Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

State Sends Eight Fresh Alumni to Professional Football

The draft dust has settled, the free agent deals signed. And along with all Bulldogs now getting their shots at professional football, Mississippi State’s program comes out a winner as well.

Three Bulldogs were selected during last week’s National Football League draft days. Five more were snatched-up during the free agent scramble. Now, it’s on to rookie camps for those physically able to participate in these earliest club gatherings while a couple continue their rehabilitation process.

Projections for this year’s Dog drafting were all over the proverbial map, but most agreed Chris Jones would get called first. He was, on the second day. Kansas City took him with the fifth pick of the second round, which is #37 overall.

That was the highest selection of a Bulldog defensive lineman since Fletcher Cox by Philadelphia in 2012. The similarities extend because not only did both Cox and Jones turn professional after the junior seasons. “The coach that drafted him, Andy Reed, drafted Cox at Philadelphia,” pointed out Mississippi State media relations director Bill Martin.

Jones is already on the job, so to speak. He is currently in Kansas City at a rookie camp.

There had been some thought Jones might climb into the first round based on his combine appearances—no pun intended after the infamous garment malfunction at Indianapolis—and how well he tested. Listed by Kansas City at 6-5, 310, Jones was a solid college player as both a defensive end and tackle in a four-front scheme.

What the Chiefs are truly attracted to is the fact Jones is only just coming into his prime as a player. That harks back to his high school recruitment, when between summer 2012 and signing day 2013 Jones blew-up from a modest-rated prospect to a premium national name. Then, it took two seasons before earning a starting job at Mississippi State; and only as a junior did Jones become an every-game starter at tackle.

If he follows a comparable course in professional football, the very best really is ahead for Jones.

Things have to get better for the second drafted Dog. And it’s conceded, had Will Redmond not gone down mid-season with a knee injury, he very well could have been a first-round draftee. Perhaps even the first cornerback taken.

As it is, Redmond was a steal for San Francisco in the second round, #68 pick overall. “There were a lot of people here so happy for Will,” Martin reported.

Redmond, who lost a year-and-half of his early career for high school recruiting violations, became a rotation cornerback in 2013 and ’14; then started half of the 2015 season. The campaign ended with a fluke practice injury as Redmond tore his ACL.

A full recovery is forecast, though rehab meant Redmond was unable to work out for any NFL clubs or attend combines. That did not hurt his evaluation based on college game tape. Redmond also seems to have caught a good break with San Francisco, which has a good secondary at the moment and can give Redmond time to both recover and develop.

And, “He’s going to be ready for the season,” Martin said. “He’ll be full strength in late summer.”

Dak Prescott is full-strength right now and he’s feeling stronger about his professional potential. The Bulldog with the widest-range of selection projections, who had talked to all sorts of franchises with all sorts of quarterbacking scenarios, ended up…with a team that had been most-connected with his name all along.

Dallas used their fourth-round pick, #135 overall, to take a developmental quarterback. Prescott could not have been happier, as he often stated his long-standing fandom of the Cowboys while growing up a couple hours east on I-20.

Prescott was interviewed repeatedly by the Cowboys, with offensive coach Wade Wilson visiting him three weeks before the draft. Then Dallas flew him to town for another interview. So if Prescott apparently slipping to the fourth round, behind some other and curious quarterback selections from other clubs, it seemed to work out well for all involved.

The obvious perception of this selection is Dallas is looking for the eventual heir to Tony Romo. The club has been relying on free agency and trades for several years now, since Prescott is their first quarterback draft since 2009. Prescott certainly won’t be rushed into action and has time to develop into a successor or trade material, which is a win either way.

It was well-reported that even as a fourth-rounder Prescott is the highest-drafted true quarterback in Bulldog program history, as that position is defined. He was the first taken from State since Don Smith in 1987, though the great Smith was projected as a NFL running back all along and did play that for a few years.

In a much more current context, Prescott is this year’s highest-drafted SEC quarterback; for that matter highest taken since 2013. Then again Prescott is a two-time, first team All-SEC selection and owns an entire page-worth of Mississippi State passing, scoring, and winning records.

He also is the first Dan Mullen quarterback drafted from Mississippi State, and the 21st total selected Bulldog to play for this head coach in 2009-15. Though Mullen’s name is linked to high-scoring and high-producing offenses, the largest portion of his draft classes have come from the defensive side of the squad.

In these seven draft years, there have been five defensive linemen (Pernell McPhee, Fletcher Cox, Josh Boyd, Preston Smith, Jones); five linebackers (Jamar Chaney, K.J. Wright, Chris White, Benardrick McKinney, Matt Wells); and four defensive backs (Charles Mitchell, Darius Slay, Johnthan Banks, Redmond).

From offense there have been three running backs (Anthony Dixon, Vick Ballard, Josh Robinson); two offensive linemen (Derek Sherrod, Gabe Jackson); one receiver (Malcolm Johnson); and now one quarterback (Prescott).

However, the roster of Bulldogs going for professional football doesn’t stop with draft days. Free agency has been a productive path for generations of State players and that includes Mullen alumni. A few have even played on Super Bowl teams, such as Arceto Clark and Deonte Skinner.

So for five 2015 team alumni who have signed with NFL teams the opportunity is just as great. Or greater, Martin said. “It’s almost better to be a free agent, you get to choose a fit.”

This includes a pair of 2015 juniors who gambled on early entry. Linebacker Beniquez Brown got enquiries during draft week from Green Bay, and if the Packers did not use a selection they did extend an offer Brown has taken.

The real risk has been taken by receiver De’Runnya Wilson. Though all others agree, he would have benefited most by returning for a senior college season based on lack of sheer football background, Wilson made clear all fall he intended to turn pro and support his children. He gets his shot with New England.

It was a good week for cornerback Taveze Calhoun. He both signed a free agent deal with Chicago; and was chosen to the National Football Foundation’s Hampshire Honor Society. This group is made of players from all college football divisions who kept a 3.20 or better GPA for their career. Calhoun was better; a 3.50 as an undergraduate and four-time All-SEC Academic Honor Roll member. Such smarts will come in handy as he battles to make the Bears roster.

There were some feel-good free agent stories too. Though, had he not gotten hurt and been able to work out for franchises, defensive end Ryan Brown was in line for a late-round drafting. Cincinnati has signed the senior, who had December surgery and skipped the Belk Bowl victory just to be ready in time for summer workouts.

And after a low-key career in junior and senior college, high-profile potential earned tight end Darrion Hucherson gets his big chance. Tennessee grabbed him for his size and athleticism, and based on how Hutcherson performed the latter part of his senior Mississippi State season. Mullen often bemoaned the need to play Hutcherson as a 2014 transfer, due to lack of big tight end depth. It wasn’t fair to his development and netted few statistics or for that matter game tape to review.

But the Titans did see enough, and have picked up an ideal body for the pro position who is just now starting to become a football force.

Rounding out the Bulldog free agent signings were Justin Malone who signed on with the Pittsburgh Steelers and defensive end Ryan Brown who will look to pair off with Malone as an AFC North divisional foe as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Meanwhile, back on campus, Bulldogs are taking spring semester exams. The first summer semester begins June 2; the second on July 5. Most of the varsity and redshirt players will stay around Starkville over the summer. Though they cannot work under coaching—for that matter all workouts are ‘voluntary’—everyone will be busy in the weightroom and doing unsupervised drills.

Preseason practices begin August 1 ahead of Mullen’s eighth campaign at Mississippi State.

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