McKinney made the announcement through Mississippi State media relations Friday morning. He will indeed enter his name for the 2015 National Football League draft, joining running back Josh Robinson as Bulldog juniors departing the 2014 team.
"I have decided to enter the NFL draft, and look forward to the next chapter," McKinney said in a provided 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 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 a part of the Bulldog family."
McKinney, a graduate of Rosa Fort High School in Tunica, Miss., signed with Coach Dan Mullen's program in 2011 and redshirted. As a first-year varsity Bulldog he totaled 102 tackles with 4.5 sacks alternating at inside and outside linebacker.
Going full-time as mike linebacker his stats dropped off in 2013 (71 tackles, 7.0 sacks) but his impact on the game was even greater as 'quarterback' of the Bulldog defense. Which was fitting as McKinney had been a high school quarterback. He did consider turning pro last January before returning for a junior season where McKinney made 71 more tackles, again best on the team, with 3.0 sacks.
Though his numbers were limited by the regular linebacker rotation State applied in 2014, experts noticed. McKinney was first-team All-America for ESPN, FWAA, and Sports Illustrated; and second-team by AP, Sporting News, and Walter Camp. He was also the latest Bulldog linebacker to make first-team All-SEC (Coaches).
Now, he will be the fourth linebacker of Mullen's six season tenure at State to take his talents to the next level.
“We fully support Benardrick’s decision and know he is ready for the next level,” said Mullen in a provided statement. “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 will participate in the February NFL Scouting Combine, to be held in Indianapolis. The 2015 draft is April 30-May 2, in Chicago now, and most projections have McKinney being picked in the opening round.
With two of the elite trio of Bulldog juniors already declared, Mississippi State staff and fans alike await word from All-SEC quarterback Dak Prescott of where he will play in 2015. Most believe the record-setting triggerman and undisputed team leader will return for a senior season, but until Prescott gives the word it remains an intense topic not just here but in SEC and national circles.
The declaration deadline is January 15. But since spring semester classes begin January 12 that will serves as another sort of deadline. Prescott is in Starkville too, having attended Thursday evening's win by the #14-ranked Lady Bulldog basketball team.