The Michigan State Spartans finished 12-2 overall in 2015 and much of that success came from the play of the defensive line.
Spartan Digest hands out our final grade for the 2015 season for this position group and takes a quick look at each of the players who played a role in it’s success.
The Spartans run defense was one of the best in the country and a lot of that success came from this group. They also provided pressure in the passing game being ranked in the Top 25 in sacks.
In the Cotton Bowl they provided pressure on Alabama quarterback Jake Coker as Malik McDowell showed why he’s about to become one of the best players in the nation.
How good can McDowell be? The sky's the limit as McDowell has all the tools you want from a top level player. His quickness and power showed extremely well in the Cotton Bowl against Rimington Trophy winner Ryan Kelly and the rest of the Crimson Tide offensive line. So get ready for next season being the last for McDowell in a Spartans uniform as the NFL will come calling.
Take away the bad technique Shilique Calhoun used in trying to tackle Derrick Henry late in the Cotton Bowl and Calhoun did not disappoint in his final season as a Spartan. While he provided the stats expected out of a top level player, his leadership will be missed even more next season.
We finally saw what made Lawrence Thomas such a high level recruit this season. While he did it as a defensive end, his athletic ability at 300-pounds should give him a chance to make an NFL roster next season.
Joel Heath continued to fight injuries but was very productive with 5.5 tackles for loss. Heath has a chance to play at the next level if he can keep the injury bug away.
Craig Evans was the surprise of the front four. While Evans has the tools to play at a high level, we really didn’t take notice of his play until late in the season. For the season Evans produced 21 total tackles with 3.5 of them being for a loss.
Demetrius Cooper showed flashes of his talent this past season but will have to take major steps in the offseason to reach his full potential by the start of next season. All the tools are there as he’s got the long athletic frame and is close to the weight needed to hold up for an entire season. This past season Cooper posted five sacks and three quarterback hurries to go with 22 total tackles.
Enoch Smith Jr. played in three games this past season with one tackle. Still young in his career, the spring will be when to watch and see how much Smith has grown as a player and if he can go from three games to a full slate of games.
Evan Jones played in 13 games this past season posting seven tackles. There is a chance Jones could see the same amount of playing time next season as a role back-up player as younger players continue to step forward. Could also be a player that looks at other opportunities if he’s looking for more playing time.
As for how Spartan Digest graded this group, we have to give them a solid “A” as they did not disappoint in 2015.
Spring will be here before we know it and we’ll get a chance to see how the younger players have grown physically and on the field. Will Mufi Hunt be a player ready to play by the start of the 2016 season? Who else steps forward to fill the gaps left by the loss of Calhoun, Heath and Thomas?