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New Orleans Saints Draft Prospects: Mississippi State Bulldogs ILB Benardrick McKinney

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With the regression of David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber set to hit the free agent market, the New Orleans Saints could obviously use an upgrade to complement Curtis Lofton on defense.  Mississippi State ILB Benardrick McKinney is a top prospect in this year’s rookie class.

McKinney is a big, raw, versatile athlete with the ability to play both inside and outside — that position flexibility is ideal for the Saints’ scheme.

He’s a fluid athlete with a thick and powerful lower body.  His football intelligence and awareness contribute to his ability to read plays while his lateral acuteness and increasing speed help him tack down ball carriers.

Forgoing his senior year to enter the 2015 NFL Draft, the 2014 Butkus Award (nation’s top LB) finalist leaves Mississippi State as one of the all-time great linebackers in Bulldogs history.

From Hailstate.com:

"2012 REDSHIRT FRESHMAN SEASON: Named a First-Team Freshman All-American by CBSSports.com, FoxSportsNext, Phil Steele and CollegeFootballNews.com … Burst onto the scene as one of the top underclassmen linebackers in the country, playing in all 13 games, including starts in the last 10 … Led all SEC freshmen and tied for second among freshman in the FBS with 102 tackles, which also ranked sixth overall in the SEC … Earned All-SEC Freshman honors by the SEC coaches and ESPN.com … Totaled 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery … Collected four tackles each in the wins versus Jackson State and Auburn, before making eight tackles in road debut at Troy … Recorded a career-high 1.5 tackles for loss to go with eight total tackles in the home victory against South Alabama … Named Co-SEC Freshman of the Week after posting 12 tackles (10 solo), 1.0 tackles for loss and first two career pass breakups in the SEC road win at Kentucky … Racked up a career-high 14 tackles the next week at home against Tennessee … Collected five tackles in homecoming win versus Middle Tennessee State … Registered a 13-yard sack and four tackles at Alabama … Made career-best 14 tackles at home versus Texas A&M … Totaled six tackles and a pass breakup at LSU … Tallied eight stops and a fumble recovery in victorious home finale against Arkansas … Finished regular season strong with 10 tackles, a TFL and a pass breakup at Ole Miss … Recorded five tackles in the final game of the season against Northwestern in the Gator Bowl.2013 SOPHOMORE SEASON: Named to College Football News’ All-Sophomore squad … Racked up a team-best 71 total tackles, which ranked fourth among all sophomores in the SEC … Tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 7.0 for a loss of 44 yards … Tops among all Bulldogs in sacks with 3.5 for a loss of 36 yards … Also recovered two fumbles during the year … Recorded a team second-best seven tackles in season-opener versus Oklahoma State (8/31) … Turned in year’s best game at Auburn (9/14), leading team with nine tackles … Got off to a strong start against the Tigers, recording four stops in the opening quarter, and six in the initial half … Tied for team lead with five tackles against Troy (9/21), all in the first half … Returned a fumble 26 yards in the opening quarter against the Trojans … Tied for the team lead with eight tackles versus Bowling Green (10/12) … Finished second on the squad with 10 tackles against Kentucky (10/24), including five in the opening quarter … Recorded first sack of the season at South Carolina (11/2), hitting Connor Shaw for a 13-yard loss in the first quarter … Booked a personal-best 1.5 sacks at Texas A&M (11/9), dropping Johnny Manziel twice for a combined loss of 19 yards … Paced the Bulldogs with six total tackles against the Aggies.2014 JUNIOR SEASON: The leader of the MSU ‘psycho defense’ who earned first-team All-America honors from the Football Writers Association, ESPN, Phil Steele and Sports Illustrated … For the second straight year, was the Bulldogs’ top tackler recording 71 with eight tackles for loss, three sacks, four pass breakups, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble … Started all 13 games at middle linebacker … Selected a first-team All-SEC selection by the league’s coaches and also was a semifinalist for three national awards … Concluded his career with a team-best 10 tackles in the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech … Totaled nine tackles, one sack and 1.0 tackle for loss against No. 6 Texas A&M (10/4) … Tied a team high with seven tackles in the win at No. 8 LSU (9/20) … Named MSU’s Defensive Player of the Week following the win vs. UAB (9/6) after tallying a game-high 12 tackles to go along with a career-best 3.5 tackles for loss … Became the first MSU player since Fletcher Cox in October 2011 to record at least 3.5 TFL in a single game … Recovered a fumble, made five tackles and had a pass breakup in the win against No. 2 Auburn (10/11) …  Made four solo tackles, forced a fumble for the first time in his career and also recovered a fumble in the road win at Kentucky (10/25)."

NFL Scouting Combine measurements:

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 246 LBS

Arm length: 33 inches

Hands: 9 inches

40-yard dash: 4.66 secs (10th among LBs)

Bench press (225 pounds): 16 reps

Vertical jump: 40.5 inches (4th)

Broad jump: 121 inches (8th)

3-cone drill: 7.21 secs

20-yard shuffle: 4.27 secs

With tight feet, limited range and often poor execution during pass plays, Benardrick McKinney could be a bit of a burden at the next level in coverage.  Obviously, that is something that can be worked at under the proper care of a solid coaching staff, but the New Orleans Saints linebackers were atrocious in that aspect last season.

If Sean Payton and company do decide to bring McKinney’s talents to the Big Easy, he would likely have to be used as a situational pass rusher with Curtis Lofton dropping back into coverage — at least to begin his career.  MicKinney could also very easily make the transition to the outside.  Given his size and skillset, he could wind up a dominant pass rusher in the NFL.

Benardrick McKinney remains an intriguing prospect with the potential to evolve into a Pro-Bowl caliber player.  The Saints could certainly benefit from a guy like the Mississippi State great if he falls into the club’s hands in the second round.

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