It’s often tough to pinpoint one specific problem with a position group when the results were as ugly as the receiving numbers in 2018 for the Michigan State Spartans. However, this time, it’s pretty clear – no one could stay healthy.
By the end of the season the biggest question was who would even be able to play on any given week. And even those who were healthy enough to take the field were sometimes limited as to what they could actually do. All three of the starters at wide receiver missed significant playing time due to injures, with even more injuries blowing up the depth chart.
If there was a silver lining to last season’s problems, it is the experience gained. While Felton Davis III is no longer with the team, the Spartans had virtually been playing without him for the final six games of the season.
There are six receivers currently on the roster who saw significant playing time last year. While a good amount of growth is still needed, the receiving corps may be a position of power this year.
As long as they can stay healthy...
Cody White, Junior
The top returning wide receiver from last year will retake his starting spot in 2019. White earned his spot as one of the best receivers in the Big Ten over the last two years, but has dealt with injuries his entire career. Last season he led the team with 555 receiving yards in only nine games.
White will need to be on the field for Michigan State to be an explosive offense. At 6-3, 215 pounds with a big catch-radius, White is pro-ready and should be playing with the NFL on the line this season.
A healthy White changes the way defenses prepare for MSU and open up options for the quarterback. He will almost certainly be the most talented player on the field, and the Spartans need him at that level for an entire season.
Darrell Stewart Jr., Senior
Dealing with his own injury in 2018, Stewart still managed to be one of of Michigan State’s more consistent pass catchers. Stewart led the team in receptions last year and took the role of safety blanket for much of the year.
Likely one of the three starting wide receivers in 2019, Stewart hopes to become the latest upperclassman receiver in MSU history to emerge as a pro-prospect. There is no questioning his elite level speed. During his sophomore year and early last year Stewart also showed the ability to run crisp routes to get open. A healthy Stewart gives MSU an opportunity to spread the field and force opposing defenses to make some tough decisions.
Jalen Nailor, Sophomore
Few people deserve their nickname as much as Speedy Nailor. The sophomore is a burner and an undeniable playmaker. When not injured (notice the theme?) Nailor was responsible for a few of the rare offensive highlights late in the season.
Expected to be a starter, Nailor may be the biggest X-factor at the start of the year. With the ball in his hands, he can score from just about anywhere on the field. But he needs to improve as a route-runner and true wide receiver. With Stewart and White attracting the majority of attention, Nailor should have time to develop against softer defenders. If he can make the needed adjustments, he’s a home run-hitter that has to be addressed.
Cam Chambers, Junior
Chambers lived up to some of his promise as a highly recruited receiver last year. While he didn’t earn playing time conventionally, as one receiver after another left with an injury, Chambers took over a bigger part of the offense. But the 6-2 Chambers was dealing with a thumb injury of his own.
The junior will have an opportunity to see more playing time this year, but is unlikely to be a starter at this point. Chambers offers true depth at the position and still has time to grow into a threat in the secondary.
Other receivers on the roster
Brandon Sowards, Sr.: Sowards is back for his sixth year at Michigan State, but still has limited experience on the field. There is definitely a relationship between Sowards and his quarterbacks, catching 18 passes last year. But he is not an elite receiver and needs space to make the catch.
Laress Nelson, Jr.: Another receiver who battled through an injury riddled 2018, Nelson made big strides in his first year of playing. Despite being undersized with good-not-great speed, Nelson broke through in big moments last year. He will be given opportunities, but his playing time may depend more on what the rest of the receivers do than what he accomplishes.
Tre Mosley and Tre’Von Morgan, Fr.: The two true freshman with the best opportunity to play in 2019. Mosley was an early enrollee who has shown he can produce at this level in practice. Morgan comes in as the tallest receiver on the team at 6-6. Any production from these two – when not forced by injury – could turn the wide receiver corps from good to great this season.