Per social media postings credited to Tamika Wilson, her son De’Runnya will do as has long been expected and leave a year early for professional football. The first such message appeared Thursday evening and since has been followed by posts from Wilson’s own account.
This should surprise absolutely no one who follows Bulldog football. During the just-completed season Wilson hinted at the need to move on early and provide for his two children. However, Wilson threw something of a December curve when asked if he was among the Mississippi State juniors who had filed for a professional evaluation of his draft value.
“I didn’t even put in (for) a draft grade,” Wilson said during bowl camp. But, he said he did seek some second-hand input from people within the program. “I had them kind of ask questions, what I need to get better at and what they think about me coming out.”
It’s reasonable to state though that regardless of expert opinions, Wilson was going to conclude his Bulldog career in the Belk Bowl. He went out in good style, too, catching five passes for 96 yards including one final touchdown.
That gave the three-year regular and two-year starter 133 career receptions, which ranks 5th all-time at Mississippi State. His 1,949 yards ranks 5th also. And with 22 touchdowns Wilson comes in second-best ever by a Bulldog receiver, only two behind the four-year total of Chad Bumphis. Wilson combined with All-SEC quarterback Dak Prescott for 19 touchdown plays, which is the best throw-and-catch scoring combo of MSU history.
Wilson was not requested for interviews following Mississippi State’s 51-28 victory over North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl. Before leaving campus camp though, Wilson said of his Bulldog tenure “I was blessed to be a college student, a college athlete. And I want to cherish each and every time.”
Wilson is the first Bulldog junior of the 2015 team to say he’s headed to the NFL. He is far from the only one with the option. Attention turns to defensive tackle Chris Jones, who has been asked about the NFL since mid-November.
Jones doesn’t mind the question. He isn’t giving a clear answer either.
“I won’t know if I’m leaving or not until I discuss again with Coach Mullen,” he said during bowl camp. “And if I feel comfortable enough that it’s OK for me to leave, then I’ll make that decision after the bowl game.”
Now that it is after the bowl game (Jones was not requested Wednesday for interviews either) the decision is to be made. In the Belk Bowl, Jones posted five tackles giving him 44 for the season with 7.5 for losses and 2.5 for sacks. His numbers didn’t open eyes; his film fascinates the scouts though as playing interior tackle Jones did more than anyone to free teammates to get the statistics.
One of them, end A.J. Jefferson, said in Charlotte the rest of the d-line has been pushing Jones to tell them he’s returning. “We’ve all been talking to him. He just looks at us and laughs. So we’ll see where that goes.”
Inside opinion is that Jones is leaning to leaving. Not because another year at tackle in the 4-3 scheme won’t do his development good. But that three years in college is enough, and another year multiplies the injury risk. Seeing high-draft prospect cornerback Will Redmond go down in an October practice accident, then senior end Ryan Brown miss the bowl game to have a stress fracture fixed ahead of the spring draft would make one think. And Jones does.
“You know it’s my future so I have to think about it every day!” he said in December. And he means every day, going back to his freshman year as an alternate end. “I always thought I was ready, man.” Jones did file for an evaluation, too.
“It’s always good to get feedback. Even if it’s good feedback or bad feedback. Because if it’s bad feedback you know what you can work on. If it’s good feedback then you can build from that.”
Junior linebacker Beniquez Brown also filed for evaluation, which he should receive around the turn of the calendar. He wasn’t asked about it post-bowl game, but in mid-December Brown said “That was just to see where I’m at as a player and what I need to work on to better myself as a player for next year.”
Brown finished second in team tackles with 97, 4.0 of them sacks including a pair in the Belk Bowl where if there had been a Defensive MVP this junior Dog would have won it.
Junior receiver Fred Ross is the other Bulldog most-mentioned in regard to early exit. A record-setting season certainly boosted his stock. Ross set the MSU standard with 88 catches this year, 14 more than the mark which had been set way back in 1970. He became only the second State wideout to top 1,000 receiving yards in a season, his 1,007 this year trailing only the 1,035 by Mardye McDole in 1978.
After three seasons Ross is 6th in career catches with 127; 11th in career yards with 1,608; and has ten touchdowns. He was asked at Charlotte on Monday what he might be thinking in regards to draft declaration. “I’ll worry about that after the game,” was all he’d say.
The game is done, the season is over, and these juniors now have two weeks left to make their decision. Or not, and just let the January 15 deadline pass without comment. This is New Years situation Mississippi State has gotten familiar with of course, since defensive tackle Fletcher Cox decided three years was enough college preparation and turned pro after the 2011 season. It was the right move for him, for sure, as his Eagles career has shown.
And last New Years Eve, running back Josh Robinson declared for the NFL at the Orange Bowl. His timing left a sour taste with the program but the decision was understood. However, the highest-profile Bulldog of 2014 went through the evaluation process and did return for 2015.
Now Prescott goes to the draft as a better-honed senior quarterback with improved stock for selection. Coach Dan Mullen even adapted the offense around Prescott’s better reading-and-passing skills, as well as those junior receiving stars, to showcase a better quarterback. So, there is fresh precedent that a senior season at Mississippi State is a good move.
Brown for one watched his quarterback’s example. “I look up to Dak, so he did it last year and it showed what he needed to improve on. And of course he improved on it. So that’s what I wanted to do for myself, see what I need to work on.”