Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Upon Further Review: Auburn's Understated Need a WR

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It's been 6 days since National Signing Day kicked off. Unless you live under the proverbial rock, Auburn finished with a solid class, according to the recruiting services. But, if you read any of my posts that are about recruiting, you know that I care very little about stars and rankings. I care about filling needs with solid players. When it comes to that, Auburn had a need for another game-breaking receiver. It's no news that Coates bolted for the NFL with a potential first round draft pick. Luckily for Tiger fans ,we kept Duke Williams, which helps deal with Coates' loss. 

However, it wasn't that simple, was it? Auburn lost more than Coates this year. Quan Bray had been a chain mover for Auburn all year. Obviously, he moves on from Auburn. Though Auburn has a plethora of players on the roster who are wide receivers, they are looking to Ricardo Louis to fill Coates' place as a blistering ball hawk. I have my doubts that he can fill those shoes. Coaches have raved about Stanton Truitt, but he hasn't made an impact for Auburn. Regardless, you have to continue to recruit each position each and every year. in my own personal opinion, a player either has it, or they don't. And, no one on the team has exhibited the need for a playmaker who can outrun absolutely everyone on the field, attack the ball in the air, and win those 50/50 battles. It isn't just about size, speed, or ball-hawking talent. You have to add in ferocity, determination, and a willingness to work on the finer aspect of your game such as route running. Combining these traits is tough, which is why I have some legitimate concerns, going forward. 

This is the reason I wrote this post 2 weeks ago:

Auburn's Understated Needs of 2015 Signing Day: Wide Receiver

At the time, Auburn has Jason Smith and Kerryon Johnson on the list, added Ryan and Javarious Davis. I do believe Smith could turn into a fine receiver after he flirts with QB. I think Kerryon Johnson is as versatile a tool as Auburn has ever had and keeping him recruited was a huge deal, which is why I wrote this article MONTHS ago.

I, of all people, believe that you can't judge a player based upon their physical appearance. However, it is almost a necessity in the SEC for a successful receiver to eclipse the 6 foot mark. After all, SEC corners ain't no joke. They will all be just as athletic and fast. 

That got me to thinking about making this article. Like I said, I had legitimate concerns that Auburn wasn't filling some of its needs. It all comes at a price, right?  But, as I saw it, there wasn't a receiver on the list that I thought filled the need. When Auburn flipped Darius Slayton from UGA, I...and everyone else....was fairly surprised.  But, he wasn't listed as one of those blue chip recruits that everyone hoped to land. In fact, Auburn slipped down the stretch after it landed Cowart and failed to nab any of the remaining big names. 

Over the next few days, I read all of the Auburn beat reporters' thoughts on this last round of recruiting. It wasn't Slayton's rankings that initially intrigued me. He is listed as the #19 WR in the country and the #31 player in all of Georgia. To those that care about rankings, this guy isn't worth a second look. But, his physical stats had me at least a little interested. He is listed as 6'1" 175. His 40 is listed at a blistering 4.4. But, I don't pay attention to many of those measurables until they are verified....but.....it did get me to look at his recruiting page.

Numbers don't tell you much, so I decided to do a little scouting. I pulled up his highlight videos. The first one wasn't very good quality and by the look of his play, it may be from his junior year or earlier. By the end of this first vid, I found myself completely unimpressed. It seemed to be the same play over and over. He would run. The QB would throw it as far as he could. And Slayton would come down with the ball. Touchdown. Most of the plays, he was making catches with his body instead of his hands. After the catch, he displayed good skills, but went down fairly easy after first contact. The video also featured some good sweep plays to him where he did show off some good moves and speed. He made some difficult catches on the sidelines and elsewhere on the field, but they were far and few in between. He seemed to be a pure deep threat, using pure speed to win. I was fairly unimpressed. While this whole post is about Auburn's need for just that, you can't just use pure speed to win in the SEC. 

Because highschool games don't feature the best cinematography, many times he was off screen when the ball was snapped in the first video. Then, I watched the second video, which was a much higher quality video that featured whole field view. I had a completely different perspective, both because of the video quality and what it showed, but because of the evolution in Slayton's game. 

You can see it here, courtesy of PrepForce.com.  

I realized why the first video was so mundane. He was blowing by everyone. It appeared that opposing defenses we either failing to game plan for him (possible if it was his junior year) or they were simply getting toasted. But, either way,  it was HOW he was doing it that I didn't see in the first video.  In his highlights that took place inside the 30 yard line, he ran some of the most brutal routes I have seen....I mean, ankle-snapping routes. It threw the coverage into complete disarray, leaving him wide open on post-corners.  It was obvious that the play call was predetermined to throw to Slayton because I didn't see that discipline outside of the 30. 

Outside of the 30, he was getting to the outside and using pure speed to get vertical. Mostly, He blistered the defense and the QB hit him in stride with a nice over-the-shoulder catch. Other times, he was completely outrunning his QB and had to come back to the ball. This also threw the defense off, which allowed him to come back and make an easy catch. So, while initially I was disappointed by his hands, I quickly figured out that was WHY he was using his body. While he did catch passes across the middle, he was timid. 

To be a game-breaking receiver, you have to be able to take those dig and slant routes at full speed and in stride. Sometimes you might just get the 1st down. Sometimes a busted coverage means 6 points. In all cases, you have to be willing to run the route and take the hit. He will have to work on that, though I do admit that he is more of a vertical threat, anyway. 

But, then the second video showed me a lot more than that. He was contested a lot more in the 2nd video, which made him fight for the ball. He displayed very good concentration, coming down with contested balls...and even some balls where the defender was able to get hands on it. He attacked the ball in the air instead of waiting for it to come down. 

Another massive difference I saw was that he had a killer instinct with the ball in his hands. he would fight for extra yardage, and some times that larger frame found him bounding off of would-be tacklers and into the open field. He never went down at first contact. 

Speaking of open field, Slayton has some cold-as-ice moves and a rare top gear. He has as good of lateral speed as I have seen in a taller kid. He could easily traverse the width of the field and explode up the field seamlessly. 

While he doesn't have protypical size, he fits the mold. And, though he is listed at 175 (and is probably more like 165), don't be surprised what this kid weighs in at after a year in a college strength and conditioning program. He has the frame to hit 190. 

Slayton has the ability to run some crisp and brutally efficient routes. He can snap defenders ankles with his cuts. But, he has to show the discipline to do so on every play, not just those that are destined to go to him. He has good speed in lateral and vertical running, making him a potential punt returner. He has the speed to burn, but while Auburn needs that speedster on the outside, he won't be able to outrun ever one, every single time. He has showed flashes of ability to make tough contested catches as well as those back of the endzone or 1st down marker tight-rope catches that Jeremy Johnson has the ability to throw. 

One of the great things about Coates was that he was better when he was contested. He loved to be dominate. He fought for extra yards. He fought through pass interference. 

I had some very real concerns that Auburn didn't currently have a player on the roster, nor committed, that could fill that void. Granted, Coates is a 1st or 2nd round talent and they don't come every day. But, Auburn doesn't need another Coates, just another player like him. 

Slayton has these skills. He has great speed in both directions. He can run terrific routes. He attacks the ball and fights through contested balls. And, he looks to have a real competitive streak. He needs to work on his consistency in route running. 

While I didn't think Gus would be able to fill that need, it looks like they got exactly what they needed.