Auburn receivers coach Dameyune Craig quickly built a reputation as a top-notch talent-acquisition specialist, having helped reel in players such as quarterback Jameis Winston at Florida State.
So when Craig says a player is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, it’s worth taking note.
That’s precisely what Craig said of D’haquille Williams—rated by 247Sports as the No. 1 junior college transfer in the nation.
#Auburn WR coach Dameyune Craig said of five-star signee D'haquille Williams, "he's our Jameis Winston...he's a once in a lifetime player."— Justin Hokanson (@JHokanson) January 4, 2014
Williams quickly became a crown jewel in Auburn’s 2014 signing class, immediately eliciting comparisons to the impact Cordarrelle Patterson had in his one year at Tennessee.
With Williams in the fray, AL.com’s Brandon Marcello reported that Craig has expressed this year’s Auburn receiving corps could potentially be the best in the nation.
For defenses that couldn’t slow down Gus Malzahn’s attack in the first year, the idea of tremendous improvement in Year 2 should be terrifying.
Receiver Sammie Coates, who emerged as Auburn’s go-to target in 2013, returns after finishing with 902 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Now Coates has a running mate who could supplant him as the most dangerous threat in the offense.
It took no time for Williams to draw praise from teammates.
“D’haquille is probably going to be a great player for us this year,” safety Jermaine Whitehead said to AL.com after the second day of spring practice. “He reminds me a lot of Sammie. He can get vertical fast. He also likes to put his foot in the ground and make plays across the field.”
Williams won’t be the only reason for Auburn’s improved passing game.
Because of his breakout season in 2013, it’s easy to forget that quarterback Nick Marshall is now halfway through his first spring practice under Malzahn.
Marshall didn’t enroll at Auburn until summer 2013, meaning he didn’t practice with the program until August.
He quickly claimed the starting position.
However, Tigers coaches quickly realized the need to play to the team’s strengths.
Marshall didn’t have enough reps in Malzahn’s offense to develop fully as a passer, and the Tigers young receivers needed more time to mature.
The result was a reliance on tailback Tre Mason and the run game—including Marshall’s ability to tuck the ball and make defenses pay for focusing too much attention on Mason.
Now Marshall has time to jell with a more seasoned crew, headlined by another big-impact junior college transfer in Williams.
Marshall and Malzahn both like what they’ve seen so far.
Nick Marshall on new WR D'haquille Williams: "He's very impressive, he's a guy that will make a play for you in the air."— Alex Byington (@AUBlog) March 22, 2014
Malzahn on D'haquille Williams: "He's off to a good start." Says he's doing everything asked of him and made some good plays one-on-one.— WarEagleExtra (@wareagleextra) March 22, 2014
Despite enormous expectations surrounding Williams, he is apparently focusing on the little things that make all the difference to Malzahn.
“I just have to adjust to the fast-paced offense,” Williams said to Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com after his second practice. “We ran no-huddle in junior college, but it wasn’t this fast.”
Malzahn declared to AL.com that he wants to press down harder on the gas in Year 2 than he did during his initial season as head coach at Auburn, which yielded an SEC Championship.
Having a talent who lives up to the considerable hype Craig placed on Williams would put Malzahn’s offense on the same level as Oregon’s or Baylor’s.