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2023 Football Preview: Receivers - The Mystery Group Relying on Others

This group was defined in the offseason by team departures. It remains to be seen if they can define themselves on the field in 2023.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Michigan State at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Michigan State’s wide receivers may be more defined by who is NOT on the roster in 2023 at wide receiver than who is actually on the roster this season. This combined with the inherent trouble in projecting receivers output on a team with few solid answers on offense means this is a wide open receiver room for 2023.

To understand the issues in projecting the 2023 Spartan receivers, let’s first understand a few things:

Receiver is Inherently Reliant on Others

Receiver is a rough position to project on teams with as many questions as the Spartans have this year. Receivers rely on good quarterback play, who rely on good offensive line play. And everyone on the offense relies on the quality of the offensive coordinators scheme. This means even the world’s greatest receivers will look average if they are not put in a scheme that helps get them open, let alone if they have a quarterback who can (or has the time to show they can) get them the ball reliably on target.

Michigan State has a wildly unsettled QB situation, headlined in large part because of the late Spring departure of Payton Thorne (more on him in a moment).

Michigan State’s offensive line should have substantially more depth this year, but reports of injuries to key contributors like center Nick Samac leave a lot of concern. A shaky offensive line will mean the run game will struggle to establish itself, and the quarterbacks will have an even tougher time getting the ball out reliably.

All of this leaves a lot of questions for Offensive Coordinator, Jay Johnson. Johnson has been a fan favorite target for criticism over the last year, despite his early highs in the role.

If the receivers are not able to get the ball reliably sent their way - either due to personnel struggles or scheme failings - it will be a tough year production wise for the largely untested set of wide receivers.

Michigan State is Missing Two Key Players

Michigan State is missing quarterback Payton Thorne. How much he will be missed remains to be seen. There were plenty of those in the Spartan fandom that wanted him replaced (see everyone that believes Katin Houser is the next coming of greatness), and it was clear the coaches wanted to see an open competition this year. That said, a proven, two year starter who had a very strong year two years ago and seemingly legitimate injury issues that limited them last year, would make projecting wide receiver production a lot easier.

Noah Kim, Katin Houser and true freshman Sam Leavitt are largely (or completely) untested.

Beyond the change at quarterback, this set of receivers was expected to be lead by Keon Coleman. The departure of Coleman has been well documented, but the hole he has left at receiver is still unclear. It’s unclear if Coleman will truly be the dominant threat he has shown flashes of at his new school. And even his production at MSU might have been hard to predict if he’d stayed considering the questions at QB, offensive line and even coordinator.

What is clear about the departure of Coleman is the player with the “buzz” so to speak is no longer with the team. This leaves a wide receiver core that is largely unknown both on the field and off the field.

A Non-Wide Receiver Could Change the Passing Game This Year

Michigan State has spent three years waiting on Maliq Carr to explode offensively. The physical skills and size of the tight end could mean he becomes the featured pass catcher for the year. Carr still has a lot to prove. That said, he has more buzz than anyone in the wide receiver core, and in a scheme with an untested quarterback, a reliable tight end could get more targets than the receivers. His rise could mean the wide receiver room becomes overshadowed and has a ceiling of a quality group of reliable pass catchers but no real stars.

But enough about the doubts let’s talk about those that are actually on the 2023 Roster

The 2023 Notable Wide Receivers

Projected Starters:

Tre Mosley, R-Sr.; A multi-year starter at this point, Mosley has been consistent throughout his MSU career. The question becomes is consistency simply who he is as a player, or can he show that his game has more to give them offensively if he can become a featured option for the offense? This is a player that could benefit from the departure of Keon Coleman as the true WR1, or could simply stay a solid number two option. Either way, Mosley will be incredibly important for Michigan State this year.

Montorie Foster Jr., Sr.; Foster has experience on the field for Michigan State and has not always lived up to the incredible speed he possesses. This can be largely chalked up to foot injuries. The problem with foot injuries and speed players is you simply cannot project if they will regain that previous speed in game situations. If Foster can find that extra gear and stay healthy he could have a breakout year. This is a player that could be a game changer vertically.

Alante Brown, Sr. (Transfer); The Nebraska transfer is looking to make more impact on the field. This will be Brown’s fourth year playing consistently. For two of the three years at Nebraska Brown’s impact was felt more as a kick returner than a go to receiver. It is a big question mark how much he will be a leader on the field, or potentially be passed by a younger receiver in the room. The experience will help him see the field early, but by mid season it could look very different for Brown.

Key Backups/Alternate Starters/Package Receivers

This group of receivers is expected to see the field consistently. Some may push to start, while others will be featured regularly in spread packages or specific situational lineups.

Antonio Gates Jr., R-Fr.; The name alone brings some “buzz”/ The redshirt freshman came in with some expectations that so far have not been realized. A year with the team could be enough to set the younger Gates on a path to future greatness. Or it could be a reminder that not all projected stars truly emerge. This year should give Gates a healthy amount of time on the field to truly prove which way their career is heading.

Tyrell Henry, So.; Henry may end up making their mark on special teams, or could work their way into the rotation. The speed is apparently there to make a difference on the field, the question will be can they consistently create separation at the Big Ten level and build confidence for the new quarterback(s).

Christian Fitzpatrick, R-Jr.; At 6 foot 4 and 218 pounds, Fitzpatrick is the largest wide receiver on the roster. This size should mean a role in at least goal line situations and packages that need a big physical receiver to go get the ball. Fitzpatrick is one of the few wide receivers on the team to log minutes offensively last year. This experience could make him a potential breakout candidate, even if the first few years at Michigan State have been relatively quiet.

Wide Receiver Depth

Depth is a tricky thing in college football. Depth can mean a position room simply has a lot of bodies in it, or it could mean there is talent beyond the top player(s). Michigan State is hoping that their young core of recruits (4 true freshman, and even redshirt freshman Jaron Glover) could see time on the field this year. Speed and the ability to “go get the ball” mean younger players can see time more often at wide receiver than other positions. This could be a year where even if Michigan State finds reliable weapons that lead this position group that they could experiment with the younger guys early and often.

Jaelen Smith, Fr.;

Aziah Johnson, Fr.;

Jack Yanachik, Fr.;

Grant Calcagno, Fr.;

Jaron Glover, R-Fr.;

Sebastian Brown, R-Jr.;

Aubrey Dawkins, R-Jr.;

Zach Gillespie, R-Jr.;

Nick Hunter, R-Sr.;

What do you think about Michigan State’s Wide Receivers? Will they be a strength this year?