If you had to describe Michigan State’s receiving corps in one word, it would probably be “potential.”
The Spartans return a deep class with three key wideouts including Felton Davis III, Cody White and Darrell Stewart Jr., each with diverse abilities. If each of these players continues to improve, there is no telling what they can achieve. If not, this offense will only go so far.
“Darrell’s skill set is different from Cody’s. Cody’s is different from Felton’s,” said MSU wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel at MSU media day. “So I have something that, you know, is an advantage to me.”
Davis is going into his senior year coming off an impressive break-out campaign. He recorded a team-leading 776 receiving yards last season. He was named second-team All-Big Ten by the media and won the team’s Tommy Love Award (most improved offensive player). He also had nine receiving touchdowns, which was tied for third-most in the Big Ten and three games with 100-plus receiving yards.
The 6-foot-4 Davis’ size and strong hands make him the Spartans’ top red zone target. He’s also a force downfield, especially in one-on-one coverage averaging 14.1 yards per reception. Davis was quarterback Brian Lewerke’s favorite target a year ago with 55 receptions and may be again this year.
White racked up 490 yards in 2017. His 35 receptions were the most from a true-freshman receiver in program history. He was also selected to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. White exploded on the scene against Indiana, collecting 99 yards off 6 catches. He started the next six games, which included a 165-yard performance against Northwestern. At 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, the former Michigan Mr. Football winner owns an impressive combination of size and talent. Starting on the opposite side of Davis, he should build on his impressive success from a year ago.
Like Davis and White, Stewart is also coming off a breakout 2017 season. His 813 all-purpose yards was second on the team. He snagged 501 yards in the air and 140 on the ground, mainly from jet sweeps. He also returned kicks and punts. Stewart will start in the slot and possesses the athleticism to grill defenses in multiple ways.
Stewart, going into his junior year, is perhaps the most under the radar player in on the team. Last year, he won the MSU Jim Adams Award (unsung hero). This year, he will likely lurk in the shadows of Davis and White. But he is arguably the most clutch of the three receivers, as 28 of his 50 receptions in 2017 were for a first down or touchdown. As one of the most versatile players on the team, Stewart could be in for a bigger year.
The biggest question mark for MSU’s receiving corps is depth. Hunter Rison and Trishton Jackson were both expected to fill this role, but both transferred to Kansas State and Syracuse respectively. Rison, the son of former MSU star Andre Rison, played as a true freshman behind Stewart in the slot and would have seen an expanded role this year. Jackson, who started in four games last year, would have been a junior also with an expanded role.
Instead, Cam Chambers and Laress Nelson look to fill the next spots in the depth chart. Chambers, a former four-star recruit, had high expectations upon arrival in East Lansing. He only had receptions in four games last year, but the sophomore is coming off an impressive spring game performance and could see a bigger role this year.
Nelson played last year mostly as a kick returner. But this year, he’ll have a chance to fill the role that would have been played by Rison at the slot. The former two-star athlete also played a fair amount at the spring game and will receive opportunities to prove himself this season.
Behind Chambers and Nelson lie many other candidates including Brandon Sowards, CJ Hayes, Andre Welch, Jahz Watts and incoming freshman Julian Major.
“All these guys are going to play,” said Samuel. “Everybody saw last year that I played a lot of guys…as we get into the rotation, it’s how guys are playing.”
MSU returns a slew of talented receivers. They do not have any “off the charts” talented wideouts, like a Charles Rogers. However, they do have three solid playmakers that can give any defense a handful in addition to younger athletes waiting to break out. Top to bottom, this may be the best receiving group in the Big Ten.