I'm Heck Dorland, and despite the end to 'World Cup 2011: The Gut Kickening' I've still got a big ol' sports crush on Alex Morgan.
So, with that out of the way, onto part the fourth of MSU's positional preview: the Wide Receivers.
If you missed the first bits they're here:
Now onto the stars of our story:
The Senior Trio
B.J. Cunningham (6'2, 223 lbs. Sr.)
2010: 77 targets (22.51% Target Rate), 50 catches (70.13% Catch Rate), 611 yards (12.22 YPC, 8.49 YPT) , 9 TD
2009: 48 catches, 641 yards (13.35 YPC), 4 TD
2008 41 catches, 528 yards (12.88 YPC), 0 TD; 4 carries, 56 yards, (14 YPC), 0 TD
I could spend a couple of paragraphs recapping Cunningham's outstanding career and litany of big catches (the TDs that sealed WIS '10 and NW '10, the 2 TDs that buried PSU '10 in a deficit they couldn't climb out of, the TD that forced OT against ND '10 and allowed Little Giants, the TD that broke us through against a stout Ill. in '10 , a 73 yard TD that clawed us back within striking range of Pur. in '09 for precious bowl eligibility), or his general skills, but I won't. Instead, I'm going to embrace my inner Posnanski:
Prediction time: B.J. Cunningham will likely leave MSU as the, at worst, 4th best receiver in school history.
Yes, better than, Dixon, Gibson, Ingram, Hawkins, Irvin, Byrd, and Washington. Behind only Rison (maybe), Burress and Rogers.
If he puts together a season similar to his junior numbers (never mind a season bettering that production) he'll have smashed the school's career reception record (as it is, he's 3rd, only 9 behind leader Matt Trannon. Boy, JLS was a hoot, huh?), vaulted into 3rd on the career yards list (he's currently 10th), and jumped to 3rd on the career touchdowns list (currently 13th).
He'll need a truly heroic season to go higher than that, unlikely with how MSU spreads the ball around, because Charles Rogers and Plaxico Burress were pretty good in their two years, huh? But Andre Rison and the number three spot all-time is absolutely within striking distance with a good senior season.
And even if he regresses, due to responsibilities and challenges of a true #1 receiver, to the tune of say, 35 catches, 450 yards, and 4 touchdowns (which would be immensely disappointing and I doubt will happen) he ends up all time: 4th in yards, 1st in catches (by a lot), and 6th in touchdown catches.
We can argue whether I'm minimizing the stats of older players like Washington and Gibson who certainly saw fewer targets than Cunningham. You can argue that, as a four year player, he's simply had more opportunities than WR's who left after two or three years. But at the end of the day, you can't really argue with the type of production he's likely to end up with.
I think B.J. is super underrated in a lot of people's eyes and should slide perfectly into Dell's role as our deep threat. Hopefully by the time the year is over he'll have broken some records and gotten the attention he deserves. Onward, B.J. Moneyham
More after the jump...
Keshawn Martin (5'11, 185 lbs. Sr.)
2010: 42 targets (12.28% Target Rate), 32 catches (76.19% Catch Rate), 394 yards (12.31 YPC, 9.38 YPT), 1 TD; 18 carries, 157 yards (8.72 YPC) 0 TD, 16 PR, 14.25YPR, 1 TD
2009: 18 catches, 411 yards (22.83 YPC), 5 TD; 18 carries, 219 yards (12.17 YPC) 1 TD, 23 KR, 665 (28.91YPR) 1 TD, 3 completions, 3 attempts, 40 yards (13.3YPA), 2 TD
2008: 11 catches, 132 yards (12.0 YPC) , 0 TD; 9 carries, 51 yards (5.67 YPC) 0 TD, 2 completions, 3 attempts, 59 yards (19.7 YPA) 0 TD
Keshawn is a known stat stuffer. He was as a freshman, sophomore, and a junior. And, I can only imagine, that trend will continue under Roushar. Martin stuffs a box score like some sort of stuffing machine charged with stuffing chickens into ducks and then stuffing that duck into a turkey.
His punt return against Wisconsin almost single handedly swung that game into MSU's favor. He was extraordinarily sure-handed, with a 75%+ catch rate on balls thrown his way, and, though many of those were screen passes arguably inflating that number, he still managed one of the better YPC on the team. He is one of my favorite players and I expect big things from him this year. But I do have some slightly harsh words for last year's performance.
It's not all his fault but, mostly due to a mid-season injury I'd wager, Keshawn took a big step back in getting his feet into the end zone last year. After putting up a crazy 8 touchdowns in 39 offensive touches (and a KR touchdown!) in 2009, he might have had nowhere to go but down. But only 1 TD in 50 offensive touches is much, much, too low a strike rate for a player of Keshawn's importance. If MSU is going to take a step up to the next level on offense, he needs to come much closer to the heights of his 2009 production as our primary slot receiver and punt returner.
He also has never been the down-field threat some fans have wished for, but with Roushar pledging to throw deep more, and Keshawn showing an encouraging long TD catch in the Spring game (albeit over a RS freshman corner) maybe (hopefully) that will change.
And, if he does keep returning kickoffs (which I don't think he will), he'll need to do better there as well. Even with Le'veon Bell often being his return partner (primarily as an extra blocker) Martin had no truly huge plays in the kick return game last year.
Also curiously absent from the playbook last year, was Martin getting to throw the ball (though one could argue Nichol stole those snaps). It will also be interesting to see if he plays anywhere near the amount of wildcat shown in the Spring game (my guess: probably not.)
Like an overbearing teacher, I criticize mostly because I see only very good production out of someone who could be truly great. Martin is strong enough, at enough different things, to be a truly devastating weapon week-in and week-out his senior year. He has the talent to be the best all-purpose player in the conference, possibly the country. I hope he can keep injury free and work hard to make that happen.
Keith Nichol (6'2 222 lbs. Sr.)
2010: 34 targets (9.94% Target Rate), 22 catches (64.71% Catch Rate), 262 yards (11.91 YPC, 7.71 YPT) , 1 TD; 4 carries, 9 yards (2.25 YPC) 0 TD
I've been getting into a lot of hyperbole so far in this section (mostly because we have a deep cast of seniors at this position, who I happen to think are really talented): Cunningham is one of MSU's best all time at WR, Martin could be the best All Purpose player in CFB, etc. etc. So why not keep that train rolling?
You're up Keith:
In my decade or so of actively watching MSU football, I cannot remember a better run blocking wideout at MSU than Keith Nichol.
Whenever a play developed towards his side of the field, on the replay I always took a special joy in watching Nichol bitchmake (trademark: BHGP) some poor cornerback or safety. Seriously, he went after players in the secondary like it was their fault he wasn't our starting QB. He just drove DB after DB out of the play and away from the player carrying the ball. It's like having a 2nd or 3rd TE on the field without having to have, you know, a 2nd or 3rd TE on the field. A very underrated asset in a run-first offense like ours.
I'm lower on his trick play or wildcat QB capabilities than some, although I have to admit his rollout touchdown to ice the PSU game was one of the ultimate "Oh, what the hell are you guys thinki- YES! TOUCHDOWN!" plays of the year (though, of course, not quite #1 or #2 on that list).
As a traditional wideout, Nichol has shown himself to be a perfectly adequate possession receiver, who lacks the top end speed to be a true deep threat, but has the size, vertical jump, and hands to move the chains, provide a redzone target, and take pressure off Cunningham. As he further learns the position and gains more trust with Cousins, I think he's a favorite to breakout this year and pick up some of Mark Dell's lost production.
Bennie Fowler (6'1, 212 lbs RS So.)
2010: 22 targets (6.43% Target Rate), 14 catches (63.64% Catch Rate), 175 yards (12.5 YPC, 8.05 YPT) , 1 TD; 7 carries, 62 yards (8.86 YPC) 1 TD
Last seen being one of the only players who looked capable of sharing a field with Alabama, I expect very good things out of Bennie Fowler, just not quite yet. But he is undoubtedly going to be the primary link between MSU's great seniors and promising freshman.
In a year's time, Fowler is going to be a junior, and the grizzled veteran of an extremely young receiving core and a brand new quarterback. He'll have to prove his mettle then. But for now, he's clearly the fourth WR on the depth chart and should have the luxury of mostly popping in on 3rd down shotgun sets and other clear passing downs.
If he can maintain his Keshawn Martin Jr. impression this year, fill in for any injured players ahead of him, return the hell out of some kickoffs, rack up some garbage time stats, and ultimately show modest gains in receiving output, that's good enough for me in 2011.
But, if you like to live dangerously, go look at Keshawn's freshman year production, and then look at Fowler's. You gotta give the edge to Fowler right? Now go look at Keshawn's sophomore year and dream the sweet, sweet, dreams of reckless extrapolation.
Keith Mumphery (6'1, 205 lbs RS Fr.)
I don't know a lot about Keith Mumphery. I do know that he was good enough to beat out Donald Spencer (possibly leading Spencer to transfer) and that he has ESS EEE CEE speed coming out of Georgia. Seeing RS freshman leap their elders on the depth chart is always a promising sign of talent. He is what you'd expect to see out of a player graded out of high school as a three star athlete, fast, agile, slippery, of average height, and possessing good, but not great, receiving skills. He should find time when the senior trio leaves.
His high school also has what sounds like a fantastic play by play guy. If George Blaha doesn't drop a "KEITH MUM-FRAAAAAY!" or two by the time the year's over, I'm gonna be a little disappointed.
The new guys
Andre Sims (5'9, 170 lbs. Fr.)
Sims is a freshman to get excited about. First, he started a mini-pipeline to a very successful Georgia high school that's already paid benefits this year with Nick Tompkins and Erick Yang. Second, he's a heck of a receiver and returner in his own right.
He has home run type speed and is highly elusive. But unlike a lot of speed burners, he also shows really soft hands and makes a variety of difficult catches in his video. Seriously, almost any catch you could call on a receiver to make, including a couple center fielder style grabs, he pulls off. Obviously, you'd love for him to be two inches taller, but he also showcases really good leaping ability to compensate.
The fact that he does all this on a championship winning team at the highest level of Georgia football is extra impressive.
Juwan Ceasar (6'4, 210 lbs. Fr.)
Juwan Ceasar will hopefully fill in the Donald Spencer 'big receiver' role. His high school film is stupid impressive. I don't know what his competition is like in Florida, but he looks like a man amongst boys. He's tall (taller than any of our other WRs), he's fast, he grabs the ball at its highest point, he shows good body control in the air, he doesn't back down from contact, and falls forward when tackled.
Ceasar brings a different element to our receiving core and that should help him when it comes to finding playing time in 2012 and beyond. He kinda reminds me of a Matt Trannon. And I'll take that.
AJ Troup (62, 202 lbs., Fr.)
Troup is an interesting prospect. He comes from an extremely successful high school program, Wayzata, in Minnesota and choose to take a preferred walk-on slot at MSU after a year of being sidelined by a bad injury. He shows great hands in his video and is the type of receiver who really goes up and gets the ball. He runs good routes and shows solid, but not great, speed. But he's not terribly shifty, he doesn't break many tackles, and seems to have a problem keeping his balance, three things that might limit his big play potential at the next level if not polished.
He actually enrolled early and the spring reps could have gotten him ahead of the freshman curve like it did for Bell and Bullough, but he promptly got injured, and there went that opportunity. Still, just being there must be helpful.
So, yeah, lots of guys I didn't get to (Sonntag, Rucker, Kubvoruno, Colbert, about a billion other walk-ons). In my defense, I love previewing MSU football, but I'm not sure I love it ten wide receivers deep. And at 2000 words already, I'm sure you all understand.
Anyways, for my money, this is the top group of WRs in the Big Ten. And with Cousins' throwing to them, and Baker, Bell, and Caper taking focus off them, I expect them to show it. After this year, this position becomes an awfully big unknown, so enjoy the stability and quality for now.
The Tight Ends