Evaluating Michigan State Football's Crowded Backfield

Spartan Nation evaluates Michigan State football's crowded backfield ahead of the 2021 season.
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EAST LANSING – Traditionally, Michigan State boasts a tough, gritty, and physical brand of football that starts in the trenches.

It's no secret the Spartans love running the football, and less than two weeks after becoming the new head coach, Mel Tucker said it's important to "run the ball on our terms."

Establishing the run will remain a top priority for Tucker entering his second year as MSU's rushing attack remained one of the nation's worst.

Michigan State finished 112nd in the country at 91.4 yards per game, which was worse than 2018 (124.8 YPG) and 2019 (127.2 YPG). It was the lowest output in program history since 1947, and they only had two rushing touchdowns, thanks to Payton Thorne and Tyler Hunt.

2021 Running Backs

Photo Credit: Nick King/Lansing State Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Returning Players: Connor Heyward, Jordon Simmons, Elijah Collins, Brandon Wright, Donovan Eaglin, and Alante Thomas.

Transfers: Kenneth Walker III (enrolled) and Harold Joiner III (not enrolled)

Incoming Freshman: Davion Primm

Entered Portal: Anthony Williams Jr. and Andre Welch

Analysis: Tucker didn't waste time flipping Michigan State's roster through the transfer portal. The Spartans picked up Harold Joiner (Auburn) on Dec. 17 and Kenneth Walker III (Wake Forest) on Jan. 6 to improve the running back room.

Walker is currently enrolled, and the 5-foot-10 tailback participated in MSU's eight-week strength and conditioning program. In two seasons at Wake Forest, he had 217 carries, 1,158 rushing yards, and 17 touchdowns.

As of now, he will compete for the starting position this fall.

Joiner isn't enrolled, meaning Tucker can't talk about the former four-star prospect, but he had 103 yards, and two touchdowns on 15 carries in three seasons at Auburn.

Simmons showcased some quality speed and burst as a true freshman and should challenge Walker this offseason. Heyward is a solid receiver for the Spartans out of the backfield, but his career rushing average is only 3.9 YPC.

Eaglin didn't play as a freshman, and Wright has a career 61 yards on 24 carries; meanwhile, Primm was the lone tailback to sign with Michigan State's 2021 recruiting class.

In October, William Peagler says he prefers to rotate three or four running backs each contest. MSU begins spring practice on March 23, which should help the staff figure out its depth chart.

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