Who Shall Lead Them? Receivers

Over the next several weeks here on the HailState Beat we’ll be running a new football-related series each week, a series of series if you will, and we continue this week with Who Shall Lead Them? An attempt to discern who will lead Mississippi State in some of the more important and hard-to-guess statistical categories this season.

Today: who will be MSU’s leading receiver in 2012?

With five seniors, a pair of studly sophomores in Jameon Lewis and tight end Malcolm Johnson and a freshman who is the tallest receiver on the team in Joe Morrow, there are options galore for quarterback Tyler Russell. (Not to mention a few running backs with catching ability, as well.) The question is: who becomes his go-to target?

Catches like this earn Chris Smith the trust of his quarterback.

Part of this will depend on how you define “leading” receiver, too. Last year, Chris Smith, now a senior, led the team with 35 receptions. However, his 335 total yards were only third on the team, behind current seniors Chad Bumphis (339 yards) and Arceto Clark, who had the most receiving yards on the team with 442.

So, if you like, you could say that both Smith and Clark led the team in receiving. Certainly, they are two of the more underrated players on the team.

Let’s look at a few things we do know about the receivers:

  • Bumphis was the leading receiver in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, but was passed on the leaderboard in 2011, though injuries may have something to do with that.
  • Smith and Russell have a close connection, as the two were high school teammates in Meridian, before graduating and going to State to play with each other some more. The two have publicly discussed their comfort with each other on the field.
  • Johnson only had 11 catches in 2011, but averaged 18.7 yards per reception. The now-departed and fellow tight end Marcus Green also had 11 catches last year. Conceivably, the now-one-year-older-and-more-experienced Johnson could absorb most of those receptions, and maybe even then some.
  • Lewis only caught seven passes, but averaged a whopping 20.4 yards per completion. We wrote about him last week in Rising Stars, and if his fumbling issues have been corrected, he will be a big factor in 2012.
  • 2011 is not the perfect blueprint, as Russell will be the starter in 2012 and Chris Relf had nearly 50 percent more passes than Russell last season.
  • Listed at 6’4”, Morrow looks like Yao Ming at the ballet compared to most of the other receivers on the team. MSU doesn’t have anyone else like him.
  • Running backs will be involved in the passing game. Last year, only Smith, Clark and Bumphis had more receptions than Vick Ballard. Only one more receiver – Ricco Sanders – had more than LaDarius Perkins.

What does it all mean? Well, off the cuff, I’d say Russell has a pretty loaded group of guys to pass the ball to. I also think it’s safe to say that the top five will almost certainly include Clark, Smith and Bumphis, while Johnson, Lewis and Morrow have a good shot at cracking the top five themselves.

Now, it depends on what kind of person you are. In my mind, Smith is the safest bet. He already had the most receptions last year, and with Russell in full-time as the starter, I don’t expect his numbers to go anywhere but up. But if you’re the type of person who prefers a double shot of espresso to a calming cup of tea, you might take the wild card and predict big leaps for Lewis or Johnson, or maybe even Morrow – the guy who has burned Johnthan Banks deep a few times in practice.

When it’s all done, I’m guessing MSU’s receivers will be pretty close in total numbers. I’ll also be interested to see who catches the most touchdowns, but more on that later in the week.

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