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Draft Class Review: Mississippi State

A year ago, a lone Mississippi State Bulldog heard his name called in the draft.

This year, five Bulldogs got drafted, including two defensive stars in the second round.

Mississippi State’s draft resurgence comes on the heels of a fantastic 10-3 season that saw the Bulldogs hold on to the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll for four weeks.

Though the season didn’t end exactly how Dan Mullen planned, he and the rest of his staff have a ton to be proud of after posting the school’s first double-digit win season since 1999. Let’s take a look at Mississippi State’s 2015 draft class below.

Preston Smith, DE, Washington Redskins (2nd round, 38th overall)

One of the best all-around defenders in the draft, Smith garnered some attention as a possible first-round pick. Although he didn’t end up going on Day 1, the versatile edge defender didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called on Day 2.

Selected with the sixth pick of the second round, the 6’5”, 271-pounder immediately steps in to Brian Orakpo’s old role at outside linebacker. The best part about Smith is that he’s not limited to playing a single role. MSU’s team-leader in sacks and tackles for loss can play from a two-point stance, with his hand in the dirt as an edge rusher or aligned from the 3-technique spot. Washington got itself an ultra-versatile defensive chess piece who could grow into a Michael Bennett-type of player.

Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Houston Texans (2nd round, 43rd overall)

This year’s inside linebacker group featured a number of big names, but the biggest from a physical standpoint was easily McKinney. The 6’4”, 246-pounder quarterbacked the Bulldogs defense the past two seasons, earning first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American honors last fall. Despite his impressive resume, McKinney fell out of the first round due to concerns about his ability to play in space.

Hailed in some circles as a do-it-all linebacker, McKinney is more of a straight-line player in the mold of Dont’a Hightower. That’s not necessarily a negative, as the Patriots linebacker has developed into one of the best players at his position. Still, Houston shouldn’t expect McKinney to make a ton of plays in coverage, at least early on. Perhaps with better coaching and experience McKinney will be able to harness his natural size-speed combination in a more well-rounded manner.

Matthew Wells, LB, New England Patriots (6th round, 178th overall)NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Ole Miss at Mississippi State

You can always count on the Patriots to take a player that nobody knows much about. But after doing some digging, it turns out that Bill Belichick may have found a valuable special-teamer and possible coverage linebacker in sixth-round pick Matthew Wells.

Mississippi State fans should be familiar with Wells, who started 33 games for the Bulldogs. Undersized for the position, Wells’ biggest strength is his 4.43 speed, which he utilizes as a blitzer and pass defender. An excellent athlete and heady player, the 222-pounder could end up being that hybrid safety/linebacker Belichick has desperately searched for the past five or six years. 

Malcolm Johnson, TE, Cleveland Browns (6th round, 195th overall)  

A hybrid fullback/tight end, Johnson showed enough athleticism at his pro day to warrant a late-round selection. The 6’1”, 231-pounder turned in a 4.68 40-yard dash, 19 reps on the bench, a 32” vertical and 9’4” broad jump. Those are solid, though not spectacular numbers for his position.

That said, he seems destined to play more of an H-back role in Cleveland. Considering he caught 79 passes for 1,148 yards and 10 touchdowns during his four-year career, he could end up being a decent player for the Browns.

Josh Robinson, RB, Indianapolis Colts (6th round, 205th overall)

Somehow, someway Josh Robinson slipped all the way to the sixth round. That’s a shame for a player of his caliber, but it could prove to be a home-run value pick by the Colts. Robinson’s fall raised some eyebrows after the 5’8”, 217-pound bowling ball rushed for 1,203 yards and 11 touchdowns in his only season as a starter.

Of course, running a 4.70 40-yard dash at the combine didn’t help Robinson’s stock. However, with 32-year-old Frank Gore on board, Robinson could be in line for major carries if Gore suffers an injury or shows signs of slowing down. Don’t be surprised if Robinson steps into a starting role next season despite his draft status.

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