up with a team-high 154 yards on five receptions.
It came against the second-team defense, but still.
“It felt great being able to execute on some of those deep balls,” Myers told reporters following the game. “I feel like that’s my strength.”
At 6-foot-2 with speed to burn, it’s hard to argue with him. Myers has all the tools to be the kind of deep threat Auburn and Malzahn covet. And with running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson forcing defenses to load the box, the opportunities to take shots downfield off of play-action should be there.
If Myers can become a playmaker on offense and Davis comes back to the fold, we could be looking at a big turnaround for Auburn’s deep, but as of yet unproven, group of receivers.
“They have experience from last year, but now it’s time to take that next step," Malzahn said.