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Jul. 19, 2013 - DJ Boyer

2013 Fierce-40 Previews: #28

2013 Fierce 40 Previews


#28 Michigan State Spartans


2012 Recap:

Michigan State finished 7-6 and only 3-5 in the Big Ten, but they had one of the best defensive units in the country and lost a handful of games by 4 points or less. The season did finish on a high note with a come-from-behind 17-16 win in their bowl game against TCU.


Mike Dantonio is 51-28 in six years at Michigan State but the Spartans have won 27 Big Ten games since 2008, which is the most the school has won over any five year stretch in history, so you can’t argue that Dantonio is getting results. As successful as Dantonio has been, he has been so agonizingly close in a number of losses, so if more of these close losses start going Michigan State’s way they could really see some success and be a force near the top of the Big Ten for years to come.


Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Andrew Maxwell is a senior who has all the tools a coach is looking for in a quarterback but he continues to struggle and what he struggles with always seems to change. Connor Cook saw a lot of time on the field last year and both look to be splitting time again in 2013, but it looks like Maxwell will be the primary starter again when the season opens. The leash on Maxwell will be short and I think he will have an opportunity in an NFL camp because his tools are off the charts.

Last season Michigan State was 108th in the country in scoring offense and now they must move on without workhorse running back Le'Veon Bell who has been lost to the NFL. Bell accounted for 138 yards on the ground per game and had 13 total touchdowns so there is some concern. Michigan State also has some changes at offensive coordinator as they now have co-coordinators with Dave Warner moving up from quarterbacks coach and Jim Bollman coming in from Boston College. It looks like a pair of freshman will be splitting rushing duties as the season begins and Michigan State seems happy and confident they will get the job done. It’s important that they do because quarterback play has been far from stellar in East Lansing the last few years. 

Best Draft Prospect: Andrew Maxwell QB UFA 2014.


Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Nobody is going to mistake the three starting Michigan State wide receivers for the Three Amigos anytime soon (Bronco's WR's from early 90's, not the Chevy/Short/Martin movie) but Michigan State did spread the ball around a season ago so there is plenty of experience. Senior Bennie Fowler has the most seasoning in the group and he will start with Keith Mumphrey, while Tony Lippett and sophomore Aaron Burnbridge will split time as the starting third receiver. My hope is that Burnbridge wins the job outright because he is the only receiver that has a chance at a long term career at the wide receiver position at the next level. He will need to add some weight to his 185 pound frame but he has the best mix of size and speed on the squad. If a player starts to assert himself out of the backfield it will help since Michigan State receivers always need to know how to block downfield and how to seal an edge for a teammate.

I am more worried about tight end, since Dion Sims was lost to the NFL. The top two choices to replace Sims had a total of three catches last year combined. As good as Michigan State was running the football, they were ranked higher passing the ball in the Big Ten. Balance is what this offense is going to need if they want to stave off a losing season in conference.

Best Draft Prospect: Aaron Burnbridge WR 7th Round 2016.


Offensive Line:

Michigan State is loaded with young talent along the line but they will be led by fifth year senior Fou Fonoti, who has the capability of playing every position along the line, aside from center. Versatile lineman who can move in space are made a priority by Michigan State since they like to run the football with sweeps around the corner. Right tackle Skyler Burkland and left guard Blake Treadwell will have the opportunity at the NFL. Both look like players who if they are drafted in the 7th round or picked up as free agents they will contribute to a team after spending a seeson or two on the practice squad. Jack Allen and Donovan Clark are sophomore backups who, like Fonoti, can play multiple positions. The main area of concern no matter who the starters are has to be discipline. Over the last five years the Michigan State line has been the most penalized in the conference when you add together holding and false start calls. Michigan State has to be careful and not put themselves in '2nd or 3rd-And-Long' situations due to penalties.

Best Draft Prospect: Fou Fonoti OT/OG 5th/6th Round 2014.



Defensive Line

William Gholston was the beast of this line a season ago and the Spartans will miss his production but it looks like Michigan State may be in even better shape than they were a year ago. Gholston led the team in nearly every defensive category but only had 4.5 sacks due to the attention he commanded. The Spartans had only 20 sacks overall despite being one of the most solid defensive units in the conference. The ends in Marcus Rush and Shilique Calhoun should change things for the Spartans and add the missing element of speed off the edge. I have Calhoun graded as the top prospect at this time with a 5th round grade for 2016 and this is probably too low. This will be Calhoun’s first year as a starter and in his limited snaps he really burst out at me on tape with explosion and play recognition. Often you see youngsters come off the edge and they just want to kill the quarterback. As a freshman Calhoun showed me he understands lane assignments, staying at home and how to play the run along with having enough explosion and upper body strength to be a force sacking the quarterback. The middle of the line will be a four-man rotation devoid of star power or a solid NFL prospect, but it will keep their players fresh.

Best Draft Prospect: Shilique Calhoun DE 5th Round 2016.



Max Bullough will play the middle and fellow senior Denicos Allen will play the strong side, and I have both rated as 3rd round prospects in this draft. Fellow starter Taiwan Jones is a junior but I envision him getting drafted in 2015. Michigan State makes a strong case with these players as the best starting linebacking crew in all of the land. Add up the stats for all three in 2012 and you have 238 tackles with 28 coming for loss and 3 interceptions. Even backups Jarius Jones and Kyler Elsworth played well in overload packages and mop up duty last year. The linebackers show just the right combination of speed, strength, and agility, as they finished in the top 10 nationally against the run and the pass. Bullough is the leader and a tackling machine that will be in the hunt for numerous postseason awards. The biggest worry for this group has to go back to the offense. Michigan State will have to sustain some drives and ensure they are not on the field too long as a unit.

Best Draft Prospect: Max Bullough and Denicos Allen 3rd Round 2014.



While the linebackers are undoubtedly the strongest of the defense, it is the secondary that possesses Michigan State’s best NFL prospect, Darqueze Dennard. Dennard tied for the team lead in interceptions and pass breakups in the secondary even though teams noticeably avoided his side of the field in most situations. Cornerback is an area that is down a bit this year as far as overall draft prospects and I have Dennard currently listed as a 2nd rounder. There are about 4-5 corners in the country that can take advantage of the weaker class overall and push themselves into the 1st round and Dennard is on that short list. At 5'11" Dennard doesn’t have tremendous size, but it is adequate and he may be the best tackling corner we will see in the entire 2014 class. We have another very good prospect in senior strong safety Isaiah Lewis who should be a late round selection. Lewis was 2nd on the team with 80 tackles in 2012 although his lateral movements are a little limited affecting his overall range. One of the other best young prospects on this team could be freshman free safety Demetrious Cox. I naturally don’t have as much access to film for incoming freshman, but I have seen Cox in a few high school showcases and he looks to be as good as advertised. He could be the highest ranked prospect on this team down the road, but only time will tell. Cox will have a chance to showcase his abilities early as he will be the primary backup and will see time on the field in nickel and even press packages.

Best Draft Prospect: Darqueze Dennard CB 2nd Round 2014.


Special Teams:

Michigan State also boasts a legitimate special teams prospect in junior kicker Mike Sadler. I currently have Sadler ranked as the #2 junior punter at the NCAA level so he could very well be drafted. Sadler showed a great combination of strength and touch a season ago as he led the Big Ten with a 43.3 punting average and also by dropping 31 kicks inside the 20. Freshman Michael Geiger will be the kicker and he was ranked in the top five by all major scouting services for incoming freshman. Michigan State was #2 in kick coverage a season ago so they have a solid special teams core to go along with their top notch defensive unit.

Best Draft Prospect: Mike Sadler P 6th/7th Round 2015.



No Wisconsin or Ohio State on Michigan State’s schedule really bodes well for them. The September 21st game at South Bend against Notre Dame is very important as Michigan State has played some dandies against the Irish over the years. Michigan State should be 3-0 heading into that contest and a win will really give them momentum as they prepare for early-to-mid November. Michigan State starts the month with a home game against Michigan then gets a week off before back-to-back road games against Nebraska and Northwestern. If Michigan State can win two out of three during that stretch then this team could come out smelling like roses.

Draft Outlook:

Michigan State may not have the sheer number of prospects as many of the teams we have ranked around them, but they have quite a bit that look like 3rd round material or better in the next few seasons. Big Ten football is always tough in the trenches and nobody does it better than Michigan State. That’s why a team with so many question marks on offense is even ranked in this poll. With a few breaks and a solid rushing attack Michigan State will be in the thick of the Big Ten title race.



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