Auburn hasn't signed a 5-star WR since 2002. Could the drought end soon?
The Tigers are in the mix for multiple in-state stars at a position where they don't have much history — but need to make some.
2024 WR Perry Thompson (Instagram)
To say Auburn doesn’t have a tradition of elite wide receivers would be a big understatement.
Auburn’s longtime career leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, Terry Beasley, played from 1969 to 1971.
Only two former Tiger receivers recorded at least 3,000 yards in the NFL — early 1990s star Frank Sanders and Red Phillips, a 1957 national champion who played when the position was still called “end.” (Sanders, by the way, is still Auburn’s last first-team All-SEC receiver. He earned that honor in 1994.)
Only two Auburn players have had a 1,000-yard receiving season, and the more recent instance happened back in 1999.
The Tigers spent most of their history building their identity on running the ball and playing stifling defense, and any list of notable program alumni reflects that. Even in the stronger years through the air, the spotlight has been much more on the players passing the ball than the ones going out to catch it.
A smaller amount of notable receivers produced by the program can be traced back to the Tigers’ offensive identity over the years. The juggernaut Pat Dye teams were run-heavy, oftentimes running the option. Tommy Tuberville mostly rolled through more conservative, pro-style offenses. Gus Malzahn became a household name with a smashmouth spread attack that ran before and after the snap as fast as possible.
Outside of a few years of Terry Bowden taking it to the skies, Auburn has usually been a place for ground-and-pound football.
That can also be traced back to recruiting. While Auburn has developed some talent into good college receivers and even some NFL Draft selections — current pro Darius Slayton was a top-15 wideout in his class — it hasn’t landed the biggest prizes at the position on the recruiting trail.
According to the 247Sports Composite database, Auburn has only signed one 5-star wide receiver in the history of modern recruiting rankings. That title goes to Ben Obomanu, who was a 5-star out of Selma in the Class of 2002.
(Some might point out that former Tiger and current fan-favorite Auburn staffer Trovon Reed was a 5-star in the class of 2010 and started his career at wide receiver. But Reed, who played quarterback in high school and later made a very successful move to cornerback at Auburn, was listed as an athlete by the major recruiting services.)
And while Auburn is traditionally a top-half recruiting program in the SEC — moving up to the top three, four or five in its best cycles — receiver is a spot where it has lagged behind its chief rivals.
Here’s the last time that each of the 14 SEC schools have signed a receiver who was ranked as a 5-star by the 247Sports Composite:
Alabama: 2023 (Jalen Hale)
Missouri: 2022 (Luther Burden)
Texas A&M: 2022 (Evan Stewart and Chris Marshall)
LSU: 2020 (Kayshon Boutte)
Georgia: 2019 (George Pickens)
Ole Miss: 2013 (Laquon Treadwell)
Tennessee: 2010 (Da’Rick Rogers)
Florida: 2009 (Andre Debose)
Auburn: 2002 (Ben Obomanu)
Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt: N/A
If you throw in the two future programs, the gap widens: Texas just signed a 5-star receiver in the 2023 class, while Oklahoma signed a pair in 2019.
The Longhorns have signed seven 5-star wide receivers in the modern recruiting rankings era, while the Sooners are at four. LSU leads the way with 10, while Alabama has had six. Florida and Texas A&M are both at five. Georgia has three, and Missouri and Tennessee both have two.
Of the SEC teams that have ever signed a 5-star wide receiver, only Auburn and Ole Miss have signed just one. But Ole Miss’ pickup came 11 years more recently — and the head coach that landed Treadwell is now at Auburn.
And the Tigers are hoping Hugh Freeze and his staff can be the key to ending a drought that is at 21 years and counting.
The good news is that they have multiple shots at doing so in the near future.
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