Mississippi State’s junior linebacker has a full week left to the January 15 deadline for early entry in the 2015 National Football League draft. As does junior quarterback Dak Prescott, who himself has been subject of premature reports.
If either or both do put their name(s) in the draft pot by next week they will join classmate Josh Robinson. The running back not only has announced but taken an agent, ending his college career and sending him back to South Florida to begin preparing for spring draft combines.
Robinson’s announcement came hours before Mississippi State’s appearance in the Orange Bowl on New Years Eve. While the timing did not please his coaches and staff, most seem satisfied with the decision. Robinson finished 2014, his first and only season as full-time starter, with 1,203 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
This was the third-best yardage ever by a Bulldog back in one season, while his touchdown total ties for 12th-most. He finished just shy of 2,000 career rushing yards with 1,997; and had 16 rushing touchdowns. And as much as his on-field feats, Robinson’s bubbling personality and hard-knocks life story won fans all around college football. Though, that same personality often meant interviews were done with a MSU ‘minder’ close at hand, just a price of featuring such a free spirit.
In the Orange Bowl locker room, Robinson affirmed he had just played his last Bulldog game. “Yeah, it was always the thought process I had ever since I stepped foot on Mississippi State’s campus. It just came through and I thought it was my time.”
McKinney has been more circumspect on the subject, since confirming in mid-December he had asked for a NFL draft-round evaluation. Program consensus though is the middle linebacker is ready to move up to pro ball, in fact he briefly considered it after his redshirt sophomore season before returning to be a team captain in ’14.
In December, McKinney played things right down the middle. “If it’s the best decision for me to leave then I’ll leave. If not, I’m staying.” At the same time early mock drafts show McKinney a first-round prospect, none later than the second round.
Regardless of round or even return, “It’s exciting. Growing up I wanted to play in the league, it has been my dream to play in the NFL.” McKinney’s draft status was not affected by Mississippi State’s 1A/1B rotation which kept starters like him from scoring eye-opening statistics. He still led this defense with 71 tackles and was third in tackles for losses, recovered three of the seven recovered fumbles by the ’14 team, and forced another.
McKinney has 244 career tackles in three varsity seasons and 14.5 sacks. He had 102 stops in his redshirt freshman 2012 season alone.
If Robinson is already committed, and McKinney expected to, the focus falls on Prescott. During the Orange Bowl a national commentator claimed the Bulldog quarterback had said he was returning, which Prescott denied. “I don’t remember making any remarks about it,” he said post-game.
What Prescott has remarked on is submitting his name for NFL evaluation along with Robinson and McKinney during bowl camp. He has not said what sort of report came back. He also participated in December graduation ceremonies, meaning if he turns pro Prescott takes a college degree with him to the NFL.
At this point Coach Dan Mullen is not hinting what he expects. But he has had direct talks with his All-SEC quarterback off and on and will second any decision.
What has Bulldog fans trending towards opinions Prescott will indeed return was an interesting comment made by new defensive coordinator during Wednesday’s press conference. Asked his goal for the 2015 defense, “What I’ve got to do here is get the ball back for Dak Prescott,” Diaz said.
Even a sportswriter sees the wisdom in this. Prescott re-wrote whole pages in the program record book in 2015, with season standards set for yardage, touchdowns, completions and percentages, and more. Prescott ran for 15 touchdowns himself, the third-best output ever by a Bulldog back; and passed for another 27 scores for the outright record. He is already the most accurate and efficient passer in program history.
So the MSU mind boggles at what a senior season could and should produce, not just for Prescott himself but an offense that will have as great a collection of runners and receivers to call Scot Field home in…maybe ever? The offensive line had three large losses to be sure but nothing rebuilds blocking like a senior quarterback who can take care of himself in a pinch.
If it offers any indication, Mississippi State officials are already planning for some sort of announcement event once Prescott has made his 2015 call. No hints on dates, but since the spring semester at Mississippi State begins next week, well, that makes for an obvious deadline in itself?
Robinson and McKinney certainly have recent examples to encourage them. In Dan Mullen's six seasons so far, two of his running backs (Anthony Dixon 2009, Vick Ballard 2011) have been drafted and made NFL rosters while Ladarius Perkins (2013) got a shot at pro ball. The linebacker success rate is even larger with Jamar Chaney (2009), K.J. Wright and Chris White (2010), and Cam Lawrence (2012) making NFL rosters either as drafts or free agents.
Mullen also lost the first early-entry Dog when defensive tackle Fletcher Cox turned pro after his 2011 junior season. But Prescott hopes if not this year then next year to be the first Bulldog quarterback drafted since Don Smith in 1987, and even he went as a running back.