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Benardrick McKinney, the experienced and seasoned inside linebacker from Mississippi St., enters the 2015 NFL Draft after suiting up for a total of 39 games (36 starts) as a Bulldog. During that time, he managed to rack up 244 tackles, 19.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks. In 2014, McKinney totaled 71 tackles, 8 TFL and 3 sacks. He was recognized as a First Team All-American and First Team All-SEC at season’s end. Physically, McKinney possesses very good measurables for an inside linebacker prospect. At 6’4” with 33” arms, he’s a long guy who can deceptively cover more ground than his field speed suggests. He’s a physical player who packs a good pop at the POA; He fires through his hips on contact leading to jarring and jolting hits on the ballcarrier or opposing offensive lineman. Athletically, he lacks top-tier movement skills and at times can look lost in space, but he possesses solid instincts and a generally sound first step to the ball that helps overcome some of his natural shortcomings. McKinney is quick to diagnose the play’s aiming point and is effective and efficient with the steps he takes to fill the hole and make a play. There are times when McKinney can be fooled or is caught guessing, but overall, his instincts are sound. He’s a real thumper who welcomes contact. McKinney is best when run at and when playing in a phone booth; He’s tough and physical and enjoys fighting and clawing to make the play. He’s strong through the lower body and can hold up well versus inside power plays; He can take on blocks to clog the hole as well as shed to make a play on the ball. McKinney struggles a bit on outside plays, as there are times when he is a tick late and he fails to finish the tackle from behind; He appears to be in position to bring the runner to the ground, but far too often the back or quarterback is able to break free from his grasp at their legs/ankles (from behind). In the passing game, McKinney is a competent player when dropping into his zone. He reads the quarterback well and reacts properly to the intended target. That said, he’s simply not fluid enough and doesn’t have the kind of quick-twitch athleticism to suggest that he’ll be able to stick with a running back or athletic tight end. While I don’t think he’s a liability in coverage, he certainly won’t be a defensive unit’s strongest player on passing downs. He may offer his most value as an inside blitzer or as a rusher off the edge.
BOTTOM LINE: Benardrick McKinney enjoyed a lot of success in college football’s toughest conference, and he looks the part of an eventual starting ILB in a 34 scheme. He’ll be an asset as a physical, interior run defender that is capable of making the occasional play as a pass rusher on 3rd downs. McKinney is the kind of player that doesn’t ‘wow’ you on tape, but it’s very hard to find aspects of his game that make you worry about his ability to have a long and productive NFL career. He doesn’t flash the kind of athleticism or “juice” that a first-round prospect should. That said, he’ll be a good get in round two with the upside to start sooner than later in his career.
GRADE: 7.5 (2nd round)
-Submitted by Bryan Perez (@FirstRoundGrade)