Six Mississippi State seniors off the 2013 team all have varying degrees of hope that their name will be called in the coming three days of the 2014 draft. The first round only will be held Thursday evening; and rounds two and three Friday beginning at 5:00ct. The fourth-through-seventh rounds are Saturday afternoon.
Leading the list, and by a margin as big as his imposing physique, is Gabe Jackson. In fact had the offensive guard chosen so, he might already be on a NFL roster by turning professional a year ago. Fortunately for Mississippi State and even more so for himself, Jackson came back for a senior season. The results were a setting a program record for most career starts as a Bulldog; more All-SEC and All-American honors; and a much-strengthened draft stature.
Most of the reputable national mock drafts project Jackson to be taken on Friday, probably in the second round and no later than the third. On talent and potential he is a first-round sort of pro prospect but as an offensive lineman in general and guard in particular Jackson more likely goes to the second day if draft trends for blockers hold true. Regardless, he has been rated among the four or five best guards available this year.
He certainly departs as one of the best guards ever to wear a Bulldog uniform. After redshirting in 2009, as part of Coach Dan Mullen's first recruiting class, Jackson went on to start all 52 games in 2010-13. That includes a record four consecutive bowl starts, something never done before by a Bulldog at any position. He was not charged with allowing a sack in his last two varsity seasons, blocking for a variety of quarterbacks and their individual styles. Intangibly, Jackson was twice a team captain, which says much since the role is normally reserved for seniors.
When, not if, Jackson's name is called, he will become the 13th Bulldog to play for Mullen at Mississippi State drafted. Nine of these will have been recruited by Mullen and staff. For comparison, there were just four drafted Dogs in the 2004-08 coaching staff's tenure.
Mullen's running total includes consecutive first-round selections, with tackle Derek Sherrod going #32 overall in 2011; and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox #12 in 2012. Last year, a pair of cornerbacks from the same secondary were taken in the second round; Darius Slay at #36 and Johnthan Banks #43.
But the hope is the ‘class' of 2014 doesn't end with only one Dog's name called. Running back LaDarius Perkins, quarterback Tyler Russell, linebacker Deontae Skinner, safety Nickoe Whitley, defensive end Denico Autry, and tackle Charles Siddoway are all draft eligible.
Perkins is projected as a fifth-to-seventh round selection by a number of recognized analyst sites, though his stock was impacted by a nagging ankle injury all of the 2013 season. Russell also missed a lot of the senior campaign with first concussions and then a shoulder injury which limited his scouting tape. His junior season, the only year as full-time starter, produced program records for passing yardage and touchdowns and like Perkins will be more useful for evaluation.
Whitley's case is more interesting, as he too coped with injuries as well as inconsistency over the career. Yet his proven big-hitting talents stood out and none can argue with 15 career interceptions, second-most in Mississippi State history…and behind only Banks and former NFL defensive back Willie Harris.
Though all would prefer being drafted, free agency would almost certainly await a couple of these Bulldogs. This past season Mullen alumni Arceto Clark, Cameron Lawrence, and Quentin Saulsberry were on NFL rosters or practice teams for at least some time despite going undrafted.
Meanwhile a number of Bulldog underclassmen can already think ahead to the coming season and next year's draft, headlined by linebacker Benardrick McKinney who will be a 2014 junior but could follow Cox's lead as an early departure. Seniors who are sure to be scouted all fall are center Dillon Day, receiver Jameon Lewis, defensive tackles P.J. Jones and Kaleb Eulls.