Mississippi State solidified its defensive coaching staff earlier this week with the hire of Manny Diaz as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
But the Bulldogs will have to find a new defensive leader on the field after junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney declared for the NFL Draft.
“I have decided to enter the NFL Draft and look forward to the next chapter,” McKinney said in a statement. “I can’t thank enough my coaches, teammates and the Bulldog fans for the memories we have created over the years. It’s been a privilege to be a part of one of the best teams in school history. Mississippi State has developed me into the player I am today, and I will always be part of the Bulldog family.”
McKinney has led MSU in tackles the last two seasons and started 36 of his 39 career games. The 6-foot-5, 249-pounder concludes his collegiate career with 244 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, one forced fumble and six fumble recoveries.
McKinney was named an All-American this past season tallying 71 tackles, eight stops for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.
McKinney is rated the top inside linebacker in the draft according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. CBS Sports rates the Tunica native as the No. 24 prospect in the draft and projects him as a first round selection.
“We fully support Benardrick’s decision and know he is ready for the next level,” said MSU coach Dan Mullen. “He has been a tremendous leader for our football team both on and off the field. His work ethic and intelligence make him a valuable first-round prospect for any NFL team. We are proud that he has helped raise the standard at Mississippi State.”
McKinney is the second Bulldog underclassmen to forgo their final season joining running back Josh Robinson. McKinney will participate in the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis next month.