The top 10 Michigan State football players you need to know for 2016.
1. DT Malik McDowell, Jr.
A superstar get for the program, McDowell saw time right away in the rotation and showed great promise and potential in an Freshman All-American season, and last year he turned it on with 41 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 13 tackles for loss with a 13-yard interception for a score. An attacking interior presence who’s great at getting behind the line on a regular basis, he’s also strong enough to hold his own at the point of attack against the double team.
At 6-6 and 280 pounds, he’s got an interesting frame and the all-around game to go with it. He might not be freakish like Oregon’s and now San Francisco’s DeForest Buckner, but he’s quicker than Arizona Cardinal star Calais Campbell. He’ll be the veteran star on the rebuilt defensive front – at least he needs to be.
2. LB Riley Bullough, Sr.
Recruited as a top linebacker prospect, moved to running back, and then moved back to linebacker, he came up with 31 tackles in his first two seasons, and then he cranked it all up in the full-time role in the middle making 106 tackles with four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss with two picks.
At 6-2 and 230 pounds, he’s built for the position with the range and hitting ability to be an intimidating force. He came up with 30 tackles in a two-game span against Oregon and Air Force, and he was one of the few positives against Alabama with 11 tackles. An All-Big Ten performer, if he stays in the middle he’ll almost certainly lead the team in stops again.
3. RB LJ Scott, Soph.
Expect the 6-0, 238-pounder to become the rising star above the pack of good backs after leading the team with 699 yards and 11 scores. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry, and he wasn’t much of a receiver, but he’s a power back who dominated Purdue with 146 yards, and was a steady force in the red zone, but this year he’ll be more of a workhorse. Expected to be the next great Spartan back, the pressure is on to be an all-star. If not, the Spartans have other options.
4. C/G Brian Allen, Jr
The 6-2, 303-pound All-Big Ten blocker will move around where needed to try filling in the gaps up front. A guard throughout last year, he could move in for Jack Allen at center, or he can take back his left guard gig depending on how the coaching staff is putting it all together. A blaster, he’s the team’s best returning run blocker no matter where he plays. He’ll be the leader at either interior spot.
5. TE Josiah Price, Sr.
A solid all-around tight end, the 6-4, 260-pound veteran bulked up a little bit and should be an even stronger blocker like an extra tackle at times, while also serving as a nice midrange target catching 23 passes for 267 yards and six touchdowns last season despite missing two games. While he’s never going to stretch the field, he’s a reliable target who’s deadly at times in the red zone. Now he’ll have to be more of a No. 1 receiver to rely on.
6. FS Demetrious Cox, Sr.
The team’s fourth-leading tackler made 79 stops with three picks in an all-star season. Steady, he was a sure-thing hitter throughout the season, doing most of his best work late in the year with seven stop s in each of the last three games. At his 6-1 and 198-pound size, he’s built like a free safety, but he’s fast enough to play corner, spending part of his career there. He’ll move around again, but the more he can work as a ball-hawking safety, the better.
7. LB Jon Reschke, Jr.
The team’s fifth-leading tackler will work on the strongside, but he could end up moving to the middle if Ed Davis is back to form and takes back his old job. At 6-2 and 225 pounds, Reschke isn’t huge, but he’s an active hitter with 11 stops against Oregon and steady play throughout the season – at least up until the loss to Alabama. A superstar recruit, he’s been solid so far, and now he should grow into more of a statistical star no matter where he plays.
8. LB Ed Davis, Sr.
This is as much of a projection than a sure-thing considering Davis is coming off a knee injury and needing to be back to form in his sixth year with the program. The 6-3, 225-pounder appeared to be all set to rise up and become a star of the linebacking corps before suffering a torn ACL before last season began. He dropped some weight, but he’s able to play in the middle or on his normal strongside, pushing for time in the rotation – at least – if not taking back his starting gig after finishing fourth on the team in 2014 with 58 tackles, seven sacks, and 12 tackles for loss
9. WR Donnie Corley, Fr.
Ready for the big new Michigan State superstar? If this spring was any indication, he’s going to be the instant impact force with 6-3, 185-pound size with excellent deep speed. No one could cover him throughout the offseason, and once he gets it, look out. The tremendous skills are there – termed the Freak by his teammates – he might not be the No. 1 receiver when the season starts with R.J. Shelton and his 43 catches returning, but he’ll be the most dangerous.
10. RB Gerald Holmes, Jr.
There was a stretch when Holmes all but carried the ground game, and then LJ Scott took over in key spots. Holmes, though, did a nice job averaging 4.9 yards per carry with 540 yards and eight scores with the compact 6-0, 220-pound size and quickness to handle the work. He was the main man in the loss to Nebraska – running for 117 yards and a score – and he was fantastic in November before ceding to Scott in the Big Ten championship and Sugar Bowl. He should be good for about ten carries a game and could grow into more of a receiver.