Despite Kenneth Walker III’s success carrying the football on the ground for the Michigan State Spartans last season, the team managed to have a great air attack in 2021 as well. In fact, quarterback Payton Thorne set the school record for passing touchdowns in a season with 27 (passing Kirk Cousins’ 25 from 2011).
Jayden Reed emerged as the star wide receiver he was projected to be and had a special chemistry with that produced many highlight-reel plays and some spectacular moments in 2021 (Hey! Did you know that they played high school football together?!).
However, Michigan State also lost a key veteran presence in Jalen Nailor who declared for the NFL Draft this past offseason and was eventually selected by the Minnesota Vikings. Replacing Nailor and his production is going to be paramount if the Spartans want to continue their success with the air attack and even take a step forward.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the wide receiver room.
Reed (a redshirt senior) needs no introduction. He’s the clear top receiver for the Spartans heading into this season, and for good reason. Reed racked up 10 touchdown receptions last season, as well as 1,026 receiving yards and 59 receptions, all of which led the team in 2021. He also led the Big Ten and was tied for the FBS lead with two punt return touchdowns, and added a rushing touchdown as well.
Reed ranked second in the conference in all-purpose yards with 128.8 yards per game. It’s clear that Reed is a weapon in more ways than one for MSU. His production is vital to the Spartans’ success this season, and as he enters his final year in East Lansing (most likely), Reed will be looking to have a strong finish to his college career.
Tre Mosley (redshirt junior) had a solid performance in 2021. He recorded three touchdown receptions, as well as 35 total catches and 530 yards, which ranked third on the team in all three categories (he was tied with Connor Heyward for receptions). He also ranked ninth in the Big Ten in yards per reception at 15.1.
Mosley also had a strong finish to the season in Michigan State’s victory over Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl, recording five receptions for 58 yards. Three of those receptions were for first downs. Mosley has shown throughout his Spartan career that he can make tough, physical catches, which makes him a potential top target in the passing game for this upcoming year. Don’t be surprised if he has a breakout season in 2022, as he should be MSU’s second option in the passing game, behind Reed.
Montorie Foster (junior) actually started three games for the Spartans in 2021 after Jalen Nailor got injured late in the season. He stepped up big-time in the role, though, recording 10 catches for 141 yards in just the second half of the season, as well as the first touchdown catch of his career on a flea-flicker pass from Thorne during the win against Maryland. He finished the year with 12 catches for 164 yards and the lone touchdown grab. Foster could break into the rotation more this season, and if the flashes we saw from him late last year are any indication, he’s poised to make some big-time plays during the rest of his time in East Lansing.
Keon Coleman (sophomore) has so much potential. A two-sport athlete (he also plays basketball for Michigan State), Coleman made some nice plays during the small amounts of playing time he got in 2021. He scored the Spartans’ lone touchdown in the loss to Ohio State in November and recorded seven catches for an even 50 yards on the season. Coleman was ranked highly as a recruit in both football and basketball coming out of high school, and is an exceptional athlete. Look for him to flash a bit more this season, and potentially earn the No. 3 or No. 4 wide receiver role with MSU’s offense.
Terry Lockett Jr. (junior) has seen very little playing time in his Spartan career, but he did record three receptions for 17 yards in 2021, and could be in for a bigger role in 2022. He was the top-ranked wide receiver in the state of Minnesota in the 2020 class, according to 247Sports. Lockett has appeared in 15 career games and caught four catches for 22 yards in total. We’ll see if he emerges as a contributor at all in 2022.
Other returning receivers in 2022 include Sebastian Brown, Christian Fitzpatrick (who could also be in for a bigger role in 2022), Joseph Martinez, Nick Hunter, Zach Gillespie (former quarterback), Cade McDonald and Aubrey Dawkins.
The New Guys
Germie Bernard is a newcomer to be very excited about. Bernard ranked in the top-250 players nationally, according to 247Sports, and he was also teammates with true freshman quarterback Katin Houser (get ready to hear about that for the next few years once Reed and Thorne have both graduated). At 6-foot-even and 200 pounds, Bernard has strong playmaking ability. Bernard was an early-enrollee in January, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him a contribute early on in his career.
Antonio Gates Jr. comes in with some high expectations — of course, he is the son of former NFL All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates Sr. He was ranked as a four-star recruit by 247Sports, and as one of the top players in the state of Michigan. Like Bernard, he’s a physical, playmaking receiver and should be a threat to Big Ten defenses in the near future.
Tyrell Henry was ranked as a top-20 player in the state of Michigan by 247Sports. He’s got a lot of potential with his speed and elusiveness to be a real threat in the passing game.
Jaron Glover, Tyler Vroman and Alex Watters were lower-ranked recruits coming out of high school in 2022. Glover is a scholarship player, while Vroman and Watters joined the team as preferred walk-ons. Still, each player provides good depth and could eventually find roles that get them opportunities during their Spartan careers.
Overall, the Spartans stand in a good spot with their wide receiver room. It is one of the deepest position groups on the team. The Spartans have a lot of returning contributors, plus some newcomers that really could make a splash early in their time in the program.
With the loss of Walker, Michigan State might have to really step up in the passing game this season if the running lanes don’t come as easy. However, MSU looks equipped to be up to the task, and consistent success in the passing game should be expected.