Early Signing Day primer: What you need to know about Michigan State's 2023 class
Note: All star ratings and all rankings are based on 247Sports and its composite rankings as of Monday morning, Dec. 19, unless otherwise indicated.
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Does anyone need a strong recruiting class in 2023 more than Michigan State?
The pressure is on for Mel Tucker in Year 4. He’s 18-14 in 3 years, and 11 of those wins came in a breakout 2021 season behind the legs of Doak Walker winner Kenneth Walker III. The other 2 years? He’s 7-12. And outside of a pair of wins against in-state rival Michigan, is there anything positive to his career?
Morale is low among the Spartans faithful. Can it be raised with a promising push on the recruiting trail? According to the 247Sports’ class rankings, Michigan State ranks 25th nationally and 4th among B1G programs. And while the power 3 of the B1G East all rank ahead of Sparty, they still hold their ground over programs like Iowa, Wisconsin, Maryland and others.
The Spartans haven’t finished below .500 in back-to-back years since 2006. A promising recruiting class won’t change the outlook of the program as a whole, but it could cool Tucker’s seat a tad through at least the new year. There’s plenty of caveats remaining on the roster, but a promising recruiting class could fix several woes on paper.
After that, it all comes down to developing talent, an area where the current staff has struggled to find results. Does that change after the Early Signing Period?
Here’s everything you need to know about the Spartans’ current 14 recruits.
By the numbers
Overall rank: 32nd
B1G rank: 5th
Highest-rated player: Edge Bai Jobe, 4-star
Michigan State has 8 4-star recruits. The best of the bunch? Jobe, a 6-foot-4 defensive end from Norman, Okla., who snubbed his hometown Sooners in favor of the B1G East program.
Jobe has the athletic prowess of a power forward more than a defensive end. Still, the arm length, agility and flexibility will allow him to win most matchups against offensive tackles in pass-rushing sets. He relies heavily on his physical skills and technique to overpower linemen over brute strength. On most occasions, tackles are often left wondering what happened after the play with the quarterback laying on the turf.
This past season, the Spartans totaled 29 sacks. Jacoby Windmon led the way with 5.5, but 4 came in the season opener over Western Michigan, while the other 1.5 came a week later against Akron. After a switch to outside linebacker, everything went haywire until his eventual suspension following the Michigan tunnel skirmish.
Jobe might not be a Week 1 starter, but his athletic frame and speed should make him an immediate contributor off the edge.
Did Michigan State bolster the QB room? Yes
Heading into December, it looked as if Payton Thorne was guaranteed to start in 2023. For now, the 5th-year senior likely will hold the title of QB1 through the summer, but Sam Leavitt might be an upgrade if he can pick up the offense with ease.
Leavitt, a 4-star prospect out of West Linn, Oregon, decommitted from Washington State earlier this month, only to announce last week that he’d be joining the Spartans next season. Leavitt visited the program in early December and left impressed enough to leave the Pacific Northwest and head to B1G country.
Listed as the top prospect in Oregon, Leavitt is considered to be a dual-threat player. His rushing numbers won’t back the statement, but his ability to utilize his legs behind the line of scrimmage and keep drives alive is uncanny to say the least. Last season at West Linn, Leavitt threw for 3,884 yards and 44 touchdowns while completing 70% of his passes.
Thorne likely has done enough to keep the starting job until further notice, but Leavitt’s upside to run the option might give Michigan State options in terms of a 2-quarterback system. And if Thorne regresses even more, Leavitt might be the best option to right the ship.
Best position group: Defensive line
If Jobe is included in this category, the Spartans picked up the commitments of 3 4-star defensive linemen. Sure, cornerback depth was added with 3 new prospects, but a third of the top-ranked talent hails in the trenches.
Jobe is the leader of the pack, but don’t sleep on Andrew Depaepe. The Iowa native held offers from Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State, Washington and Minnesota. The 6-foot-5 hybrid defender currently is listed as the No. 19 defensive lineman in the class, and the 134th overall player.
Pulling up the rear is Jalen Thompson from Detroit. Listed as the No. 3 player in the state, and the No. 30 defensive lineman, Thompson’s 6-foot-4 frame should allow him to be interchangeable for the defensive front. Should Tucker view him as a defensive tackle, the Spartans will bulk him up to help improve the interior pass rush. Should they view him as a defensive end, he could be a Day 1 contributor.
Biggest need filled: Secondary depth
As a whole, Michigan State’s defense underwhelmed, but at least the pass rush was able to create pressures. The secondary? It couldn’t stop anybody. Literally. Let’s look at the stat line.
The Spartans allowed 26 touchdowns in coverage against 2 interceptions. Numbers sometimes lie but this isn’t one of those instances.
The Spartans added 4 cornerbacks, including 1 from the transfer portal. Semar Melvin played in 24 games during his 4 seasons with Wisconsin and totaled 16 tackles to go along with 3 pass breakups. He should fight for 1st-team reps opposite Charles Brantley with both Ameer Speed and Ronald Williams leaving.
The trio of defensive backs recruits are listed as 3-stars talents. Chance Rucker of Denton (TX) nearly pushed his way into 4-star status with a 247Sports grade of .889, and turned down offers from programs like Arkansas, Baylor, Florida and Kentucky. Sean Brown flipped his commitment from Arizona earlier this month, and held offers from BYU, Washington State and UNLV. Eddie Pleasant III, a native of Tampa, has been committed to the Spartans since April.
Biggest potential flip: WR Morgan Pearson, 4-star
It’s a 2-team race for Pearson at this point. Michigan State will need to pull out the kitchen sink to land the 6-foot-1 pass-catcher from Oklahoma simply due to who it’s facing.
With the hiring of Deion Sanders, Colorado is now ground zero in terms of recruiting. Everyone and anyone that Coach Prime considers worthy enough to play for him will be offered a roster spot. Pearson, who committed to the program before Sanders was named head coach, still is locked into the program, but perhaps he won’t agree with the punch Prime is serving at the Mile High party.
With the Spartans losing Jayden Reed to the NFL Draft, and Germie Bernard to the transfer portal, Keon Coleman needs a running mate. Currently, 3-star Aziah Johnson is the only receiver prospect in the class. Barring the addition of a transfer, he might be the lone addition.
According to 247Sports’ crystal ball projections, the Spartans have a 25% chance of convincing Pearson to flip. Could NIL be a saving grace in this instance?
Sometimes quality outweighs quantity. That’s at least what Michigan State fans will say if the program only lands 13 commits. Still, 8 4-stars at the top of the list? Things could be worse.
Yes, Michigan State desperately needs to hit the portal for receiver help, but most of the immediate woes have been addressed. Thorne will be pushed to improve now that Leavitt is entering the mix. The loss of Jarek Broussard should be filled by 3-star Jaelon Barbarin to create a hopefully more explosive duo with Jalen Berger. Depth was added to the secondary while the defensive line received a mass upgrade in terms of upside.
A top-10 finish would be nice, but no one would complain if Michigan State finishes in the top 20. Tucker and the staff are far from finished working their magic to land more talent. A few more 4-stars and a top-20 ranking could be on the horizon.