The news of the three (now former) Michigan State football players facing criminal sexual conduct charges in the third degree sent shock waves across the state of Michigan on Tuesday. After months of turmoil and speculation, the investigation has come to a close.
MSU has now lost ten players this off-season for various reasons (transfer, graduation, NFL, dismissal, etc.). Of the ten, six are from the program’s 2016 recruiting class.
As far as on-field football personnel is concerned, Dantonio is now tasked with having to replace the production and upside left behind by Donnie Corley, Josh King and Demetric Vance. Albeit unfortunate and unplanned circumstances, there are Spartans on the roster that benefit most from the dismissal of the three players; Spartans that will need to step things up in 2017.
1. JUSTIN LAYNE
Justin Layne appeared in nine games as a true freshman, one of many to do so last year for Dantonio and the Spartans. Partly, due to a lack of inexperience and production elsewhere on the roster, Layne made good use of his chances.
Recruited as a wide receiver, Layne last season played in the Spartans’ secondary as a cornerback. He recorded 18 tackles in those nine games, 1.5 for a loss, with one pass break-up and one interception.
Layne, however, during the team’s spring game in April played on offense (and performed very well) and spent much of spring practice taking offensive snaps. At 6-foot-2, he provides good size on the outside, whether it be on offense or defense. Don’t be surprise if he dabbles in both this season.
2. CAM CHAMBERS
Expect Cam Chambers, another former 4-star recruit from that Class of 2016 for MSU (along with Justin Layne), to take a big leap and help out whoever the quarterback(s) is/are for the Spartans in 2017.
Chambers was an early enrollee at MSU back in January of 2016 (as was the now-dismissed Donnie Corley). He opted to redshirt his first year on campus and will assuredly be seeing plenty of action this year, if he wasn’t going to already had Corley not been involved in the investigation.
Chambers played in the team’s spring game along with Layne on offense, catching five passes for 54 yards. Ourlads.com currently pegs him as a second-string wideout for Michigan State in 2017, but it won’t be entirely shocking to see him turn into a starter.
3. KENNY WILLEKES
Spartan fans should get use to the name Kenny Willekes. The former walk-on out of NorthPointe Christian in Grand Rapids will be entering his redshirt sophomore season with the program and is a recent proud recipient of a scholarship he earned this last semester.
The name may come to a surprise to anyone not in or at least closely associated with the program. On the field, Willekes gets high remarks from his peers for his energy level and work ethic. Even after having to change positions (entered the program as a linebacker out of high school), Willekes continued to better himself as well as the team.
Willekes played in the team’s spring game and was one of many defensive standouts for the Spartans. He recorded a team-high eight tackles in the game, 1.5 for a loss. Both his teammates and Dantonio are seeing steady improvement in his ability to play up front, and the head coach has dropped a Marcus Rush comparison before.
Ourlads.com doesn’t list Willekes as a starter, but expect the Rockford-native to be a solid contributor in a rotation of defensive lineman up front for Michigan State in 2017.
4. CASSIUS PEAT
Peat, a former 3-star prospect from the Class of 2015 and a top-3 high school linebacker from Arizona, redshirted his first year at MSU then was released from his scholarship less than two weeks before the Spartans’ 2016 season opener. He first joined MSU as a linebacker and is returning to MSU now as a defensive lineman.
It’ll be interesting to see how Peat fits into the fold for Michigan State. Like the aforementioned Willekes, he has three years of college eligibility remaining and he will hopefully help a defensive front that ranked tied for third-worst in FBS in sacks (11) and allowed nearly 160 rushing yards per game.
5. DAVID DOWELL
Of the two Dowell Bros. at Michigan State, David Dowell has more to gain from everything that has happened regarding the sexual assault investigation.
Junior Andrew Dowell is a budding star at the STAR linebacker position for MSU. But twin brother and redshirt sophomore David is the bigger beneficiary. David recorded just ten tackles a year ago but, like multiple guys on this list, was a standout in the team’s spring game back in April.
David recorded six tackles in that spring tune-up. The safety position for the Spartans took a bit of a blow when Demetric Vance was named one of the three players in the sexual assault investigation. And while Vance didn’t play in 2016 due to redshirting, it still is one less player on the depth chart.
It opens the door for someone like David and others to see the field more often and build off of solid spring performances.