The Mississippi State Bulldogs sent three quality prospects pro in the 2013 NFL Draft: cornerbacks Johnthan Banks (second round, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Darius Slay (second round, Detroit Lions), and defensive end Josh Boyd (fifth round, Green Bay Packers).
The Bulldogs will send a few prospects pro once again in 2014, but the top prospects this time around will be on the other side of the ball.
It all starts with massive guard Gabe Jackson, who could be just the third Bulldog selected in the first round since 1996 (Derek Sherrod in 2011 and Fletcher Cox in 2012). Guards normally don’t get selected this high in the NFL Draft, but last year the floodgates burst open as three guards were selected in the top 20 spots (Jonathan Cooper at 7, Chance Warmack at 10 and Kyle Long at 20). Many predicted Jackson could’ve been the fourth guard (or even third) selected last year had he come out early, but he stuck around for one more year of cowbell in Starkville.
Jackson is an absolute bulldozer in the ground game but also has some dance in his legs as well in pass protection, not giving up a sack all season in ’12 (against SEC defensive lines, this is quite a feat). He’s also durable: Jackson has started 39 consecutive contests going into ’13. Jackson is far and away the top guard prospect for next year’s draft.
Running back LaDarius Perkins is second on my list. He’s always kind of carried the stigma of being more of a third down back as opposed to an every down-capable back (being all of 5-foot-9, 190-pounds), but he enjoyed a breakout season carrying the load for the Bulldogs in ’12. 1,024 rushing yards and more than 1,509 all-purpose yards led to a 2nd team All-SEC selection while starting 12 of the 13 Bulldogs games.
Perkins has put on some weight since joining MSU, but he still might not have the bulk necessary to carry consistently between the tackles in the NFL. But he’s got good hands and outstanding acceleration after making his first cut, making him a very intriguing option in a zone-blocking scheme at the next level.
Quarterback Tyler Russell is another guy to keep an eye on. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior has a lot of experience and does a good job managing the game. Russell has good poise in the pocket and can take a hit, but it’s his arm strength that will get him drafted. At this point, I’d still consider him a late-round prospect, just because there’s nothing that really distinguishes him from a handful of other solid quarterback prospects. A strong senior season will do wonders for his draft stock.
Defensively the Bulldogs don’t have anyone that will contend with Jackson for first Bulldog taken, but free safety Nickoe Whitley and defensive end Denico Autry are the closest thing there is. Whitley has decent size (6-foot, 205-pounds) and playmaking ability (seven interceptions combined in ’11 and ’12), but he was also playing with two future second rounders (Slay and Banks).
Autry is a physical freak but is still learning how to harness his ability. Playing discipline and technique are the two biggest things Autry needs to work on before next May when the Draft rolls around.
Outside linebackers Benardrick McKinney and Deontae Skinner are two other fringe prospects on the Bulldog defense.
All in all, this Bulldog draft class won’t resemble nor rival, say, the 2003 Miami Hurricanes (six first rounders in 2004 NFL Draft), but it’s not too bad, though helped considerably by Jackson.