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Auburn spring position battles: Wide receiver

Auburn players competing for a starting role at wide receiver includes (from left to right) Jason Smith, Ryan Davis, Nate Craigh-Myers and Kyle Davis.
Auburn players competing for a starting role at wide receiver includes (from left to right) Jason Smith, Ryan Davis, Nate Craigh-Myers and Kyle Davis. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn’s impending quarterback battle is an important one, but the team has other positions up for grabs when spring practice starts Feb. 28.

Here is a look at Auburn’s top position battles this spring…

Position: Wide receiver

Contenders: Ryan Davis, Eli Stove, Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Myers, Darius Slayton, Jason Smith, Marquis McClain

Auburn has some of the best athletes in the conference at wide receiver, but the program has struggled developing them into impact players in recent years.

Sean White’s top target was Tony Stevens early in the year, but true freshman Eli Stove emerged as Auburn’s most consistent receiver late in the year with 24 catches for 224 yards.

The 6-foot-0, 179-pounder led the team in receiving the last two weeks of the season (eight catches for 126 yards).

Stove also flourished running the jet sweep, a play Gus Malzahn and former offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee liked mixing into their offensive game plan.

Malzahn had high praise for Stove when he paid a visit to the small group of Auburn players participating in the Senior Bowl.

“Eli we knew when we recruited him he had a special talent,” Malzahn said. “He played very well for his true freshman season. He got a lot of talent. Really expect him to take that next step next year. He’s got some dynamic playmaking ability.”

Stove could ride the momentum into a starting role in the fall, but there will be stiff competition from the receivers he came to the Plains with.

Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Myers and Marquis McClain were all part of Auburn’s 2016 signing class.

Davis made waves early with an impressive one-handed haul — and finished with the Auburn’s best per catch average (20.67) — but disappeared for long stretches late in the season.

The Georgia native could be a game changer for Auburn as it looks to establish a downfield passing game under new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey.

McClain was the only receiver from the 2016 recruiting class to redshirt, but his time on the bench could be coming to an end.

"Marquis is very talented young man,” Malzahn said during bowl practices. “They've been talking about him all year on the scout team making plays and doing a super job. He's one of those guys that made some plays as soon as we put the ball down for the three or four days that we did. There's no doubt he'll be a guy that helps us for the future.”

Lindsey could also lean on veterans Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton, a pair of talented players waiting to have breakout years. The competition at the position should be wide open as Lindsey overhauls the passing game.

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra

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