Got some more Phil Steele-iness for you today, because I just can't get enough of the 328-page tome that stretches the weight capacity of my backpack. Today I look at how Steele grades Mississippi State football – that is, individuals and units.
Steele puts together lists of the country's top quarterbacks, receivers, linebackers, etc., and also charts them by group. I've always found it a bit odd that he picks some totally random numbers: top 64 running backs, top 44 tight ends, top 41 offensive lines, top 36 special teams units. I imagine the seemingly random numbers are a product of page design.
"OK, I ran out of room at 37 defensive line units. That'll do."
Let's start first by looking at which Bulldogs made Steele's individual rankings (none were named to his four-deep All-American team, by the way).
• Running backs: Vick Ballard, No. 22. Ballard helped MSU fans miss Anthony Dixon a little less and is the clear No. 1 back this year. Can he reach 1,000 yards?
• Wide receivers: Chad Bumphis, No. 27. He's been good in his first two years, but will Bumphis finally bust out and fulfill all that promise we saw in high school? With a deeper, more developed receivers corps than MSU's had in years, there will be less pressure on Bumphis, which can only help him.
• Centers: Quentin Saulsberry, No. 14. He's played all over the offensive line but should settle in here with the loss of J.C. Brignone.
• Defensive tackles: Fletcher Cox, No. 28; Josh Boyd, No. 29. According to ESPN.com – and to me, and several others – this might be the best inside tandem in the SEC.
• Cornerbacks: Corey Broomfield, No. 24; Johnthan Banks, No. 31. These two combined for six interceptions last season and have a wealth of experience – and both are just juniors. Might be the strongest position on the team right here.
• Free safeties: Nickoe Whitley, No. 33. As a redshirt freshman, he showed a lot of promise, not to mention athleticism. Whitley was fifth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for the lead in INTs (with Banks and Broomfield) with three.
• Strong safeties: Charles Mitchell, No. 16. The Clarksdale product is a third-year starter who has 37 games under his belt.
Now let's see where Steele ranks MSU among the different units.
• Quarterbacks: No. 33. We know Chris Relf made a huge jump last year, but the depth MSU has with Tyler Russell and Dylan Favre makes the unit even more stout.
• Running backs: No. 28. MSU developed a really strong 1-2 punch last season with Ballard and LaDarius Perkins. But with the enigma known as Robert Elliott as the No. 3 option and Nick Griffin hurt, there isn't a ton of depth here. I wonder if any rookies will get some snaps.
• Wide receivers: No. 37. As mentioned above, this is a solid group, led by Bumphis, Brandon Heavens and Arceto Clark. Youngsters like Michael Carr flashed playmaking ability last year, and that's a quality MSU needs more of this fall.
• Defensive line: No. 18. We know the tackles are strong with Boyd and Cox, but the jury is still out at the end spots. Sean Ferguson needs to step up and be the leader of that group.
• Defensive backs: No. 14. The foursome of Banks, Broomfield, Mitchell and Whitley have logged a combined 100 games and made a total of 23 career interceptions. This is gonna be one tough unit, especially in a league light on elite quarterbacks.