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With Malik Dear injured, where exactly does Mississippi State turn at receiver in 2017?

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Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen confirmed this week what already was suspected: Bulldogs wide receiver Malik Dear suffered a torn ACL during spring practice. The question now is what kind of impact his injury will have on the Bulldogs’ receiving corps.

It will be a while before we know where he’s at and whether or not he’d be available this season,” Mullen told the Clarion-Ledger. “I think it will be well into August before we have an idea.”

Truthfully, even with Dear, there would’ve been questions. Dear caught 22 passes for 265 yards and two scores a year ago; he also was effective when motioning into the backfield and running the ball.

The Bulldogs do return senior Donald Gray, who had 41 receptions last season. But he averaged just 2.8 catches and 46 yards per game against SEC foes – and that was when the Bulldogs had star receiver Fred Ross. Keith Mixon showed signs of being a nice player last season, when he had 20 receptions for 227 yards and two TDs as a redshirt freshman.

Senior Gabe Miles would seem like a viable option, but he needs to show he can produce at a high level after catching just eight passes last season. Sophomore Jamal Couch received high praise this spring, but he, too, needs experience; he caught eight passes for 113 yards in 2016.

RELATED: Dan Mullen pleased with Mississippi State defense’s progress in spring

Redshirt freshmen Reggie Todd and Osirus Mitchell are other options.

“We have some young guys that I think have great potential,” Mullen told the Courier-Journal. “The problem is the potential needs to come to fruition in four months. That has got to be accelerated and they have got to become playmakers in a hurry.”

The second question: Why is Mississippi State in this position to begin with? Why is there no clear-cut candidate to become the to-to receiver?

When Mullen became coach at Mississippi State in the spring of 2009, he had just four scholarship wide receivers on campus. He signed a baker’s dozen of wide receivers over the next two classes, and continued to bring in receivers such as Ross, De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Brown.

Fast forward to the present. With the Bulldogs desperately needing receivers this past recruiting cycle, the Bulldogs signed only one, Austin Williams from Ocean Springs (Miss.) High.

To put things in perspective, Mississippi State had better receiving talent in 2010 – in Mullen’s second season – than it does going into Mullen’s ninth season.

For whatever reason, the Bulldogs have regressed with their recruiting at receiver, and with Dear now on the shelf, this is a potential nightmare for 2017.

If a few of these young receivers don’t develop quickly, the Bulldogs could be back in the run-heavy power spread – something you could never imagine this far along in Mullen’s tenure.

(You can follow Jake Wimberly on Twitter @jakewim)

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