March 31, 2008
By RICK GOSSELIN / The Dallas Morning News
Penn State has always been Linebacker U. For a couple of decades Southern California was Tailback U, and Brigham Young staged a run as Quarterback U.
But few schools have the recent history at wide receiver that Michigan State has enjoyed - and the Spartans figure to add another chapter in 2008 with Devin Thomas, the top-rated wideout on some NFL draft boards.
Thomas could become the school's third first-round pick at wide receiver this decade. Plaxico Burress was the eighth overall selection of the 2000 draft, Charles Rogers the second overall pick in 2003.
Injuries and off-the-field problems brought a premature end to the NFL career of Rogers, but Burress caught the winning touchdown pass in the final minute of the last Super Bowl.
Burress became the second Michigan State wide receiver to start in a Super Bowl for the New York Giants. Mark Ingram was a first-round pick in 1987 who led the Giants with five catches for 74 yards in the 1991 title game, a 20-19 victory over Buffalo.
Ingram led the Giants in receiving the following season with a career-best 51 catches. Fellow Spartan Muhsin Muhammad led the NFC in receiving in 1999 and 2000 for the Carolina Panthers. He also played in a Super Bowl, catching a touchdown pass for Chicago in the 2007 game against Indianapolis.
Muhammad led the NFC with 102 catches in 2000. Fellow Spartan Derrick Mason also produced a 100-catch season, snaring 103 passes for the Baltimore Ravens in 2007. He has been to two Pro Bowls, as has Muhammad. Mason was a fourth-round draft pick, Muhammad a second.
Andre Rison was a first-round pick out of Michigan State in 1989 who went to five Pro Bowls in the 1990s. His 743 career receptions rank 22nd on the NFL's all-time list. Fellow Spartan Daryl Turner was a second-round pick by Seattle in 1984 who set a franchise record with 13 touchdown receptions in 1985.
"We have a pretty good history of receivers coming out of Michigan State," Thomas said.
Thomas fits in well. He joined Rogers, Burress and Courtney Hawkins (366 career NFL receptions) as the only receivers in school history to post 1,000-yard seasons when he caught 79 passes for 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns in 2007.
Thomas broke Michigan State single-season records held by Rogers for receptions and Mason for kickoff return yards (1,135). He finished 11th in the NCAA in kickoff returns with an average of 29.1 yards.
"That's a strong point in my game," Thomas said.
But not his strongest point. Thomas broke another Rogers record for 100-yard receiving games in a season with seven. Big (6-2, 216) and fast (4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash), Thomas had an 80-yard touchdown grab against Wisconsin and a 76-yarder against Bowling Green. He rang up Penn State for three touchdowns in the regular-season finale.
The NFL draft is April 26-27 in New York.