Mississippi State not only returns the Southeastern Conference’s top quarterback in Dak Prescott but also has one of the league’s deepest receiving corps coming back.
The Bulldogs did lose Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson and had Jamoral Graham move to defense but welcomed three talented early enrollees this spring in Donald Gray, Deddrick Thomas and Malik Dear.
The unfortunate thing for receivers coach Billy Gonzales was he did not have access to his entire unit during the spring due to injury. Thomas, Dear, De’Runnya Wilson, Joe Morrow, Gabe Myles and Jesse Jackson all spent time in the injury pit during spring drills with Dear, Myles and Jackson missing the spring game.
Wilson was MSU’s top receiver in 2014 catching 47 passes for 680 yards and nine touchdowns. At 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, Wilson is not only a big target but when you factor in his vertical leap from basketball he has NFL written all over him. The scary thing is, he’s still learning the game of football.
Wilson has improved every year and this spring was no different. He missed the first few practices due to a lingering knee injury but returned and quickly became Prescott’s favorite passing option again, especially on the back shoulder pass.
There still hasn’t been any word from Dan Mullen if Wilson will serve a suspension for his arrest on spring break but once he does take the field, expect even more big things from him as a junior.
Fred Brown enters his junior year following a solid sophomore campaign. Brown has always been so smooth in his route running dating back to his as a recruit out of Jim Hill. He might be the most prototypical college receiver on the roster at 6-foot-1, 190-pounds but he certainly showcased he has the ability to make big plays during the fall and had a good spring as well.
Gray is a guy I am really excited about. The Bulldogs signed him out of high school but he did not qualify and ended up at Copiah-Lincoln Community College. An ankle injury kept him out in 2013 and was an All-American as a redshirt freshman last fall.
That also means that Gray will have three years to play three at State. He seemingly caught everything thrown his way this spring. He is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands and is a Chad Bumphis type player except with a bit more speed. I anticipate him being an upgrade in the slot once he gets the playbook down.
Behind Wilson, Fred Ross is Mississippi State’s next best weapon. At 6-foot-2, 205-pounds, Ross has the size of an outside receiver but possesses the speed of a slot guy. He is the Bulldogs second leading returning receiver with 30 catches for 489 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore in 2014.
Ross was a big get for MSU luring him away from a year-long commitment to Oklahoma State and played right away as a true freshman. If his spring performance is any indication, his third year in the program will also be his best to date.
Morrow has been notorious for having big springs and sort of underachieving somewhat during the fall. But by his perfomance in the Orange Bowl, I believe he is poised for a big year as a senior. During that final game in 2014, Morrow hauled in a personal best six passes for 117 yards.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder was hampered by a shoulder injury midway through spring practices but bounced back in a big way and ended up leading the White team in the spring game with 78 yards on four catches.
Thomas may have been the least celebrated of the Bulldogs early offensive enrollees but was the first to make the jump to the second team this spring. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound former high school quarterback from Memphis picked up the playbook quickly as a true freshman and made his share of plays this spring.
Thomas missed a couple of practices due to injury but came back to make five catches in the spring game out of the slot.
Dear is another early high school enrollee. He is built a lot like Josh Robinson at 5-foot-9, 226-pounds with a low center of gravity and thick legs. I really like Dear’s upside and versatility. He was used mostly as a receiver this spring but I think once he gets some seasoning Mullen can open up the playbook and use him more out of the backfield and do some different plays to take advantage of his unique skill set.
Although Myles had to miss the final week of spring with a foot injury, he was doing a superb job up until that point. It really seemed like Myles was coming out of his shell and was comfortable with his role on the team. He could often be found dancing to the music in between plays and constantly smiling.
Myles proved he is capable of making plays during Lewis’ absence last year and I expect him to make even more now that he is the starter in the slot. He will also take over Lewis’ role as the primary passer on the wide receiver pass play. I still cannot believe Myles didn’t score a touchdown last year because he certainly came close on several occasions.
Jackson is a big bodied receiver at 6-foot-2, 210-pounds and is two-years removed from a knee injury he suffered in high school. He was able to redshirt last fall and had his share of big plays this spring before getting banged up right before the spring game.
It is still hard to say how the redshirt freshman will do when the lights come on for the first time on the big stage but I really like his skill set. Jackson is a possession receiver that is capable of turning a first down catch into a touchdown if a defensive back doesn’t do a good job of one-on-one tackling.
Walk-ons Kareem Vance Jr. and Deshun Dixon had some moments as well this spring. Vance had a 48-yard reception during the spring game.
Dixon, the youngest of the Dixon brothers, did a good job making the transition back to the gridiron from minor league baseball but didn’t help his case to get on the field this fall with an offseason DUI arrest.
The Bulldogs also signed a pair of big high school prospects in Dontea Jones and Justin Johnson that will join the team in the fall although Jones may have already outgrown the receiver position and may have to be turned into a tight end.