Each week heading into the fall football season for MSU, The State News will be taking a look into each position group on Mel Tucker’s roster as the Spartans prepare for their third season under the Tucker regime. In this edition, Sam Sklar dives into which wide receivers have great potential from Jayden Reed to Keon Coleman and more.
Wide receiver was a position of strength last year and appears to be in good shape heading into 2022.
Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor partnered together to form an explosive duo that benefited from stacked boxes geared toward shutting down running back Kenneth Walker III. The two made numerous acrobatic plays while Michigan State excelled with the play-action pass, including a remarkable use of the flea-flicker.
Even when Nailor missed four games with a hand injury, MSU’s wide receivers demonstrated little difficulty hauling in passes from then-redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne. It was a deep, speedy group that projects similarly in 2022.
“There's a lot of guys in our receiver room who can make plays, so I'm looking forward to seeing everyone get in the mix and make plays when their number's called,” redshirt junior Tre Mosley said in the spring.
The headliner of the group, Reed returns for redshirt senior season after mulling opportunities to play professionally. Instead, he’s running it back for another year of pass-catching fireworks from his former high school teammate.
“I really felt like there was a mission that we had to complete,” Reed said at the start of the spring. “We went so far last year and I feel like we are more capable of going even (farther).”
In his second season with the Spartans after sitting out a transfer year in 2019, Reed boomed in 2021, quickly becoming one of the top receivers in the conference. His uncharacteristic speed, vision and ability to win 50-50 balls led to 59 catches for 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns and All-Big Ten accolades.
Reed has a swagger to him and he backs it up with his production as a receiver and kick/punt returner. He’s the no-doubt top target for Thorne with an incredibly high ceiling.
With the second-most receptions among returning receivers, Mosley will see an enhanced role following the departure of Nailor.
As a redshirt sophomore, Mosley was the third receiver in Michigan State’s offense and stepped up as Thorne’s number two during Nailor’s injury time. It resulted in career highs in receptions with 35, receiving yards with 530 and touchdown catches with three.
His soft hands and controlled feet were a consistent and clutch chain-mover for MSU. In fact, 20 of his 35 grabs went for either first downs or touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if he finishes second on the team in receptions.
Following the conclusion of the basketball season, Coleman immediately switched back to the cleats and began training to get back in the football groove. It was such an instant transition that caught offensive coordinator Jay Johnson’s eye.
“I looked out there and there he was the next day just gotten back,” Johnson said. “I admire him and respect him greatly because that's a hard transition.”
Coleman caught his first career touchdown on a 12-yard pass in garbage time at Ohio State. He made seven total grabs on the season for 50 yards as he learned the offense and adjusted to the college game. With one season now under his belt, Coleman should be firmly in the hunt to be Michigan State’s third receiver.
Foster caught his first career passes in 2021, totaling 12 receptions for 164 yards and one touchdown – a 52-yard flea-flicker versus Maryland. He played a similar yet smaller role to Mosley, mostly coming in as a third or fourth option to help extend drives.
A junior now, Foster could be poised for an upperclassmen-jump, particularly in the rotation as MSU’s third wide receiver.
One of the more exciting members of the incoming freshman class, Bernard is probably the most likely true freshman to make an immediate impact.
A highly touted four-star prospect and former high school teammate of fellow freshman quarterback Katin Houser, coaching changes made Bernard de-commit from Washington. Johnson wanted him so badly, that he flew down to Las Vegas in December to convince Bernard to join Michigan State.
“He reminds me of myself a little bit,” Mosley said of Bernard. “Coming in focused, he knows what he wants to do and knows what he needs to do to have opportunities to get on the field.” [5:59]
He’s certainly talented enough to earn snaps in 2022. And if not right away, his snap count could increase as the season progresses, a similar path to Coleman’s last year.
Fitzpatrick joined the Spartans as a young transfer after one redshirt year with Louisville. He played just 81 offensive snaps with MSU last season, yielding two catches for three yards. The big-bodied receiver got some run in the spring, but likely needs and can take more time to develop behind some of the others on the roster.
Michigan State has 10 more wide receivers on the roster who have a longer shot toward carving out a role in 2022: junior Terry Lockett Jr., redshirt sophomore Sebastian Brown, redshirt sophomore Zach Gillespie, redshirt sophomore Joseph Martinez, redshirt junior Nick Hunter, redshirt junior Cade McDonald, redshirt sophomore Aubrey Dawkins, in addition to three freshmen, Antonio Gates Jr., Tyrell Henry and Jaron Glover, who will join the team this summer.
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