Mississippi State football: Ranking the 10 best freshmen over the past 5 seasons
Mike Leach admits he has a young roster coming into the 2021 football season. After transfers and talents such as Erroll Thompson, Marquiss Spencer, Osirus Mitchell and Kylin Hill going to the NFL Draft, the coach will be counting on a lot of freshmen and sophomores in Year 2 at Mississippi State.
This means plenty of opportunities for incoming freshmen such as 4-star outside linebacker John Lewis and 4-star wide receivers in Theodore Knox and Antonio Harmon to make some noise immediately.
It’s not uncommon for State freshmen to make a mark. Here are the top 10 performances from the past 5 years.
10. Marquiss Spencer (2016)
Spencer, who played the hybrid Viper position, flashed signs of what was to come for the future NFL Draft pick with 17 total tackles (9 solo), 3 tackles for a loss, a sack and fumble recovery while recording a quarterback hurry.
9. Keytaon Thompson (2017)
As a freshman, he tied a Bulldogs record for rushing TDs in a bowl game with 3. He wasn’t the full-time starting QB, but he played in 10 games and finished 3rd on the team in rushing with 446 yards. He ran for 121 yards against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.
8. Kylin Hill (2017)
Before he was a Preseason First Team All-SEC selection, Hill showed his moves in 2017 straight out of Columbus High School, rushing for 393 yards and 2 touchdowns on 78 attempts. His best game came against rival Ole Miss, going for 82 yards and a score on 13 rushes.
7. Willie Gay Jr. (2017)
The linebacker earned his stripes immediately, recording 23 tackles (8 solo) with 2 tackles for a loss and a sack. Gay also forced a fumble, posted a quarterback hurry and broke up 2 passes as a frosh.
6. Garrett Shrader (2019)
Another quarterback thrown into the fire, Shrader played in a totally different offense under Joe Moorhead but was effective. The Charlotte native threw for 1,170 yards and 8 scores while rushing for 587 yards and 6 touchdowns. A dual-threat quarterback who didn’t fit in Leach’s system, Shrader is now at Syracuse.
5. Will Rogers (2020)
The bad news was that Rogers was put into the game due to ineffectiveness by KJ Costello. The good news was that, after early struggles, he seemed to turn the corner near the end of the season. It all ended with a 69.1 completion percentage for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns to 7 interceptions.
4. Jaden Walley (2020)
Receivers love playing in Leach’s offense and Walley was no different. The 6-foot wide receiver caught 52 passes for 718 yards and 2 touchdowns last season. Expect Walley to be a big target once again for the Bulldogs in 2021.
3. Jo’quavious Marks (2020)
With the opting out of Kylin Hill halfway through the season, it fell on Marks and fellow freshman Dillon Johnson to fill the running back role that is crucial in Leach’s passing game. Marks rushed for just 312 yards and 3 touchdowns but caught an MSU freshman-record 60 passes out of the backfield for 268 yards. That reception total is tied for 6th-most in program history. Expect to see even more of him in 2021.
2. Jeffery Simmons (2016)
His recruitment was controversial, but he was a model Bulldog. Now making noise for the Tennessee Titans, Simmons showed his upside immediately in the trenches, recording 39 total tackles (12 solo) and 2.5 tackles for a loss while posting 4 quarterback hurries, 2 passes broken up and a forced fumble.
1. Emmanuel Forbes (2020)
SEC quarterbacks quickly found out that throwing the ball Forbes’ way could be a disaster. In 11 games last season, the cornerback recorded 5 interceptions and returned 3 for touchdowns. Even when he didn’t force the turnover, he was still solid, breaking up 6 passes, making 44 tackles (24 solo) and adding a quarterback hurry.