When talking about positions with new starters on the Mississippi State offense, running back and offensive line first come to mind. But there's another spot going unnoticed that also has a big hole to fill.
Tight end is up in the air with Malcolm Johnson moved on to the NFL. It's a big loss both in terms of experience and production. Johnson, a four-year starter who played in 45 career games, tied for the team's third leading receiver with 380 yards as a senior.
His potential replacements have zero starts between them and only four total catches, all of which belong to one player -- Gus Walley. Behind him is a 6-foot-7 behemoth hoping for a breakout year and a true freshman showing out in fall camp.
But with all the depth at receiver this season, don't expect the tight ends to make the same impact Malcolm Johnson made over his career.
Gus Walley- The only returning tight end to record a catch last season, Walley likely gets the nod early on. Dan Mullen had high praise for the junior last month saying the job was his and the only question mark was who would back him up. He should keep progressing with more first-team reps, but he needs to prove he can transform from a backup to full-time starter.
2014 stats: 4 receptions, 49 yards, 1 touchdown
2015 projection: 16 receptions, 208 yards, 1 touchdown
Darrion Hutcherson- He looks the part when he steps on a football field, and opposing coaches probably pee their pants when they see their linebackers matched up on a 6-foot-7 tight end. There's just one problem -- he can't catch the football. That's been the knock on Hutcherson ever since he stepped foot on campus. Even though he's only been at State two years, he's a senior having come from junior college. If it hasn't clicked by now, I don't think it's going to.
2014 stats: Played in every game but did not record a catch
2015 projection: 3 receptions, 32 yards, 0 touchdowns
Justin Johnson- He was rated the No. 1 receiver in Alabama as a senior before making the transition to tight end when he arrived at MSU. He's obviously been tearing it up in fall camp as tight ends coach Scott Sallach said that Johnson could be an upgraded Malcolm Johnson if he kept progressing. That's a lot of praise for a freshman, especially at a position that not a lot of true freshmen get to play. But MSU's lack of depth at the position should give Johnson an opportunity to get his feet wet and show everybody at least a glimpse of what all the hype is about.
2015 projection: 12 receptions, 146 yards, 1 touchdown
Overall the tight end position this season won't have a Malcolm Johnson, but Johnson and Walley should be able to muster up enough yards collectively to fill that hole. Outside of these three players, BJ Hammond -- another converted receiver -- is the only other candidate for playing time. But Johnson and Walley will see the field the most, and the coaches will keep running Hutcherson out there hoping he eventually comes around, so Hammond's time will be limited.