Summer conditioning in underway for Michigan State football, as the Spartans begin to prepare for fall camp and, eventually, the season-opener on Sept. 2 against Western Michigan.
Spartan Nation is preparing for Year 3 of the Mel Tucker era as well, bu looking at every position group on Michigan State's roster and pointing out one thing we like, one thing we don't and something to keep an eye on.
Today, we look at a position that lost a big contributor to the NFL Draft, but has options to fill the void: Tight End
One Thing I Like
I like the options that Michigan State has at tight end, even with Connor Heyward off to the NFL in Pittsburgh.
Redshirt sophomore Maliq Carr got his feet wet with the program last season, playing in 12 games and finishing the year with eight catches for 135 yards. His production picked up dramatically in the back-half of the season, with seven catches for 128 yards in the last six games of the season.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder has barely scratch the surface in terms of his potential. He's athletic, he's strong and has good to very good speed for a tight end. Carr is a popular candidate to be Michigan State's "breakout player" in 2022.
Head coach Mel Tucker also hit the transfer market hard this offseason and landed several potential contributors, including Illinois graduate transfer Daniel Barker at tight end. It was a great move to add a seasoned veteran to the tight end room one season after a veteran like Connor Heyward departed for the pros.
Barker played in 44 games for the Fighting Illini, compiling 64 receptions for 827 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last season in 11 games, he had 18 receptions for 202 yards and four touchdowns. Barker provides a proven, reliable option at tight end for the Spartans.
Additionally, Michigan State has another veteran in former punter-turned-tight end Tyler Hunt, who had 14 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown last season for the Spartans. In 2020, his first season playing tight end, Hunt had eight catches for 78 yards, and a one-yard touchdown run against Iowa.
Hunt is a guy that Tucker and tight end coach Ted Gilmore can put on the field an expect to get the job done. He's shown that over the last two seasons at the position.
Connor Heyward was an important guy to have in the locker room over the past several seasons, at both running back and tight end. His presence will be missed, but Michigan State has options for replacing his production at the tight end position.
One Thing I Don't
There aren't many negative things that come to mind with this position group. As stated above, I like the options that the Spartans have here.
If I had to point out one thing, it would be to question if Michigan State has a true "difference-maker" at the position. We've seen programs like Notre Dame and Michigan produce difference-makers at tight end — true go-to weapons in an offense.
I think Maliq Carr could develop into that this season, but we'll have to wait and see if that becomes reality.
Michigan State has not produced a tight end who was drafted by an NFL franchise since Dion Sims in 2013. It's a position that the Spartans have plenty of room for improvement.
One Thing To Keep An Eye On
Michigan State added a pair of tight ends to the roster in the 2022 recruiting class in three-stars Jack Nickel and Michael Masunas.
Nickel was an early-enrollee and was able to go through spring practice with the program. That will give him a head-start heading into his true freshman season in 2022.
It will be interesting to see how far the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder climbs up the depth chart this fall, and if he gets an opportunity to get on the field and showcase his abilities. That could be difficult given the depth that the Spartans have at the position, but I'm intrigued by Nickel's potential.
In Case You Missed It
This article is part of a series examining every position group on Michigan State's roster. You can find the other position groups that Spartan Nation has already covered here: (Quarterbacks, Running backs, Wide Receiver, Offensive Line, Tight End).