Michigan State football: Top 5 impact players

michigan state football

Junior QB Rocky Lombardi

With Brian Lewerke moving on, the starting quarterback position is up for grabs, but I believe Rocky Lombardi is going to be the guy to run the show for the Spartans. Last season, Lombardi played in only three games. Those games resulted in a 28-7 win in our season opener against Tulsa, a 38-0 loss to Wisconsin and a 28-7 loss against Penn State. In those three games, he totaled 21 attempts with seven completions for 74 yards with two interceptions and zero touchdowns.

These stats are obviously not so impressive, but if you look back to 2018 when Lewerke got injured, Rocky took 154 attempts with 68 completions resulting in a 44.2% completion percentage. He threw for a total of 738 yards and racked in three touchdowns along with three interceptions. Clearly, 2018 was a much better season than 2019 for Lombardi. If he can remedy the turnovers, he can lead this team like Michigan State greats Connor Cook and Kirk Cousins did. Rocky has the most experience at quarterback for the Spartans right now, but if he fails to show out then expect sophomore Theo Day to take the reins.

Sophomore RB Elijah Collins

Collins led the team in rushing last year bringing in just shy of 1,000 rushing yards at 988 with 222 attempts. He averaged 4.4 yards a carry with a long carry of 58 yards against Western Michigan last year. Collins shares the backfield with junior Connor Heyward and sophomore Anthony Williams Jr. Collins, to me, is the clear favorite. I expect good things to come this season especially since offensive coordinator Jay Johnson likes to use run-heavy play calling with his offense. Collins may have been able to hit the 1000-yard mark this season, but since the schedule has been shortened, that would be a steep mountain to conquer. I would love to be proven wrong on that prediction.

Sophomore WR Jalen Nailor

Nailor is a redshirt sophomore who had a good freshman season. His 2019 season was shortened after he broke his foot before the season started, forcing him to sit out nine straight games, but he appeared in the last four. Cody White and Darrell Stewart Jr. graduated, so I see Nailor getting the starting role at the wide receiver. Nailor and sophomore wide out Tre Mosley will take the bulk of the receiving spots, but Nailor is the more talented skill player if he stays healthy. He is a fast and agile player who can cut it up the field and make quick strides to the end zone. His season high in yards was back in 2018 with only 138 He averaged 17.3 yards on eight catches in 2018. Building on that average would be a blessing for the passing game.

Senior LB Antjuan Simmons

The Spartan defense took a big hit this season losing key players like linebacker Joe Bachie, defensive end Kenny Willekes, defensive tackle Raequan Williams and cornerback Josiah Scott all to the NFL. But make note, Antjuan Simmons led all those amazing players in solo tackles. Simmons has 156 total tackles, most out of any Spartan on the 2020 roster. He finished the 2019 season with 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble and an interception. Simmons is named to the Bednarik Award watch list this year. That award is given to the nation’s top college defensive player. Simmons is going to be a key part in coach Tucker’s new defensive arsenal, so make sure you keep your eye on him each game. He is going to be an important part of the Spartan defense.

Junior S Xavier Henderson

After Josiah Scott was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars this year, it left the Spartan secondary pretty weak. Luckily the Spartans still have a very good safety in Xavier Henderson, who lead the season last year with 53 solo tackles. Henderson plays hard-nose football. He just seems to be in every tackle and every play on the defensive side of the ball, so it won’t be hard noticing him out there. He was second in interceptions last season with two right behind Scott who had three. He also ended the season with six pass deflections for the Spartans. He is going to be another important factor for this Spartan defense in the secondary.