How will Mississippi State's receiver group shake out?

Joel Coleman

There's one certainty in the year ahead for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, under new head coach Mike Leach, are about to throw the football time and time again. Of course the success of MSU's offense – or lack thereof – will in large part hinge on if the Bulldogs can find a group of receivers that can be counted on. 

Mississippi State hasn't had a 500-yard receiver since 2016. Leach's offense at Washington State last year alone had seven different players reach the 500-yard mark. It's safe to say the Bulldogs need their receivers to step up like never before.

So which players in maroon and white will that be? MSU outside receivers coach Steve Spurrier, Jr., has said between he and inside receivers coach Dave Nichol, the Bulldogs will need about eight guys ready to play on game day (two at each receiving position). With under two weeks to go until Mississippi State opens up the season at LSU, here are the guys who seem locked into that rotation and the ones likely still battling to earn a spot.

LOCKED IN

Osirus Mitchell

  • Mitchell has been Mississippi State's most consistent receiver of recent years and the senior will almost certainly be a starter on day one of the Leach era down in Baton Rouge. Other receivers on State's roster might have higher upside than Mitchell and could end the year with more production, but entering the season, he's almost assuredly the safest bet to be locked into a prominent spot. Still, Leach admitted this past weekend that Mitchell has room to improve: "He is a guy who is occasionally great," Leach said of Mitchell. "We’ve got to get him more consistent. He really is a weapon. He’s a talented guy. We’ve got to get him to play faster and we’ve got to get him more consistent. He needs to be in attack mode."

Austin Williams

  • It seems like every spring or preseason for years now, we've heard about how good Austin Williams can be. Then the season starts and the production hasn't exactly always matched the hype. However it seems Williams might be primed for a breakthrough year under Leach. Williams has earned a ton of praise this preseason. He'll likely have a starting role in the slot when the ball gets kicked off down at LSU. "Right now, he’s in the starting rotation, and he had a really good scrimmage (Saturday)," Leach said of Williams. "He’s just a consistent guy. We talk a lot about being consistently good. It’s more important than being occasionally great. I think Austin is consistently good and he continues to improve. I would say of those inside receivers, he’s not the most explosive and he’s not the biggest, but I do think he’s the most reliable."

Malik Heath

  • The junior college transfer hasn't played a single game in maroon and white, but it's a safe bet that he's set for a huge role in the Leach offense. It's unknown if he'll miss any game action as discipline for his arrest last month, or if all that has been completely handled internally. Even if he is held out for any length of time, Heath is pretty easily one of MSU's top eight options at the receiver position.

Tyrell Shavers

  • The transfer from Alabama came to Mississippi State with an impressive recruiting profile and of course, his Crimson Tide ties, then it seemed he wasn't mentioned all that much for a period of time. However in recent weeks, Shavers has earned more praise and appears to be settling into – at the very least – a backup outside receiver role. Given his big frame and his potential, Shavers certainly seems like a player that will play a prominent role in the Leach passing attack and would appear to be a prime target in the red zone.

JaVonta Payton

  • Outside of Williams, Payton seems like the most likely certainty to get an opportunity to produce from the slot. The senior has impressed in recent weeks and the coaching staff has liked what they've seen of him dating back to the summer. In a June interview with Cowbell Corner, Spurrier, Jr. said that Payton was an athletic, shifty guy that fit the mold of the types of receivers that have been successful in the Air Raid before. Now, here's guessing we're all about to see if Payton can indeed be such a player.

Lideatrick Griffin

  • Multiple members of Mississippi State's coaching staff have frequently said over the last few weeks that the best players will play. Though Griffin is a true freshman, it certainly appears so far like he has done enough to prove to the coaches he is ready to contribute. He could possibly even start on the outside, although it appears more likely Heath would be given that nod. 

FIGHTING FOR SPOTS

  • Geor'quarius Spivey
  • Jaden Walley
  • Brad Cumbest
  • Dontea Jones
  • Garrett Shrader
  • Rufus Harvey
  • Caleb Ducking
  • Cameron Gardner
  • Kyziah Pruitt

Spivey and Walley might (emphasis on might) have a leg up here. Those two have both earned recent praise for their work in the slot. Walley, in particular, has apparently impressed. Leach has, unprompted, mentioned him by name after each of the first two scrimmages this preseason. It might be a surprise at this point if Walley isn't given a opportunity to crack the rotation. Jones and Cumbest of course have experience, but it seems they might have an uphill climb to get a ton of playing time given the options apparently ahead of them. The same could be said for most names on this list. The intriguing name here is of course Garrett Shrader, who has been a wide receiver for only about a week, if that. Leach talked this past Saturday as though Shrader has acclimated quickly to the slot. He's probably the fan favorite to win playing time at receiver, given how he endeared himself to the Bulldog faithful a year ago at quarterback. But for Shrader to get his chance, he's going to have to prove he's a better option than the guys that have actually been practicing catching passes in recent years. Is that possible? Absolutely, and it sounds like he's off on the right foot. But it's not a given either.

PROJECTING THE DEPTH CHART

Given all this, here is Cowbell Corner's current projection for what the Mississippi State depth chart at receiver might look like at LSU when the season starts September 26:

Outside receiver

  1. Osirus Mitchell
  2. Tyrell Shavers

Slot receiver

  1. Austin Williams
  2. Jaden Walley

Slot receiver

  1. JaVonta Payton
  2. Geor'quarius Spivey

Outside receiver

  1. Malik Heath
  2. Lideatrick Griffin

Of course with two weeks to go, there's still time for other Bulldogs to make a push. But 12 days from kickoff, these are the eight names most frequently mentioned, seemingly putting them all on track to get the first crack at shining in the Air Raid.

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