The 2024 NFL Draft is a whole year away still, but which Michigan State football players stand out as prospects?
Following the conclusion of the 2023 NFL Draft, I think it is time to look at the future Michigan State football draft prospects. Jayden Reed continued Michigan State’s historical success in the draft as a second-rounder, as well as Bryce Baringer and Ameer Speed.
Next year, the draft will be the closest it has ever been to East Lansing, with Detroit playing host to one of football’s greatest spectacles.
So, around this time next year, who will we be talking about as the next Spartan to be drafted, or potentially walk across that stage on night one?
I will separate this into a few categories; the eligible, the potentials, and the picks.
This is a group of players who have the potential to declare but could do with another year with Michigan State football. If they have a breakout campaign, however, we might be saying farewell to these guys.
Charles Brantley, CB
Career stats: 66 tackles, 10 pass breakups, 2 INTs, 1 TD, 2 TFL, 1 sack in 19 games
The defensive player wearing No. 0 on our roster, Charles Brantley will be entering his junior campaign and is eligible to declare after this season. He has the tools to play in the NFL, as well as the competitive spirit. Injuries, however, have plagued Brantley, plus he still has some work to do to be a true shutdown corner. I don’t see him making that leap in 2023, but his potential alone warrants a mention on this list.
Maliq Carr, TE
Career stats: 25 catches, 359 yards, 1 TD in 27 games
The redshirt junior tight end has all the tools and physicality needed to be the top tight end selection in next year’s class. This will be Carr’s year to stand out, as he has been buried behind 2022 sixth-round pick Connor Heyward and potential 2023 undrafted free agent Daniel Barker in the last two years. As you can see by his career stats, he has yet to fully harness his potential. Carr is fully committed to football, as he did not walk on to the basketball program this last offseason, unlike in 2022. He is a boom-or-bust player, one with a ceiling of playing his way into a draft selection this year, or a floor where he does not even win the starting position.
Simeon Barrow Jr., DT
Career stats: 74 tackles, 3 TFL, 7 sacks in 22 games
For the last dozen years or so, the Spartans have always seemed to have a defensive lineman that becomes an NFL draft pick or an undrafted free agent that earns a roster spot. This year is no different, with Simeon Barrow Jr. as the next man up for the Spartans after Jacob Slade hears his name this year. The only question here for Barrow is if he declares after the season, or returns with unfinished business for the Spartans in 2024. Barrow also has had injury concerns in the past, missing parts of games last year.
Brandon Wright, DE
Career stats: 25 tackles, 4 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Brandon Wright is an athletic freak, as evidenced by his earn playing time at both running back and defensive end during his time as a Spartan. Wright is a player who I think has one of the highest ceilings. If you watch his film from the 2021 MSU-Penn State game, the Spartans would not win this game without Wright’s effort. However, he has not been able to be a consistent starter. Additionally, his discipline will face serious scrutiny considering he was one of the eight suspended for the tunnel incident.
These players all are out of eligibility or should have enough draft hype that it will be unlikely to see them suit up for Michigan State football after this season.
Jalen Berger, RB
Career stats: 232 carries for 1,072 yards, 9 TDs; 23 catches for 158 yards (Wisconsin and MSU)
Jalen Berger is only a redshirt junior, so he has the option to return next season. Considering he is likely to be splitting carries with Nathan Carter and Jaren Mangham (more on him later), I think Berger is a coin flip to return for 2024. He had over 600 yards last season and showed the burst that makes NFL scouts crave him. However, he has yet to establish himself as a true RB1 in college. Considering Jarek Broussard didn’t hear his name called, I cannot justify putting Berger as a surefire player to declare and be picked after this season concludes.
Aaron Brule, LB
Career stats: 169 tackles, 24 TFL, 12 sacks, 5 pass breakups (Mississippi State and Michigan State)
Aaron Brule is a player that falls under the blanket of “out of eligibility” after this season. He has shown flashes of brilliance at both MSUs but has yet to do much to warrant a draft pick. He has the tools to disrupt the pocket and can defend the pass in a pinch, but has not put himself into a position to be drafted, yet. That said, I think Brule takes the step this year. His size (6-foot-2, 242 pounds) makes him a bit of a tweener. I’d say a solid campaign this year (60 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 5 sacks) makes him a borderline Day 2 pick. A coach will want to harness the New Orleans native and set him to wreak havoc against the NFL in a few years.
Duo of C Nick Samac (22 starts) and OG J.D. Duplain (35 starts)
Nick Samac and J.D. Duplain have been some of the more consistent starters for the Spartans in the last few seasons. Samac just started his first full season last year, while Duplain has been one of the more underrated Michigan State players in recent memory. Both are consistent and were a part of the Joe Moore Award semifinalists in 2021.
Between coaching changes and inconsistent quarterback play, it can be argued that the 2021 campaign was the only time we had a good look at the offensive line. That said, critics also could state that Kenneth Walker III made that group look much better than they are. This campaign could make or break the draft hopes of these two, along with redshirt senior tackle Spencer Brown.
Personally, I have Duplain as a fourth through seventh-round selection and Samac being a final-round selection or priority UDFA.
Cal Haladay, LB
Career stats: 216 total tackles, 16 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 pick-sixes, 2 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles
Cal Haladay is the final player in this section, and I considered putting him as a draft pick. He has been our best linebacker since Joe Bachie. Haladay has been a plug-and-play option since his redshirt freshman campaign, capping it off with a Peach Bowl-winning pick-six. He received awards as a Freshman All-American and won the Defensive MVP for the Peach Bowl.
Haladay has been a menace to Big Ten teams, plugging running lanes and flying around the field. This was reflected last season, when he was voted as second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and media.
Despite having two career pick-sixes, Halday has struggled in pass coverage. This is his main drawback, and a two-down linebacker is limited in his usability in the league. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him stay back at MSU for another year to work on proving his viability as a three-down backer.
These are players that I see as players who have done enough to warrant a draft pick, as long as they remain healthy and continue their career trajectories this season.
Jaren Mangham, RB
Career stats: 314 carries for 1251 yards, 23 TDs; 20 catches for 125 yards (USF and Colorado)
Expected draft selection: 5th-7th round
The incoming transfer comes in as a redshirt senior, with one more year available due to the COVID-19 campaign. He has over 20 career touchdowns, including 15 in the 2021 campaign, and has won Pac-12 and AAC honors. I think Mangham will be dynamic next year by sharing the backfield with Carter and Berger. My only concern would be limited touches in this loaded backfield, but his touches should be explosive. That said, he looked like the most explosive back in the spring game. The case of the last running back to split touches, Broussard, also gives me pause. Broussard’s limited touches likely make him a possible UDFA.
Jacoby Windmon, LB
Career stats: 218 tackles, 28.5 TFL, 17 sacks, 1 INT, 6 passes defended, 9 forced fumbles (UNLV and MSU)
Expected draft selection: 2nd-6th round
Jacoby Windmon exploded onto the scene last season, recording 5.5 sacks in the first handful of games as a Spartan. People were talking about Windmon being a top-five selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. Then, conference play hit. The whole Spartan roster, Windmon included, took massive steps back. Windmon then stood out against Wisconsin, making a crucial interception to help keep the Spartan season alive. However, he then was involved in the tunnel altercation and ended the season suspended. If Windmon can recapture the magic he had against Western Michigan and Akron in 2022, he could be a first-rounder next year.
Windmon looks to be a lock for the NFL Combine next year, but he will face quite a few questions about the tunnel altercation.
Keon Coleman, WR
Career stats: 65 catches, 848 yards, 8 touchdowns in 22 games
Expected draft selection: Middle 1st-4th
Keon Coleman is the name we all expected when starting this list. Coleman had his first career touchdown against OSU in 2021 but was stuck behind two NFL receivers (2022 sixth-rounder Jalen Nailor and 2023 second-rounder Jayden Reed). In 2022, Coleman put his name on the map against Washington. When the Spartan running game could do nothing and Jayden Reed was nursing an injury, Coleman and Payton Thorne did all they could to try to steal a victory. Coleman finished with nine catches, 119 yards, and two touchdowns. He was two yards shy of 800 receiving yards last year, all while playing second fiddle to Reed when he was healthy.
Coleman, a member of the 2021 Michigan State basketball team, is the most athletically gifted player on the Spartan roster. He has the jumping ability, the speed, and the hands that make NFL teams salivate. Mel Tucker’s prized gem of his first Spartan class should be competing with Kenneth Walker III and Reed as the top Tucker-era selections.
As fans, we all should accept that this season is the final season of seeing Neon Keon.
The biggest issue Coleman faces is not his own doing. Coleman faces the uncertainty of which player, or players, will be throwing him the ball next season. I still expect Coleman to take another leap forward as he replaces Reed as WR1 this year. On Pro Football Network’s most recent mock draft, Coleman was projected as the 69th (nice) overall pick. Considering that their mock draft has the Texans taking Caleb Williams, this is obviously not accurate. I expect to see Coleman walk across the Detroit stage next year.
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