With all the hubbub surrounding the quarterback position, Michigan State’s inexperience at wide receiver seems to have been overshadowed.
But it is every bit as important as who is delivering the ball.
The Spartans completed 211 passes in 2016. Seniors caught 133 of them. Underclassman running backs and tight ends caught 25 more still.
In wide receiver R.J. Shelton and tight end Josiah Price, Michigan State loses its most productive pass-catchers of the past year, and two of the most impactful offensive players in recent memory for the Spartans.
That leaves 53 catches worth of production set to return to Michigan State’s receiving corps. Thirty-three of those came from freshman phenom Donnie Corley. But what other receivers need to make a big impact in 2017?
Those contributions will have to come from the younger players, because, unless a walk-on gets good news, Michigan State won’t have a senior receiver on scholarship and just one in the junior class in Felton Davis III.
Davis, who caught 12 balls for 150 yards and a touchdown, will likely see his role expanded in 2016. Beyond him, the onus will fall on underclassmen to help get Michigan State’s offense on track. Let’s run down some lesser-known possibilities.
Part of one of the nation’s most highly-rated WR classes in 2016, Chambers caught two passes for 45 yards in last year’s spring game and looked a prime candidate for immediate playing time. Ultimately, it didn’t happen.
He actually did see time as a true freshman, catching five balls for 89 yards and a touchdown. With his 6-foot-3 frame, he’ll be one of the most enticing targets downfield. And as a former high school quarterback, maybe he’s got some trick plays up his sleeve.
Projected as a receiver, Layne played the vast majority of his snaps as a true freshman on the defensive side of the ball. Given Michigan State’s lack of experience at cornerback and the experience he gained there, he’ll likely stay on defense. But who knows for sure?
Michigan State has several incoming freshman receivers who could see early playing time, but Rison gave himself a boost by enrolling early. Said Spartans coach Mark Dantonio, “He’s impressed us from Day 1 in his abilities in what he will bring to this program.”
Darrell Stewart Jr.
He didn’t come in as highly-recruited as some of his counterparts, but Stewart looked an intriguing athlete from the start and has seemingly found a home at receiver. As a redshirt freshman, he caught three passes for 29 yards.
Incoming freshmen Cody White provides great size. Dantonio said to look for late Purdue flip C.J. Hayes “to play early in his career here.” And the last of the WR signees, Laress Nelson, is a sprinter who could have an impact on special teams.
Plenty of players on this roster have the talent to make a difference.
They just have to grow up fast.