When Michigan State junior Keon Coleman entered the NCAA Transfer portal on Sunday, hours after starting quarterback Payton Thorne did the same thing, the Spartan wide receiver room was turned upside down. A wide receiver room without Coleman changes the calculus for the entire Michigan State offense.
Simply put, the Spartans have no way of replacing the 6-foot-4, 215-pound game changer with personnel currently in the program, or players available in the transfer portal. Overcoming the loss of Coleman will take a by-committee approach.
With Michigan State replacing both Jayden Reed (Green Bay Packers) and Coleman ahead of the 2023 season, this is the most uncertainty the Spartans have had at wide receiver since the 2020 season with a talented but unproven room that included Reed, Jalen Nailor, Tre Mosley, Ricky White, Tre’Von Morgan, and Terry Lockett Jr.
Reed and Nailor went on to become NFL Draft picks, with Reed being selected in the 2nd Round of the 2023 NFL Draft last Friday, and Nailor going to the Vikings following the 2022 season. Mosley also became a reliable contributor and remains so for the Spartans.
The cupboard at wide receiver for Michigan State post Coleman is not entirely bare. It is, however, lacking in star power. The Spartans have a capable veteran in senior Mosley, and multiple journeyman types in Montorie Foster and Christian Fitzpatrick, both of whom are capable of playing bigger roles than they have to this point. There is also Class of 2021 trio of Tyrell Henry, Antonio Gates Jr., and Jaron Glover. Those three underclassmen wideouts showed promise throughout spring football and flashed the potential to develop into reliable pass-catching options.
Now, one or more of that group must turn potential into production.
The departure of Coleman also puts greater pressure on Michigan State to get early production from incoming freshmen Aziah Johnson and Jaelen Smith. And do not discount the potential for defensive back signee Sean Brown to get a look at wide receiver. Brown is a long, athletic, football player with good ball skills and a background at receiver. Along similar lines, running back signee Jaelon Barbarin, spent most of his high school football career torching defenses as a slot receiver.
How much more can Mosley give Michigan State?
With Coleman gone, Mosley might be the most important returning player for Michigan State at the wide receiver position. Mosley is the leader of the wide receiver group, and a productive senior season would provide much-needed stability.
Mosley has 98 receptions for 1,176 yards and eight touchdowns in 36 career games, including 21 starts. More than half of his receptions have resulted in either a first down or a touchdown.
“It was huge for us to have him come back,” Mel Tucker said following Michigan State’s spring scrimmage earlier this month. “Obviously, he can make plays for us, and he has really good run after the catch. He has good speed, deceptive.”
Although ball skills are chief among Mosley’s attributes, the former West Bloomfield standout has worked hard to improve as a route runner.
“He is 100 percent bought in to being a better route runner,” wide receiver coach Courtney Hawkins said during spring football. “He has always had tremendous ball skills the deal for him is that you’ve got to attack the art of route running and he has finally said to himself that I need to do this, become a better route runner. It has shown.”
Throughout his career at Michigan State, Mosley has been a player that has consistently made receptions while playing alongside wide receivers with more hype than he has gotten. Mosley has proven himself to be a capable complementary player at the receiver position. Given current circumstances in the Michigan State program, Mosley needs to be a little more than that.
Making the jump from being a solid second or third receiving option to go-to receiver is rare. Is Mosley up to the task?
Aaron Burbridge went from being a solid second or third receiver at Michigan State to being the go-to guy for Connor Cook in 2015. Burbridge totaled 1,258 receiving yards and seven touchdowns during a senior season in which the Spartans were replacing a pair of NFL draft picks in Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery.
The Spartans also had the benefit of proven quarterback in Cook as well as a reliable rushing offense fueled by an NFL Draft pick in Jeremy Langford.
Michigan State needs Foster and Fitzpatrick to be productive
With Payton Thorne going to the transfer portal, Noah Kim moves into a strong position to take over as Michigan State’s starting quarterback in 2023. And if Thorne had returned to Michigan State, there is no reason to believe that he wouldn’t have been pushed by Kim in the competition at the quarterback position.
Kim had a tremendous spring for the Spartans, and it is not coincidental that Montorie Foster, a senior with two years of eligibility remaining, re-established himself as an upward trending playmaker at the wide receiver position.
Kim has as good a chemistry with Foster as any other wide receiver in the Michigan State program. Fully healthy during spring football after struggling with injuries throughout the 2022 season, Foster turned heads while catching a lot of passes.
Unlike Mosley, who lacks elite speed and athleticism, Foster possesses more natural big-play potential. He was primed for a breakout year at Michigan State in 2022 before injuries dealt him a setback. Although he played in 10 games for the Spartans last season, Mosley was never 100 percent.
Like Mosley, Foster knows all three Michigan State wide receiver positions. With 30 games under his belt, including four starts, Foster brings experience as well as athleticism to the receiver room. Those qualities are critically import for the Spartans as they prepare for a receiving room that does not include Coleman.
Junior Christian Fitzpatrick doesn’t have game-changing athleticism to go with his 6-4, 220-pound frame, but he does possess the ability to be a reliable possession receiver for the Spartans. Like Foster, Fitzpatrick had the misfortune of being injured a year ago. An undiagnosed sports hernia prevented him from being a reliable rotation receiver for the Spartans.
Fitzpatrick worked his way back into the mix for a spot in the rotation during spring football. With Coleman no longer in the program, Michigan State needs Fitzpatrick to emerge as a reliable option for whomever replaces Thorne as the program starter.
While Fitzpatrick is unlikely to present a vertical receiving threat, he has the potential to provide value as a possession receiver. That may not move the dial for some, but having a guy that can catch the ball in the middle of the field through contract is tougher to find than it should be. Fitzgerald has the size and a big catch radius, but can he use his physical tools to maximize his potential on a down in and down out basis? That remains to be seen.
No Time like the Present
Courtney Hawkins has consistently sung the praises of the three remaining members of his 2022 receiver class. Of that group, Tyrell Henry has made the biggest impact to date. His biggest contribution, however, has come on special teams as a return man. Henry lacks game reps at wide receiver, which is a bigger problem no than it would have been were Coleman not in the portal.
Be that as it may, Henry has enough confidence in himself and a good enough understanding of the Spartan offense to have a potential breakthrough season at the wide receiver position for the Spartans. Henry possesses good athleticism to go along with solid ball skills.
Of Michigan State’s 2022 receiving class, Henry is likely the best bet for a breakout sophomore season.
Antonio Gates Jr. had a strong showing for Michigan State in the spring scrimmage, and that was no fluke. He is working toward being a functional receiving option for Michigan State and could emerge as a productive rotation piece this fall. The same is potentially true for Jaron Glover.
With Coleman and Reed no longer in the program, Michigan State needs receivers capable of stretching the field vertically. The Spartans recruited Glover to play that role, and he has shown the ability to get the job done at times during his first year in the program.
With proven veterans ahead of them on the depth chart last season, none of Michigan State’s 2022 receiver class, with the exception of mid-year enrollee Germie Bernard (Washington), got a real shot at substantial game reps. With Coleman gone, however, those reps are there for the taking for one or more of that group.
Will anyone step up?
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