EAST LANSING — After finishing their disappointing season with a 17-16 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl victory over TCU, the Michigan State Spartans received news that running back Le’Veon Bell, defensive end William Gholston and tight end Dion Sims will skip their senior seasons and enter the 2013 NFL Draft.
This is the first time since 1999 that the Spartans have sent multiple underclassmen to the NFL Draft (defensive end Dimitrius Underwood and running back Sedrick Irvin).
Bell, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, led the Big Ten and ranked third in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing at 137.9 yards per game. The junior from Ohio rushed 382 times for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 1,793 rushing yards ranked fifth in the NCAA FBS and marked the second-highest single-season total in MSU history.
MSU head coach Mark Dantonio will surely miss his star running back, who was the MSU offense for the majority of the season.
“As a 20-year-old, Le’Veon faced an extremely difficult decision,” Dantonio said. “While I do believe there was both personal and program value in Le’Veon returning for his senior season, I acknowledge the difficult choice he had to make.”
Bell recognizes the positives in returning to school, but his decision to enter the NFL Draft is bigger than the game itself.
“This was the hardest decision of my life,” Bell said. “It’s difficult to leave my teammates and coaches as well as Spartan Nation, but I couldn’t pass on pursuing my dream and the opportunity to change my mom’s life.”
Sims had 36 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns for the Spartans this season. Despite his lack of eye-popping stats, Sims was arguably the most sure-handed player on the MSU offense.
The junior from Detroit struggled with an ankle injury this year which caused him to miss some games, but when he was on the field he was the go-to player for the Spartans passing attack.
“Despite missing nearly three full games (with an ankle injury), Dion Sims still earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, so that says something about his production,” Dantonio said. “He’s a big target with great hands. With his combination of size and power, Dion is difficult to bring down, so he gains a lot of yards after the catch. He’s also a much improved run-blocker.”
Sims is following the footsteps of some former Spartan tight ends currently in the NFL — Kellen Davis (Bears) and Garrett Celek (49ers) — and has the potential to be the best out of the group.
The decision for Gholston to leave school early was the most surprising because he could have raised his draft stock the most out of the three if he returned.
The 6-foot-7, 278-pound defensive end has the body to play at the next level, but technically he isn’t ready to contribute quite yet. However, his size and potential alone will more than likely have him drafted in the first or second round if he performs well during workouts leading up to the draft.
While Gholston has the potential to provide a better life for himself and his family, it’s evident in his open letter that he will dearly miss East Lansing.
“For the past three years I have made East Lansing my home and I have created friendships and memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” he said. “I am so grateful and fortunate to even be in the position that I am today and I know none of this would even be possible without the help and support of Spartan Nation.”
Gholston’s departure will do the least damage to the Spartans out of the three players leaving due to their depth on the defensive side of the ball.
“Michigan State will have a great defense again next year,” Gholston said. “There are always personnel losses, like when Greg Jones and Jerel Worthy left, but there’s a strong nucleus of veteran players returning along with some talented young players. The defense line has plenty of young talent, with guys like Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas, Joel Heath and Damon Knox. An experienced linebacker unit returns, plus almost the entire secondary. Guys have always stepped up when presented an opportunity and next fall won’t be any different.”
It will be interesting to see how the Michigan State offense will perform next season without their two best players. But for the defense, I expect similar or increased production for the 2013-2014 season with a heap of talented players at every position.