Aug 16, 2018 (Akademos, Inc.)
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  Football Preview: Quarterbacks and Receivers

Ask any Auburn fan — or really anyone other than Tigers coaches — who the starting quarterback will be this fall and there’s one definitive answer: Jarrett Stidham. Who Stidham will consistently look to for receptions is a different conversation.

The nation’s 2017 No. 1 JUCO recruit arrived at Auburn with hype already forming, and after the country saw him play in the annual A-Day spring game, Stidham might as well been handed the key to the city. Since that April performance, Stidham has even been called a “taller Drew Brees” and been referred to as Auburn’s best QB since Cam Newton.

Not bad for a guy that hasn’t taken an official snap.

Stidham’s story, though growing, is one that everyone has heard. The long months of summer will have it regurgitated more and more — from Stidham throwing for 1,200-plus yards and 12 touchdowns in three games as a true freshman at Baylor transitioning into the words “Heisman” and “national championship” possibly being used. Fans are excited, and they should be, but Stidham’s story won’t enter its next chapter until this fall.

Auburn’s quarterback discussion does include more than just the rise of Stidham. Backups Woody Barrett and Tyler Queen, two underclassmen who some thought could be future starters, both transferred from Auburn this offseason, and John Franklin III moved to wide receiver. This leaves Stidham, Sean White, Malik Willis and Devin Adams as the Tigers’ four QBs.

White is by far the most experienced of the group, but an injury in the Sugar Bowl left him on the sideline all spring while Stidham and Willis dazzled. While Stidham, who stands at 6-foot- 3, 214 pounds, boasts a big body and strong arm, Willis, 6-1, 201, poses more of a Nick Marshall physique. Willis even wears No. 14.

A true freshman from Roswell, Georgia, Willis isn’t getting as much talk of becoming the starter as Stidham or even White. However, his athleticism brings a spark. He’s incredibly quick and athletic, making him a threat at several positions. Though the John Franklin III experiment last season didn’t produce, it’s possible Willis could be 2.0 of the test.

Realistically, White is the only player who could win the quarterback battle over Stidham. His 18-game experience makes the junior experienced, and he plays with the leadership and grit that’s usually wanted in a QB. In 2016 he led the SEC in completion percentage (64 percent), was fourth in passing efficiency (143.1) and played a vital role in helping Auburn reach the Sugar Bowl. The only major flaws in White’s game are lack of speed and inability to avoid injuries.

While the QB battle will work itself out, quarterbacks are often only as successful as their receiving corps. The Tigers lost Tony Stevens and Marcus Davis after the 2016 season, but that doesn’t mean Auburn will lack talent.

Auburn has a lot of depth, though a go-to wideout isn’t necessarily definitive.

Nate Craig-Myers had a standout performance on A-Day, pulling in 154 yards on five receptions, making him an easy name to keep in mind this fall. Jason Smith has also been expected to have a good year, especially being one of the older players in a young group. John Franklin III’s move to wide receiver from QB could provide several wrinkles into the Tigers’ tricky offense.

From there, Auburn has question marks. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Four of 2016’s top receivers (Craig-Myers, Eli Stove, Kyle Davis and Ryan Davis) return this fall and all have the potential to become big-time playmakers, especially with offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey saying he wants to throw the ball more.

The Tigers offense could be fun to watch this fall. Injuries have plagued Auburn in the past, especially at quarterback and wideout, but if health isn’t a concern at those positions this fall, the Tigers could score points by the bucket.

Brandon Miller


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