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Wide receiver group must prove itself


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Thin group at wide receiver must prove itself for Auburn this spring

By Tom Green | tgreen@al.com

5-6 minutes

Auburn receiver Shedrick Jackson (11) catches a pass against Arkansas during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)AP

We’re taking a look at each position group as Auburn prepares to open spring practice on March 14. The third of an 11-part series looks at the wide receivers.

Who emerges at quarterback is hardly the only question facing Auburn’s offense this offseason. The Tigers also need to figure out who will step up on the other end of those passes in 2022.

Auburn’s receiving corps looks considerably different heading into spring practice than it did in the fall. The Tigers saw four players enter the transfer portal this offseason—with three already landing at other programs — while another starting receiver (Demetris Robertson) exhausted his final year of eligibility. The result for Auburn? Only one of its top-four players at the position it set to participate in spring practices — fifth-year senior Shedrick Jackson.

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The super senior, coming off a career season in 2021, headlines a rather unproven group that features just six scholarship players on roster this spring. Two more are set to arrive by fall, and Auburn is still expected to pursue another experienced piece through the post-spring transfer market.

Projected depth chart:

Wide receiver/X

Shedrick Jackson, super senior

Ze’Vian Capers, junior

Wide receiver/H

Tar’Varish Dawson, redshirt freshman

Jay Fair, freshman

Wide receiver/Z

Malcolm Johnson Jr., junior

J.J. Evans, redshirt sophomore

Departed: Demetris Robertson, graduated; Kobe Hudson, dismissed; Ja’Varrius Johnson, transfer portal; Elijah Canion, transfer; Caylin Newton, transfer.

Due to arrive in the fall: Omari Kelly, four-star 2022 signee; Camden Brown, three-star 2022 signee.

Outlook: More than any other position on offense, Auburn’s receiving corps was greatly impacted by offseason departures. The Tigers saw Robertson, a former grad transfer from Georgia who was Auburn’s third-leading receiver in the fall, exhaust his final season of eligibility. Leading receiver Kobe Hudson transferred to UCF after being dismissed from the team by Bryan Harsin. Elijah Canion and Caylin Newton also transferred to Purdue and William & Mary, respectively. Ja’Varrius Johnson (19 catches for 274 yards and two touchdowns in 2021) entered the transfer portal last month but is still enrolled in classes this spring — though he has not withdrawn from the portal at this time.

That leaves Auburn with just 34 percent (740 of 2,175 receiving yards) of its production at the position returning this spring. Most of that will come from Jackson, who caught 40 passes for a team-best 527 yards and one touchdown last season after entering 2021 with just 10 career receptions for 130 yards.

He’s the most experienced option the Tigers will have at receiver, while five others will jostle for reps this spring. Junior Ze’Vian Capers had just six catches for 54 yards in 10 appearances last season, and he’ll likely work behind Jackson at the X. Fellow junior Malcolm Johnson Jr., who had six catches for 82 yards and a touchdown in 2021, is the likely favorite at the Z position, with redshirt sophomore J.J. Evans—who has yet to see the field in two seasons—working behind him. In the slot, redshirt freshman Tar’Varish Dawson should slide into the top spot—at least for this spring, with Ja’Varrius Johnson’s status still uncertain. Dawson earned a spot on the two-deep ahead of last season’s opener, but he appeared in just one game and did not record a stat last season. True freshman early enrollee Jay Fair, a speedy three-star wideout from Texas, should compete for reps at that spot this spring.

It’s an inexperienced and relatively thin group this spring. Jackson is the only known quantity, while the rest will have their chances to prove themselves ahead of the 2022 season. Two more pieces—four-star signee Omari Kelly and three-star signee Camden Brown—will arrive by fall, and Auburn could still seek an instant-impact veteran on the transfer market.

The question is whether that will be enough to elevate the play at the position under new receivers coach Ike Hilliard and with a new starter at quarterback this fall.

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