Michigan State Recruiting: Top 5 needs to address in 2018 football class

Sep 12, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio brings his team onto the flied prior to a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 12, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio brings his team onto the flied prior to a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State recruiting has some major needs in its 2018 football class and here are the five most important to target.

The 2017 class can be considered a relatively average one compared to the last couple that Mark Dantonio has brought to Michigan State. The two previous classes were ranked in the top 25 nationally and last years was all the way up to No. 18, according to some services.

Michigan State’s 2018 class is on track to be one of the best in the Dantonio’s tenure and he will look to build on the three four-star pledges he currently has. He’s received commitments from tight end Trenton Gillison, athlete Xavier Henderson and receiver Joseph Scates already — all four-stars from Ohio.

Who will be the next prospect to give his verbal pledge to the green and white? There’s plenty of time for the staff to add some key players to the class, especially at positions of need.

Here’s what we believe the top five needs are in the 2018 class and which recruits can fill them.

5. Offensive Tackle

There’s no way around it, the Spartans need to add some depth at this position in the coming class. While Michigan State did pick up a commitment from Mustafa Khaleefah in 2017, it saw former four-star tackle from the 2016 cycle Thiyo Lukusa hang up his cleats, quitting the team.

Outside of Khaleefah, Michigan State added three offensive guards in Kevin Jarvis, Matt Carrick and Jordan Reid. The latter played some tackle at the high school level, but he doesn’t translate favorably to that position in college given his size.

Michigan State needs to add a couple, if not three, offensive tackles in the 2018 class to make up for the surplus of guards accrued from 2015-17. The Spartans are set on the interior offensive line for some time, even at center, but tackle is an area of concern.

Five-star Jackson Carman is likely tops on the board, but he’s more than likely headed to Ohio State. Traverse City’s Ryan Hayes is a solid option as is Ohio-native John Dirksen — both four-stars. If the Spartans miss on Carman, which is likely, adding both Hayes and Dirksen will more than make up for it.

Antwan Reed, a four-star from IMG Academy, is also a possibility.

Sep 2, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive back Demetrious Cox (7) block a pass intended for Furman Paladins wide receiver Andrej Suttles (3) during the second half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 2, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive back Demetrious Cox (7) block a pass intended for Furman Paladins wide receiver Andrej Suttles (3) during the second half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

4. Defensive Backs

Both safety and cornerback need to be addressed in 2018. Michigan State didn’t strike out completely over the last two classes, but the Spartans are definitely unhappy with their misses at the positions.

In 2016, it was Lavert Hill who spurned Michigan State and picked the Wolverines. In 2017, it was Amir Riep (Ohio State) and Ambry Thomas (Michigan). Already in 2018, four-star defensive back Kalon Gervin from Detroit has picked Notre Dame. The Spartans need to land more of their ‘Plan A’ guys and less late-scramble options.

Michigan State did dig deep to find Tre Person, a former Georgia Southern commit, in the 2017 class who could wind up being the steal of the cycle. He and Emmanuel Flowers were late additions to the defensive backfield, joining Josiah Scott and Dominique Long.

It’s been a few years since the Spartans have had a unit in the defensive backfield worthy of the ‘No Fly Zone’ distinction. Last year’s team was disappointing with Vayante Copeland not playing to potential and then suffering a season-ending injury and Demetrious Cox falling below expectations.

Houston Griffith might be the top option right now as a four-star cornerback from IMG Academy — originally from Chicago. Michael Dowell, the younger brother of Andrew and David, as well as Braden Lenzy are priorities in the defensive backfield as well.

Sep 24, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans linebacker Chris Frey (23) looks to the sidelines during the first quarter of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 24, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans linebacker Chris Frey (23) looks to the sidelines during the first quarter of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

3. Linebackers

The 2017 class was a disappointing one in terms of linebacker additions. Michigan State brought in just one true linebacker, Antjuan Simmons, who was a ‘Plan A’ target, but the Spartans didn’t complement that addition with anyone else who was considered a top option at the position.

Darien Clemons and Noah Harvey were the other linebackers to commit in 2017, but the former was listed as a running back out of high school, the staff just saw him more as a defensive projection. Add them to the 2016 class which included Brandon Randle and Joe Bachie and you have a slim crop of linebackers from the past two cycles.

You also have to look at the upperclassmen who will be gone a year or two from now such as Shane Jones, Chris Frey, Jon Reschke, TJ Harrell, Byron Bullough and Andrew Dowell. That leaves a thin group of guys who can compete for starting time at the positions, especially with Riley Bullough and Ed Davis departing.

After adding just two guys in 2017, the Spartans need to add 2-3 more in 2018 to make up for the small crop.

Four-star Dallas Gant from Ohio has been high on the Spartans, but Ohio State is the main competition to land him. That will likely be a two-team race. Cass Tech’s DeAndre Square is a top option as well. Don’t sleep on Christopher Oats or Elijah Collins, either.

Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) stands on the field during the first quarter of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) stands on the field during the first quarter of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

2. Defensive Line

The defensive line has been left bare as well over the past couple of years. Losses of Shilique Calhoun, Craig Evans, Joel Heath, Lawrence Thomas, Montez Sweat, Cassius Peat and Enoch Smith after the 2015 season were a major reason why Michigan State’s line struggled to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2016.

Now the Spartans are losing Malik McDowell, Kevin Williams and Gabe Sherrod although the latter two transfers didn’t produce much in 2016.

The Spartans brought in an impressive 2016 class which dubbed themselves the ‘Fearsome Foursome’ with Josh King, Auston Robertson, Mike Panasiuk and Naquan Jones, but they can’t make up for all the losses over the past few years on their own. Raequan Williams will be a star in 2017 as well, but there is still some work to do in order to find more talent in the trenches.

Mark Dantonio needs to focus on adding some defensive linemen in the 2018 class and maybe even 4-6 guys up front. The Spartans are bringing in Jacub Panasiuk, Lashawn Paulino-Bell and DeAri Todd, but losing a pledge from Donovan Winter after his trouble with the law hurts the depth.

Keep an eye on Dorian Hardy, Leonard Taylor and Malik Vann in 2018 with others yet to really show up on the radar yet.

Oct 3, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back LJ Scott (3) stands on the field prior to a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 3, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans running back LJ Scott (3) stands on the field prior to a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

1. Running Backs

Losing Abdul Adams to Oklahoma in last year’s cycle hurt the Spartans at running back. The D.C.-native looked to be one of the most underrated backs in the class, but he decided to reopen his recruitment and gave his verbal pledge to the Sooners shortly after.

Must Read: MSU Recruiting: 7 ideal additions for 2018 football class

Michigan State was left without a running back in the 2016 class and the Spartans knew they needed to add at least two in 2017 in order to make up for it. Unfortunately, Weston Bridges was the only running back to commit in the class and even though he was bumped up to a four-star by 247Sports, he’s coming off major knee surgery.

Gerald Holmes will be a senior in 2017, Madre London and LJ Scott both juniors while the latter could make the decision to leave early for the NFL. He definitely has the talent and it makes sense given the short shelf life of professional running backs.

The Spartans nearly added guys like Cordarrian Richardson, Jalen Holston and Lynn Bowden, but missed on all of them late in the process. Holston was already committed to Virginia Tech, but Michigan State made a push for him and it nearly paid off.

The 2018 class needs to focus on adding at least two running backs, especially seeing as Bridges will be the only one on the roster a couple years from now if none are added in this cycle. Jaelen Gill is a heavy Ohio State-lean, but the five-star all-purpose back tops the list of potential targets.

Tavion Thomas, good friends with 2018 MSU pledge Joseph Scates, was recently elevated to four-star status and he could be the second-highest running back on the Spartans’ board.

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