Jayden Reed, Jalen Nailor are pacesetters in MSU's promising young receiver group
It would be easy to look at Michigan State’s 18.2 points a game this season and think there has been little good happen offensively.
That’s a fair stance to take considering the Spartans are 115th in the nation in scoring, not to mention 114th in total offense. Of course, that would be overlooking some promising signs. While the action has been limited, freshman running back Jordon Simmons and redshirt freshman quarterback Payton Thorne have played well at various times.
But the true standouts on offense — a group that allows for plenty of optimism moving forward — have been the wide receivers. And there’s one bonus to that fact — the Spartans are young at the skill position.
“We’ve been optimistic about our receiving crew all year,” coach Mel Tucker said Saturday after the 39-24 loss at Penn State, “and we've worked hard to develop guys.”
Sophomores Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor have been steady all season with Reed leading the team with 33 catches, gaining 407 yards and scoring three touchdowns. Nailor has 26 grabs for a team-best 515 yards and four touchdowns.
Freshman Ricky White had eight catches for 196 yards and a touchdown in the win over Michigan but has been hurt the last three weeks, while sophomore Tre Mosley has played the last three games after missing three because of an injury.
And last week against Penn State, as Nailor was on his way to six catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns, redshirt freshman Tre’Von Morgan emerged with his first two career receptions, the first a 26-yard touchdown grab in the first half.
They’re all part of a young group that includes freshmen Terry Lockett and Montorie Foster, as well as redshirt freshman Cade McDonald, that the Spartans coaching staff is high on.
“You see it,” Tucker said. “Morgan showed up today and Montorie has been out there. We've developed some more tight ends that can go out there and play. And then Ricky's been out, but at some point, he'll be back.”
Reed has been the playmaker all season most expected he would be when he transferred from Western Michigan. Reed had 11 catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns in the opener and has a catch in every game this season.
And Nailor, finally able to stay healthy for a full season, is proving to be an all-around receiver. He’s had two 100-yard games this season and totaled 99 yards receiving against Northwestern.
“Jalen is growing as a player,” Tucker said. “And he’s becoming a leader, not just a playmaker, and he’s starting play with confidence. You can see it and he’s not just a deep threat. He can make some intermediate catches with his hands, and things like that. But he’s grown as a player and I really like him. I like what he has to offer and I think he's got a bright future.”
The biggest revelation last week was the emergence of Morgan. At 6-foot-7, he’s a natural red-zone threat, but after missing all of last season with an injury, it’s taken time for him to find his role.
With his size, though, it seemed like only a matter of time before he’d make an impact.
“We’re really excited to have him back,” Thorne said. “I thought he made a really good catch on the touchdown. He’s been really working in practice and you’ve got to do it in practice before you can do it on Saturdays and before the coaches trust to put you out there. Credit to him for working the way he has.”
Tucker echoed what his quarterback said about Morgan.
“There’s nothing that happens on the field that we don't see in practice,” Tucker said. “There’s no surprises, even with Tre’Von. The past couple of weeks, he has been coming on.”
Heading into Saturday’s final game of the season at Maryland, the Spartans (2-5) expect the receivers to continue their progress while providing something to look forward to entering 2021.
“We feel like we got some weapons out there,” Tucker said.