Mississippi State’s 2014 team was able earn a number 1 ranking, albeit temporarily, for the first time in school history. They also finished with the second highest end of season ranking in school history at number 11. Despite the team’s success, most people only really know about one player from the team, the QB Dak Prescott. I’d like to bring some attention to three quality NFL draft prospects from this school. These prospects are LB Benardrick McKinney, RB John Robinson, and DE/OLB Preston Smith.
Benardrick McKinney, LB
Size: 6’4, 246LBs
Tackles for Loss: 8
McKinney is a big, athletic LB that flashes an exceptional closing burst. He’s able to come down hill in a hurry to make plays. Early on, McKinney is going to have to make his money against the run. Here he can be seen shedding a second level block from one of the better centers in the country, Reese Dismukes and then helping chase down the dynamic Nick Marshall.
McKinney’s struggles at this point in his career are found in suspect instincts versus the pass. He’s frequently seen drifting with the QB’s eyes or biting on a fake and opening up a hole in the defense. Once he does get the proper read he’s plenty athletic to get himself back in the play, but sometimes it is too late. Note below how long it takes McKinney to recognize the play action. He is the last second level defender to recognize it.
Grade: 3rd round
Comparison: DeMeco Ryans
Josh Robinson, RB
Size: 5’9, 215 LBs
Stats: 190 ATT 1,203 Yards, 11 TDs
Josh Robinson is built very low to the ground at only 5’9 and runs with a very solid base. Robinson is going to do his best work between the tackles and shows great balance when making cuts that you wouldn’t expect to see from someone with his running style. He blends the ability to make these cuts with some impressive vision and instincts to turn some shorter gains into much bigger plays. He’s not blessed with exceptional speed, but Robinson is able to get a lot out of the situation in front of him.
This is one of the best combinations of vision, balance and the ability to make a difficult cut you’ll see on tape from any RB this season.
I’ve mentioned how Robinson is built very low to the ground and runs with a solid base, and the benefit of this is clearly evident in this incredible run vs Kentucky.
Robinson shows decent hands, but he’s going to struggle to get on the field in passing downs early as he’s not a great pass protector. You can see that he occasionally allows his weight to shift too far forward and this ends up with him being driven back rather easily for a guy with his powerful lower half.
His technique here starts off strong as he takes a good angle to wall off the blitzer, but then his feet start to chop underneath him and once they shift too far under his frame he’s off balance and easily driven backwards.
Grade: 3rd round
Pro Comparison: Shonn Greene with better hands
Preston Smith, DE/OLB
Size: 6’5, 270LBs
Tackles for Loss: 15
Preston Smith is a powerfully built Edge defender that is capable of doing everything from lining up at the five technique and controlling the line of scrimmage, to lining up outside at the nine technique and getting to the QB. Smith is exceptional when it comes to disengaging from blockers in the run game. Here is an example of him using that power against LSU’s TE as he drives him out of the way to make a crucial 3rd down stop. He controls the line of scrimmage and drives the TE into the backfield.
Smith isn’t as capable of beating a tackle with speed and agility as some of the more touted pass rushers like Dante Fowler Jr, Randy Gregory and Vic Beasley, but he uses his hands very well in his pass rush to gain leverage and beat tackles to the QB. Here you can see him beating Cedric Ogbuehi from Texas A&M.
The above clip is actually a decent representation of one of Smith’s struggles. At 6’5 270 LBs you can see that he has above average size for his spot outside on the edge and with that size he brings some versatility to his game that others don’t as he can play several spots along the line. The one area you would like to see him improve is his ability to flatten the edge when he beats the tackle. Kenny Hill is able to avoid the sack as Smith’s route is a little too wide as he tries to turn the corner.
Grade: Top 20
Pro Comparison: Quinton Coples