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Michigan State football: Grading position groups in spring 2023

Which MSU position group is the strongest?

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Michigan State football
© Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

With the 2023 Michigan State football season months away, let’s dissect each position group and give them grades.

The Michigan State football team has an interesting roster this year. Some positions appear to have plenty of clarity as to who their starters will be, while for others, it’s anything but.

With the roster likely set after recruiting and portal cycle comes to a close, let’s take a look into this year’s roster and break down each position group.

Quarterback: B

After an excellent 2021 season in which he looked primed to easily lock down the position for the foreseeable future, Payton Thorne took a step back last season. His subpar play in 2022 — as well as the presence of former four-star recruit Katin Houser and backup Noah Kim — leaves the door open for a competition. It seems likely that any of the top three candidates can do a decent job, but can any of them be the gunslinger that MSU needs to compete?

Running Back: A-

Jalen Berger is still around after recording 683 yards on 4.6 yards per carry last year, and UConn transfer Nathan Carter has a ton of promise, totaling 405 yards on 6.2 yards per carry through only four games in 2022.

After the clear-cut top two backs, there’s some decent depth in Jaren Mangham, a transfer from USF with 1251 career rushing yards. If Carter is as advertised, though, look for him and Berger to form a potentially lethal one-two punch out of the backfield this year. This could be a fun group.

Wide Receiver: B+(ish)

This group is a mixed bag, but the team has a very solid top two in junior Keon Coleman and senior Tre Mosley. Coleman is a bonafide No. 1 receiver after a breakout 2022 season, and Mosley looks primed to take another step himself.

Nobody else in the wide receiver room has much meaningful experience, though (the loss of Germie Bernard hurts a lot), and while there’s definitely plenty of potential, nobody really has any clue how and if it will be realized. The group is solid for the time being, but they’re only an injury away from some potentially ugly football.

Tight End: B-

This group has a lot of bodies, but not a lot of proven players.

After losing Daniel Barker and Tyler Hunt, Michigan State football brought in numerous transfers from across the nation in Tyneil Hopper, Jaylan Franklin, and Ademola Faleye. There’s also four-star recruit Brennan Parachek as well as some other names mixed in.

As I see it, though, TE1 is 6-foot-5, 245-pound Maliq Carr, though, who looks primed for a breakout season. Carr has plenty of size, speed, and finds himself in a favorable situation with the opportunity to separate himself from the pack. Definitely keep an eye on him, but don’t overlook the rest of the room. When you have such an unproven group, everyone will be fighting to prove themselves and seize the role of top dog — it’s going to be fun to watch.

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line was a highly suspect room for MSU in 2022. It’s part of the reason why the team’s rushing attack so often fell flat, and didn’t help Payton Thorne out too much, either.

Michigan State did gain a promising junior college transfer in Keyshawn Blackstock who will help bolster the line, but not a lot of other notable additions were made.

On paper, the interior of the line looks good: experienced senior Nick Samac at center, proven guard J.D. Duplain, and Blackstock at guard. The tackle spots may cause some real problems, though — the starters at those spots are anyone’s guess. If I were to put money on it, though, I’d wager that redshirt junior Brandon Baldwin may step in and solidify his place on the line, although I have no clue what to expect at the other tackle spot.

If players continue to develop and nobody takes a step back, this could actually be a pretty solid group in 2023, but it could also very easily be a laughingstock. It’s going to be a trial by fire.

Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line group at Michigan State has a lot of decent-looking players, but no standouts yet. The team did pick up a few defensive tackle transfers in Jarrett Jackson, Dre Butler, and former five-star recruit Tunmise Adeleye. There are plenty of promising freshman and sophomores in the group as well, mixed in with veterans like Simeon Barrow and Khris Bogle.

Michigan State did lose a few players to the portal, which is hardly ideal, but regardless, this seems like one of the stronger position groups on the team, even with Jacoby Windmon moving back to linebacker for the 2023 season.

There’s some decent depth here, and some exciting new blood. Like the tight ends, this will be a fun group to watch as it sorts itself out.

Linebacker: A+

I’m not sure if anyone would disagree that this is easily the strongest position group for the Spartans heading into the 2023 season. The team returns highly productive starter Cal Haladay (an All-Big Ten 2nd team selection last year), in addition to Aaron Brule, Jacoby Windmon, and former safety Darius Snow. That’s four excellent starters at a position which often only has two players on the field at a time.

That’s good.

There’s also a few other names, such as former four-star recruit Ma’a Gaoteote, and freshman Jordan Hall (who’s spoken very highly of around the program), providing even further depth.

I don’t know how the team will do as a whole this year, but rest assured that their linebacker room won’t be lacking.

Cornerback: D+

This is, very frustratingly, looking like a highly questionable group for the third year in a row. Junior Charles Brantley looked good at times, but he hardly answered all the questions, and there aren’t a lot of other notable names that come to mind.

This entire room is, honestly, a massive question mark from top to bottom.

Will young players step up and lock down their spots in the secondary? Will veterans finally turn the corner? Will the freshman make an real impact? Nobody really knows, but if the Spartans are going to compete in 2023, a lot of guys in this room are going to have to step up in a major fashion.

Safety: C+

Longtime starter Xavier Henderson graduated, which at first glance is worrying, but then again, maybe some new kids on the block will help shake up a routinely woeful pass defense.

The starters are probably going to be two former four-star recruits in sophomores Dillon Tatum and Jaden Mangham. Both players had their ups and downs in 2022, but are young players that fans should be  excited to watch grow.

I’m not sure how much to expect from this group in the 2023 season but, hey, we’ll have some fun.

Conclusion

This team, more than ever, has a lot of questions around it. And while it’s not awesome to know so little about what the first groups trotting out onto the field will look like, it’s not all bad. This Michigan State football roster, full of players that are anything but proven, is the perfect situation for young guys to step up and solidify their starting spots on the team, and that’s going to be fun to watch.

See y’all in September.

Aspiring sportswriter/analyst, lifelong MSU+Detroit fan, currently contributing here at Spartan Shadows. Always looking to provide insightful and entertaining work. Featured on Bleacher Report, Yardbarker, and elsewhere. Always open to feedback or comments!

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