When the Morgan State football team hits the road for away games in a caravan of charter buses, that is Manasseh Bailey’s time to dabble in his favorite pastime.
The senior wide receiver has been drawing cartoons of faces, people and animals since he was a child watching “Danny Phantom” on Nickelodeon. So rather than banter with his teammates or watch a movie, Bailey (first name pronounced Me-nah-shay) simply needs a pen, his sketchbook and some music flowing from his headphones.
“It’s just a fun hobby that I like to do to calm me down,” he said. “It relaxes me, just sitting there by myself and just drawing.”
Bailey, 22, is beginning to outline his own future. After starting his college career as a linebacker, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound wideout is one of the top players at his position in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and has started to draw attention as a potential late-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
“He can be an undrafted guy, but I think as he continues on this trajectory, he can push himself into the conversation of the latter part of the draft,” said Football Gameplan founder and former University of Louisiana-Lafayette running back Emory Hunt Jr., who also writes for The Athletic. “I hate to say that receivers are a dime a dozen. But for Bailey, it’s going to be how he tests and how he continues to close out the year because what got him going on the radar nationally was how he was just tearing up Army and was performing in that game.
“If he continues that trajectory and he can put together a monster senior season statistically and he’s able to test well, he’s going to find himself getting drafted.”
Bailey leads the Bears (1-6, 1-3 MEAC) in receptions (29), receiving yards (534) and touchdown catches (five). Those numbers are strong enough to rank fifth, third and second in the league, respectively. He is already seventh on the school’s all-time receiving yards list with 1,569 and trails Anthony Collins by 154 yards for sixth place.
Morgan State offensive coordinator Travis Manger said he can remember when he joined former coach Lee Hull in recruiting Bailey.
“The complete player that we’re getting now, the guy that’s willing to go in and block his butt off and be a great blocker in the run game and run the whole route tree — the slants, the outs, the digs — and then be a relentless competitor on special teams, this is a best-case scenario,” said Manger, who compared Bailey with former Maryland and Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. “This is what you dream of in recruiting, the kid that comes and develops into being a special teams guy and a complete wide receiver.”
Bailey’s bid to follow former Morgan State offensive tackle Joshua Miles (Arizona Cardinals) to give the Bears players selected in back-to-back NFL drafts took some time to bloom. Bailey’s first athletic passion was not football but basketball. However, just before his sophomore year at Suitland High School in Prince George’s County, Bailey was recruited by wide receiver and future Morgan State teammate Wesley Wolfolk to give football a chance.
Conditioning exercises in the summer heat of the preseason and a season-long stint at linebacker did not make him feel positive about the switch to football. But when coaches moved him to wide receiver in his junior year at Suitland, Bailey’s attitude toward football changed.
“I didn’t even know I could catch,” he said. “I went out there, and I started catching the ball, and I started making plays, and everybody was encouraging me.”
After a quiet debut season as a freshman at Morgan State, Bailey led the Bears in 2017 in catches (37), yards (610) and touchdowns (six). Last fall, he paced the squad in yards (425) and ranked second in receptions (24) and scores (four).
In the second game this season, Bailey caught four passes for 172 yards and one touchdown against a James Madison defense that had advanced to the 2017 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game. The next Saturday, he had six catches for 121 yards and two scores against Army, which earned him the spotlight.
“We knew that Army was a great team,” he said. “They had a great quarterback, a great front seven, great defensive backs, and I wanted to go out there and prove myself because we come from a small school and a lot of our names don’t get out there as much. So when I get out there, I want to make sure that a lot of people know that I can compete.”
Morgan State senior quarterback DeAndre Harris said there’s a comfort level from playing with Bailey, who caught six passes for 106 yards and one touchdown in an Oct. 12 rout of Delaware State.
“It’s good to have a guy that you can depend on out there in more than one way,” Harris said. “When the ball happens to find him, he just makes plays.”
Delaware State coach Rod Milstead said he was impressed with Bailey’s 26-yard touchdown catch in the game against Morgan State.
“He made one heck of a catch in the end zone,” he said. “Our defensive back was in position. It was a 50-50 ball, and it went his way. So I take my hat off to him. He had a great day for his university, and he’s somebody you’ve got to watch out for.”
Manger, the Bears offensive coordinator, said Bailey is continuing to work on his ability to decelerate and then accelerate on certain routes, and Hunt said Bailey needs to hone his skills at slot and both outside receiver positions. But Hunt said people may become more familiar with Bailey’s name.
“He has tremendous speed and quickness,” Hunt said. “So when he catches the ball, he’s able to quickly separate from the defender. And he shows a good ability to break tackles. I think he has good hands and also does a good job of going up and making the play. It’s tough at times for receivers to judge a football, but I think he does a great job in judging when to jump and when not to jump, should I catch this ball with my body or should I try to go up and catch it with my hands. He has a good grasp of the nuance on how to play this position, and I’ve been very impressed with his game.”
Turning pro is a tantalizing prospect for Bailey.
“That’s the dream,” he said. “Of course I want to be in the NFL. It’s a big, longtime dream for me. Hearing that I could be in the NFL is fantastic, man. I love it. God willing, if that’s where he takes me, I’d be happy.”