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One of the biggest 2015 NFL Draft risers on the linebacker front in my eyes has been Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney.  While this year’s class is full of edge defenders, McKinney is more benardrickmsuited to be a strong side inside backer or simply a “SAM” who will spend a lot of his time taking on blockers in the run game and defending the pass against tight ends.  I watched five of his 2014 games against UAB, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M, and Kentucky to get a better idea of the skills and talents that he will bring to the next level.  This is what I saw:

LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State, 6′ 4″ 246 lbs.

Cons: The first thing I noticed is that he lacks fluidity.  This is evident with his stiff hips and his difficulty moving laterally quickly.  The backer moves quite well north and south though.  McKinney often gets outmaneuvered by quick footed backs and receivers.   His upright stance (which affects his balance) impedes his ability to shed blockers and keep them away from his body.  The linebacker has a bad habit of diving low in space to bring down a ball carrier in desperation.  I found him to be more instinctual than having a strong foundation in film watching as he guesses a lot.

Pros: The linebacker reads the offensive line well, steps up and attacks the play quickly.  He lined up both as an inside and outside backer, but performed at his best as a SAM.  McKinney has a powerful punch to keep blockers off his body when he keeps his hips low.  The backer has good closing speed regardless of his 4.66 forty time at the NFL Combine. He excels at defending short yardage situations, has a decent motor, hits hard, and will occupy two blockers to free up someone else.  When asked to run blitz, McKinney was quite effective getting to the ball carrier. As a pass rusher, the backer gets good initial pressure and penetration while knifing thru the line of scrimmage.  He is a better inside rusher than from an outside linebacker spot.  McKinney also drops back into coverage well.

Overall thoughts: Watching him reminded me of old school former Giant Pepper Johnson.  They both played with a lot of physicality and were always looking for the game changing play.  McKinney is a gambler, but could be an impact defender in the right scheme.

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