One of the biggest weaknesses in the Michigan State Spartans’ football team over the past few seasons is a general lack of any effective running game. But, if the experts at Pro Football Focus (PFF) are correct, that may change in 2021.
On Tuesday, PFF announced the players who are members of its preseason All-Big Ten teams. A total of seven Spartans made an appearance as either a first-team, third-team, or honorable mention selections. The headliner of the group is Wake Forest transfer running back Kenneth Walker, who was named as a preseason first-team All-Big Ten selection.
PFF, who has recently established themselves as one of the most respected sources of data-driven football analysis, has glowing things to say about Walker:
“Walker is a fantastic transfer addition for the Spartans. He has been one of the more elusive running backs when it comes to churning out yards after contact. As a true freshman and a sophomore at Wake Forest over the past two years, he broke 0.32 tackles per attempt and averaged 4.0 yards after contact per attempt. Both were top-six marks among FBS running backs in that span.”
Michigan State fans actually saw Walker in action back in the 2019 Pinstripe Bowl, when he had eight rushes and one catch for a total of 26 yards against the Spartan defense, while still playing at Wake Forrest. Fans also got a brief glimpse of Walker during the spring game scrimmage back in April. In limited action, Walker looked fast and elusive, consistent with PFF’s analysis.
The Spartans’ running back room looks to be crowded in 2021 with Auburn transfer Harold Joiner III, redshirt senior Connor Heyward, redshirt junior Elijah Collins, sophomore Jordon Simmons, and redshirt freshman Donovan Eaglin also vying for playing time. That said, I expect Walker to be the starter when the Spartans take the field in Evanston, Illinois to face Northwestern on Sept. 9. It would appear that PFF concurs.
Three Spartans were honored as members of the PFF All-Big Ten third-team. They include junior guard J.D. Duplain, sixth-year graduate student defensive end Drew Beesley, and fifth-year senior defensive end Jacub Panasiuk.
Three additional Spartans were listed as All-Big Ten honorable mentions. They include redshirt junior defensive tackle Jacob Slade, sixth-year senior kicker Matt Coghlin, and redshirt junior wide receiver Jayden Reed, who was honored as a kick returner.
Michigan State’s seven players on the various All-Big Ten teams is tied with Michigan for ninth place overall in the conference. Iowa and Minnesota notably lead the way with 11 total honorees. Indiana and Ohio State both have 10 players on the list, Penn State and Wisconsin have nine, while Purdue and Rutgers both have eight.
Trailing the Spartans and Wolverines are Northwestern with six honorees, Illinois and Maryland with five, and Nebraska with only two.