Spartan Red Zone: Wide Receiver Assessment

This is the third in a series of assessments on each position for Michigan State football. To read about the Spartan running backs, click here.

Andy Chmura: @andy_chmura

It is difficult to predict the success (or lack thereof) Michigan State will see from its receiving corps in 2016. The Spartans bid adieu to a brilliant senior class stacked with gifted receivers comprised of Aaron Burbridge, Macgarrett Kings and DeAnthony Arnett. Fortunately for the Spartans, there is a loaded amount of talent to replace them.

While many dwindle on the loss of the great Aaron Burbridge, they forget about RJ Shelton. His hands are not quite as steady as Burbridge’s, but Shelton perhaps surpasses Burbridge in sheer athleticism and agility. Shelton’s speed conceives him to be a major threat downfield, while his crisp route running makes him a favorite on third down and against man-to-man coverage. He also has the versatility to be a ball carrier on jet sweeps. Shelton has has the ability to win one-on-one battles as a wideout, and figures to be on top of MSU’s depth chart.

Fifth-year senior Monty Madaris and sophomore Felton Davis III are expected to compete for the second receiving slot. Madaris has been fairly quiet in his first four years wearing the green and white. Still, the Cincinnati native is slowly finding his place in a Spartan uniform, having played in 10 of 14 games in 2015.

Davis will also find himself in a larger role in 2016, having played in seven games as a true freshman. More notably, three of those seven games were against Ohio State, Iowa and Alabama.

At 6-foot-4 and 192 pounds, the sky is the limit for Davis. What he brings to the table is a unique combination of height and ability. If Davis’ footwork has significantly improved this offseason, very few men will be able to guard him one-on-one. With three outgoing seniors from 2015, expect Madaris and Davis to be poised for breakout years.

The remaining territory in the depth chart will be battled for by the fabulous freshman quartet of Donnie Corley, Cameron Chambers, Trishton Jackson, and Justin Layne. Redshirt freshman Darrell Stewart may also rise into the mix. If nothing else, these men will provide much needed depth for the offense. However, do not be surprised if some of these wideouts (particularly Corley) find their way into Dantonio’s regular rotation. As MSU’s third-highest rated recruit of 2016, Corley possesses exceptional receiving qualities. At 6-foot-2 1/2, he has perhaps the scariest combination of size and speed on MSU’s roster. For an 18-year-old, Corley’s maturity and football IQ are simply off the charts. He rarely makes the same mistake twice.

Although it is difficult to give this position a high grade due to their lack of in game experience, understand that this is a unit that will vastly improve as the season progresses. Their talent is limitless. Also understand that an inexperienced receiving corps is not too major of a blow to what will be a run-first offense, often bailed out by superior tight end play.

Grade: B-


David Manion:

Senior veteran R.J. Shelton is poised to have a breakout year. Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor, who was recently announced the starting quarterback entering the season opener, is being relied on to guide him in that direction.

“He’s the No. 1 guy,” head coach Mark Dantonio told Dan Murphy on ESPN.com. “He’s had a good enough camp to say that at this point.”

The top target was nominated for the Paul Hornung Award, which is handed to the most versatile player in the nation. When he’s not outracing the defenders on jet sweeps, the senior would consistently convert third downs. The Wisconsin native had a knack of delivering in the clutch when Michigan State was in desperation mode, most notably in the Rutgers, Indiana, and Nebraska games.

Sophomore Felton Davis recorded his two grabs on the biggest stages last year in the Big Ten Championship game and the College Football Playoff. He showcased his impressive speed and vertical as both of his catches took place downfield.

Along with Shelton and Davis, freshman Darrell Stewart Jr. is projected to start at wideout. Wide receiver coach Terrence Samuel is very impressed with Stewart’s aggressive style of play and is counting on him to fill the void as the slot receiver.

There is a great deal of hype swirling around the early enrollees, Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers. They have received much praise from their teammates and coaches for their work ethic and maturity. The true freshman phenomenons have the ability to draw separation and locate soft spots in coverage because of their breakaway speed and athleticism.

Fifth-year senior Monty Madaris has been making some noise under the radar. Now fully healthy, the Spartan coaching staff is counting on Madaris to break out of his shell and live up to his reputation of being a deep ball threat.

Watch out for frequent rotations featuring all of these players, which will lead to several lineup combinations. Some players like Stewart and Corley have yet to play a single snap, which has caused some uncertainty at this position. With a mixture of potential and inexperience, it is difficult to currently predict the future outlook of the receiver corps. Spartan Nation can only hope that the high-quality performances from last year and the off-season translates into the regular season and stays there for good.

Grade: B


Matt Mika: @themattmika

Senior wideout RJ Shelton is the key to the passing attack this year. When he is getting his touches, he becomes a headache for any opposing defensive coordinator. The Spartan offense moves the ball extraordinarily well when Shelton receives jet sweeps and he can use his speed to break away for big gains.

The same mindset regarding a running back can be applied here–get the ball to Shelton early and often–because if he makes a couple big plays with his versatility, the flood gates can open with the running game and the other wideouts.

It always takes time to develop the chemistry between a quarterback and a wide receiver. To be on the same page in high pressure situations takes many hours on the practice field. To know what the other is thinking at the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped is perfected in the film room.

There are skeptics arguing that the loss of former quarterback Connor Cook will damage the chemistry. However, there is good news for Spartan fans: fifth-year quarterback Tyler O’Connor has been the backup for the past three seasons and is now the new man under center for the Spartans. O’Connor is prepared and the chemistry between the receivers and the new gunslinger will not miss a beat.

Also, don’t sleep on the freshmen. Early enrollees Cam Chambers and Donnie Corley are explosive playmakers. The two freshmen need to learn on the fly when the spotlight is on them in big games, but neither one is intimidated by the bright lights. The true freshmen have sensational athletic ability and their route running will be key when creating separation from more experienced defensive backs in the Big Ten Conference.

A Michigan State wideout has received the Big Ten Receiver of the Year Award in back-to-back seasons–Tony Lippett in 2014 and Aaron Burbridge a year ago. Will the Spartans pull the three-peat? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, the future is very bright on the perimeter in East Lansing.

Grade: B