Michigan State has a defensive line problem.
In the past 10 months, the Spartans have been hit with a series of seemingly isolated incidents that have decimated their D-line for the future, forcing Mark Dantonio and his staff to put in extra work on the recruiting trail to pick up the pieces.
In April 2016, sophomores Craig Evans and Montez Sweat left the team for personal reasons. Evans had been a significant part of the Spartans’ line as a tackle while Sweat had been trying to find his way.
May brought another departure, with tackle Damon Knox opting to pursue a law enforcement career rather than stick around for his sixth year of eligibility.
In late August, just over a week before the season-opener against Furman, news broke that Michigan State defensive tackle Cassius Peat would transfer. On Aug. 31, two days before kickoff, DT Enoch Smith Jr. announced he would leave the program as well.
Behind a defensive line with no depth and nagging injuries to Malik McDowell, Michigan State put up the worst numbers of Dantonio’s tenure in terms of rushing yards allowed (158.7 per game) and total sacks (11).
|Rushing yards allowed/game||Sacks/game|
As it stood without the 2017 class, Michigan State would have 11 defensive linemen on the roster. So they looked to add five DL recruits. Jacub Panasiuk, Lashawn Paulino-Bell and Donovan Winter all committed prior to the 2016 season, but more needed to be done.So the Spartans clearly had some work to do in recruiting. After the 2016 season, they lost senior Evan Jones, graduate transfer Kevin Williams and McDowell, who declared early for the NFL Draft.
A commitment from 3-star prospect DeAri Todd helped. The Spartans never added a fifth. Still, four defensive line signings would be a big help.
Except not even that happened. Winter got arrested two days before National Signing Day and did not sign his letter of intent.
This may not impact depth too severely in 2017, but it might in the years that follow. Michigan State would be wise to look into the graduate transfer market for a lineman should scholarships become available. If no viable options arise, Dantonio and his staff may have to look into moving an offensive lineman to the other side of the ball.
The top priority now, though: making sure Michigan State gets the players it wants in 2018, such as 3-star DE Malik Vann and 3-star DT Josh Walker, for starters. Changes, though, will surely come over the course of the recruiting cycle.
As it stands, the Spartans may be left hoping for better luck with injuries than they had in 2016. If not, they’ll likely be headed toward another tough season in the trenches.