After leaving early, MSU's Nicholson taken by Washington

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Montae Nicholson

Some might have wondered if Montae Nicholson made the right move leaving Michigan State after his junior season.

On Saturday, that decision was proven to be a sound one as the Spartans safety was taken in the fourth round of the NFL draft by Washington with the 123rd overall pick.

Nicholson is the highest-drafted Michigan State safety since Eric Smith went in the third round in 2006. He is also the seventh defensive back selected in the draft under coach Mark Dantonio, joining Jeremy Ware, Chris L. Rucker, Trenton Robinson, Darqueze Dennard, Trae Waynes and Tony Lippett.

“You talk about this past year,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “In coverage, he was just OK. I think his strength is really lowering those bone-jarring (tackles). He needs to be a little consistent sometimes with his technique, but he made a lot of plays this year for the Spartans in that secondary.”

Nicholson had 86 tackles as a junior in 2016 with one interception and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

At the NFL Combine in March, Nicholson was clocked as the third-fastest safety with a time of 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash. In addition, Nicholson was also a top performer among safeties in the broad jump (fifth at 125 inches/10-5) and vertical jump (tied for sixth at 35 inches). Several days later, Nicholson underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum but is expected to be OK for training camp.

“Extremely excited to be a part of this great organization,” Nicholson posted on Twitter. “Ready to go to work!”

The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Nicholson will have a chance to contribute right away in Washington, where he joins former Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins.

However, has work to do to be a complete player, according to NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks.

“Montae Nicholson is a guy that checks all the boxes – a height, weight, speed specimen,” Brooks said. “You see some of the flashes, you like some of the things. He’s a big hitter, he controls it in between the hash, but he’s not necessarily a playmaker.

“I believe what they’re banking on – because of his size, his traits – that he can grow into the position and eventually make a run at a starting job. I think right now, though, he’s probably better fitted to be a special teams player early in his career.”

Nicholson is the second Michigan State player taken in the draft after defensive tackle Malik McDowell was taken with the 35th overall selection by the Seattle Seahawks on Friday.

That was it for Spartans by the time the seventh round ended on Saturday night, but it didn’t take long for news to start pouring in on Michigan State players already agreeing to free-agent contracts.

Linebacker Riley Bullough, who had an outside chance at getting drafted, announced on Twitter he was signing with Tampa Bay while tight end Josiah Price said he was heading to Minnesota. Not long after that, wide receiver R.J. Shelton posted he was also signing with the Vikings.

Later on Saturday, wide receiver Monty Madaris said he was headed to Cincinnati and safety Demetrious Cox was joining him with the Bengals. Offensive lineman Kodi Kieler posted he was heading to minicamp with Arizona.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau