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Michigan State 2020 Positional Breakdown: Wide Receivers

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The Spartans lost their top-two receivers to the NFL this offseason, but they return a good amount of talent in 2020. Let’s break it down.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 football season isn’t too far away, which means it’s time to start looking at what the Spartans have going into the season. Today, we’re looking at the wide receiver position.

This offseason, the Spartans lost their top wide receivers from 2019 in Cody White and Darrell Stewart Jr., both of whom declared for the NFL Draft shortly after the Pinstripe Bowl win in December, and while neither were drafted, both were signed as undrafted free agents. This leaves lots of opportunities open for everyone on the roster, with plenty of talent to fill it.

Returning Starters

Jalen Nailor

Jalen Nailor returns looking to make a big impact in 2020. A speedy wide receiver, Nailor has shown flashes of production for the Spartans, but had the first part of the 2019 season cut short after he suffered a lower leg injury during practices prior to the Spartans’ Week 2 matchup vs. the Western Michigan Broncos.

Nailor can be a major piece to the 2020 Spartan offense. His speed will be a major asset to the Spartans, and gives him big-play ability, while also opening up opportunities on special teams with kick returns and punt returns, which he alternated with Cody White in 2019 before suffering his injury. He was a track star in high school as well, winning four state titles his Senior Year.

One glimpse we saw of Nailor’s potential came in 2018 vs. the Indiana Hoosiers. Late in the fourth quarter, the Spartans were trying to put the game away with another score. Nailor took a Jet Sweep 75 yards to the house, using his speed and swiftness to weave his way through the Indiana defenders and outrun them all to the end zone. He also took another Jet Sweep to the house vs. Purdue in 2018 with 2:11 left in the game, giving a struggling offense a spark to put the game away.

C.J. Hayes

C.J. Hayes wasn’t a consistent starter for the Spartans, but he started two games in 2019 (Western Michigan and Indiana), and played in 11 total games last season. Hayes totaled 13 receptions for 141 yards in 2019, including a career long 24 yard reception vs. the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. In his limited playing time in 2019, he was a reliable target for the Spartans, and will likely become a more and more versatile target in the years to come.

Julian Barnett

I’ve listed Julian Barnett here because, despite the fact that he’s currently moved back to the cornerback position, Barnett saw some time as a starting wide receiver in 2019, and could potentially see more in the future. In 2019, Barnett played 265 snaps, with all of them being on offense as a wide receiver. He also was fairly productive, logging 13 receptions for 182 yards, with nine of those receptions resulting in first downs.

Barnett also saw some time returning kicks, adding three returns for 36 yards to his stat sheet in 2019. His first catch came vs. the Arizona State Sun Devils in the fourth quarter, which set up the Spartans’ only touchdown of the 10-7 loss in East Lansing.

While he’s moved back to cornerback at the moment, don’t be surprised if we see Barnett used on the offensive side of the ball in 2020 and beyond.

Returning Contributors

Tre Mosley

Tre Mosley played in the second half of the 2019 season, making his debut vs. the Penn State Nittany Lions. Overall, Mosley finished with 21 receptions for 216 yards and one Touchdown. Mosley logged four receptions for 50 yards in the Spartan’s Pinstripe Bowl win, and gave us a glimpse of what could be to come for him. With three years left in his career, Mosley could be a big contributor for the Spartans, and could make a big impact in 2020. He will vie for a starting spot.

Laress Nelson

Laress Nelson had a relatively quiet 2019 season, logging just four receptions for 48 yards while playing in all 13 games. He actually started the Penn State game and logged one reception for three yards in the loss. His 2018 campaign was more productive, though. Nelson logged 12 catches for 114 yards in his sophomore campaign in 2018. He missed three games with an injury, but came back for the Nebraska game that season. During the Penn State game in 2018, Nelson had two late-game receptions, setting up Brian Lewerke’s game winning touchdown pass to Felton Davis. In 2020, Nelson could move into a bigger role for the Spartans, having more opportunities to set up big plays, as well as make them himself.

Redshirted/No Stats

Tre’Von Morgan, Nick Hunter, Javez Alexander, Cade McDonald, Jahz Watts.

The Newcomers

Jayden Reed

Jayden Reed transferred from Western Michigan University to Michigan State at the end of the 2018 season, and he was actually teammates with Spartan quarterback Payton Thorne as well as wide receiver Cade McDonald. Reed had to sit out the 2019 season, and as a result didn’t have any stats for the season. However, his 2018 campaign was a big one. Reed logged 56 receptions for 797 yards and eight touchdowns with the Broncos. It was enough to earn himself Freshman All-American Honors in 2018. He recorded four receiving touchdowns in the Broncos’ matchup with Miami (Ohio), which tied a school record set by Super Bowl champion Greg Jennings.

Reed is also a threat in the return game as well. In 2018, Reed had a 93 yard punt return for a touchdown, which was the second longest punt return in Western Michigan’s history. He finished the season with 12 punt returns for 215 yards. Reed was a big-time transfer pickup for the Spartans and will likely be an important piece to the Spartans’ offense in 2020 and beyond.

Incoming Freshmen

Ricky White, Terry Lockett, Ian Stewart, and Montorie Foster.

Outlook

All in all, the wide receiver position for the Spartans is one with a high ceiling. There is lots of talent there for the Spartans to work with, and despite losing their top-two receivers this year, the Spartans are in a good position for the future. With a new staff coming in, and changes across the board, everyone on the roster has a chance to make an impact in 2020 and set a course for future success in the B1G.