Is This the Most Skill Position Talent Gus Malzahn Has Ever Had?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJuly 22, 2014

USA Today

The annual ESPN "car wash" that features 14 head coaches over a two-day span took place this week, and the hot takes were everywhere.

Among some of the nuggets uncovered in Bristol was Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's impression of his wide receivers.

The second-year head coach of the Tigers told Joe Tessitore that this group of Auburn wide receiverswhich includes last year's star, Sammie Coatesis the best group of wide receivers he's had at Auburn, which also includes the 2009-11 seasons, when Malzahn was the offensive coordinator.

"At least since I've been at Auburn," Malzahn told Tessitore, "this is the best receiving group that we've had (1:25 mark)."

High praise for sure. It's also accurate.

Coates is a known commodity who is strong, fast and can take the top off a defense.

In addition to Coates, Auburn returns a deep threat in Ricardo Louis, veteran slot receiver Quan Bray, Jaylon Denson—who was a starter last year before tearing his ACL vs. LSUtwo underclassmen with potential and junior college transfer D'haquille "Duke" Williams, who could be the best of the entire group.

Auburn WRs 2013 Stats
Sammie CoatesJunior6'2"/201429027
Ricardo LouisJunior6'2"/212143252
Marcus DavisSophomore5'9"/180232171
Quan BraySenior5'10"/195231953
Melvin RayJunior6'3"/20751081
Tony StevensSophomore6'4"/1985681
Jaylon DensonJunior6'3"/2183450
Duke WilliamsJunior6/2"/216N/AN/AN/A /

Essentially, it's the same group as last year with the addition of Williams, a 6'2", 216-pound monster who can run and present matchup problems alongside Coates and the rest of the tall and athletic receiving corps.

But how do they compare to Malzahn's Auburn receivers from his days as the offensive coordinator?

The 2010 group is close to a mirror image of this group. Darvin Adams led a veteran corps during Auburn's national championship year, catching 52 passes for 963 yards and seven touchdowns. Behind him, Terrell Zachery and Emory Blake each caught more than 30 passes, with Kodi Burns and Philip Lutzenkirchen each providing solid options for then-quarterback Cam Newton.

Auburn WR "Duke" Williams
Auburn WR "Duke" WilliamsUSA TODAY Sports

They were solid and effective as a group, but the 2013 Tigers have much more upside and versatility.

Coates and Williams can both be deep threats or possession receivers, and the veteran and deep group of receivers outside coupled with the potential of 6'5", 264-pound tight end C.J. Uzomah will allow Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to mix and match their receivers to create matchup nightmares downfield.

Williams, who was a 5-star prospect according to 247Sports and a 4-star in the 247Sports composite, impressed receiver-turned-defensive back Trovon Reed this spring, according to Joel A. Erickson of

Trovon Reed on D'haquille Williams: "He deserves every star he got" (in recruiting process)

— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAEricksonAU) April 15, 2014

What about at running back?

Tre Mason's absence doesn't help, but Malzahn has options at running back and a proven track record of success on the ground. Since he started coaching college football in 2006, he has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in those eight seasons. 

Auburn RB Corey Grant
Auburn RB Corey GrantJay Sailors/Associated Press

This year's backfield still features speedster Corey Grant and senior Cameron Artis-Payne, as well as 5-star freshman "Roc" Thomas, bruiser Kamryn Pettway and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber—who hurt his ankle in the spring game. 

"Peyton Barber, he's back working out 100 percent," Malzahn said at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama. "He's got a lot of talent, like we've talked about before. Roc Thomas, Kamryn Pettway are two of the young guys coming in. We'll give them a chance, see what they can do."

Are any of those guys Mason? No. But Artis-Payne was "1B" to Mason being "1A" last year, and the Tigers have more depth than they did last season. 

Does it compare to the 2010 group that featured Michael Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin? Maybe not in terms of top-end talent. After all, Dyer was fantastic when he got rolling late in the 2010 season. But this year's group is certainly comparable from the depth perspective.

This is the most talent Auburn has had at the skill position under Malzahn either as the head coach or the offensive coordinator, and also marks the first time in Malzahn's college coaching career that he's had a quarterback—Nick Marshall—return for a second year in the system.

Look out.


Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.


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