A look at some of the Mississippi State players who made the move from lightly recruited to the NFL

Year after year, several SEC programs "out-recruit" Mississippi State landing big-time 4-star and 5-star recruits, yet the Bulldogs still manage to compete with the heavy hitters on the western side of the SEC. Developing talent has always been a consistent tendency at Mississippi State for several years. Whether it’s 2-stars or 3-stars, the Bulldogs have always had a knack for sending lightly recruited or lowly ranked prospects to the NFL.

 Today we are going to take a look back in time and see how many 2 and 3-star prospects the Bulldogs have sent to the NFL since the 2006 recruiting class arrived at Mississippi State. 

1 Kyle Love – Kyle Love was a part of the 2006 recruiting class for the Bulldogs. He was a lightly recruited 3-star defensive lineman North Clayton High School in Park, Georgia. Love chose to sign with the Bulldogs over other offers from Memphis, Virginia Tech, and Akron. After signing with the Bulldogs, Love had a nice career as he compiled 23 starts in his four-year career and made 72 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 blocked field goal. Love was not drafted in the 2010 NFL draft, but did sign with the New England Patriots where he played from 2010-2012. Continuing to get better each year with the Patriots, New England noticed in 2013 that Love was dropping weight at a rapid pace. He found out he had type II diabetes and was waived with a non-football illness/injury soon after. Love got his weight back under control soon after finding out the news and bounced around in 2013 and 2014 from Kansas City to Jacksonville. He was cut from both squads however, but signed a deal with Carolina in December of 2015. He played all season long including the playoffs and super bowl last season. His high point was when he recorded a sack in the NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals in limited action. Love was recently cut by the Panthers during final roster cuts this September.

2. K.J. Wright – K.J came from Olive Branch, Mississippi where he attended Olive Branch High School. He was ranked a 3-star prospect in the 2007 class. Unlike many 3-star recruits, K.J still had multiple SEC programs knocking at his door but eventually chose Mississippi State over other offers from Auburn, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and South Carolina. From his sophomore season on, Wright became a dominant linebacker for the Bulldogs as he collected 251 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, and 8 sacks over the three-year span. After graduating from Mississippi State in 2010, K.J entered the 2011 NFL draft where he was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth round. In his career, K.J has started every game except four and they were during his rookie season. Many people have him pegged as one of the top outside linebackers in the NFL as of today. During his six-year career in the NFL so far, K.J has 327 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, and 1 interception. He has comfortably cemented his spot on the team.

3. Johnthan Banks – Banks could possibly be one of the most underrated prospects to ever sign with the Mississippi Bulldogs. Rated as a 3-star prospect in the 2009 class, Banks played like a 5-star once he got on campus. After switching from safety to cornerback after his freshman season, Banks dominated in the toughest conference in America. During his 4-year career, Banks accumulated 221 tackles, 16 interceptions (school record), 4 sacks, and 4 touchdowns. After his senior season in 2012, Banks received the prestigious Jim Thorpe Award, being recognized as the top defensive back in all of college football. He was selected to the first team All-SEC team and first team All-America team during his career as a Bulldog. Banks entered the 2013 NFL draft where he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round. During his first three years in the league, Banks has for combined for 130 tackles, 16 passes defended, 7 interceptions, and 1 touchdown. Banks is still under his four-year contract worth 4.7 million dollars.

4. Gabe Jackson – Gabe Jackson became one of the best offensive linemen that came through Starkville in recent memory. Signing with the Bulldogs in 2009, Jackson was rated as a 3-star offensive tackle from Amite County High School located in Liberty, Mississippi. He redshirted his first year on campus in 2009, but afterwards went on to start every game at left guard in his four-year career. Jackson set the record for most career starts in Mississippi State history with 51. He was named to the All-SEC Freshman team in 2010, All-SEC 2nd team in 2011, All-SEC 1st team in 2012 and 2013, two-time All-America selection in 2012 and 2013, and won the SEC offensive lineman of the week after a performance that included five pancake blocks against Troy. Jackson also won the Kent Hull Trophy, which is awarded to Mississippi’s most outstanding collegiate offensive lineman. After a great career at Mississippi State, Jackson graduated and moved on to the 2014 NFL draft. He was selected in the 3rd round by the Oakland Raiders. Jackson has started at guard 29 out of the 30 games in his NFL career so far.

5. Darius Slay – “Big Play Slay”, or better known as Darius Slay, received that nickname because of his playmaking ability at the cornerback position. Slay attended Itawamba Community College where he was rated as a 3-star corner before transferring to Mississippi State in 2011. He only played two seasons for Mississippi State, but recorded impressive stats combining the two seasons for 64 tackles, 6 interceptions, 16 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and 2 touchdowns. After graduating in 2012, Slay entered the 2013 NFL draft where he was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 2nd round. Slay has started 37 of the 46 games in his career so far and is currently the 7th highest paid corner in the NFL currently.

6. Vick Ballard – Ballard attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in 2008 and 2009 where he was named a NCJAA 1st Team All-American. Afterwards, Ballard transferred to Mississippi State as a 3-star running back where he played two seasons. During his first season at Mississippi State in 2010, Ballard ran for 19 touchdowns, which is still a single-season school record. During his senior year, Ballard was named the MVP of the Music City Bowl game where he compiled 183 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on just 14 carries. After the season, he was named to the All-SEC Second Team. Ballard entered the 2012 NFL drafter where he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the 5th round. 2012 was Ballard’s most productive season in the NFL as he rushed for 814 yards and scored 3 touchdowns. In 2013, Ballard missed all but one game with a torn ACL. In 2014, Ballard once again missed the whole season with a torn Achilles tendon. The Colts and Ballard reached an injury settlement in 2015 that made him a free agent. In 2016, Ballard signed a future contract with the New Orleans Saints but was released a few months later. Ballard is currently a free agent.

7. Dillon Day – Day, who was only a 2-star offensive tackle recruit from West Monroe High School in Louisiana, signed with Mississippi State in 2011. He immediately earned playing time as the starting center his freshman season. He was named as an honorable mention freshman All-American after 2011. Day eventually ended up starting 46 of the 51 games he appeared in the maroon and white. He was named team-captain of the 2014 Bulldogs team that set all type of offensive records. He was selected to play in the senior bowl in 2014 after his senior season with the Bulldogs. He was not drafted in the 2015 NFL draft, but was signed by the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent. During his first season with the Broncos, Day participated on the practice squad, but still received a super bowl ring after the Broncos won in 2015. He was waived by the Broncos on September 3rd 2016, but was signed back to the Broncos practice squad the following day.

8. Blaine Clausell – Clausell was only a 2-star offensive tackle recruit when he signed with Mississippi State in 2010. He redshirted his first year on campus, but afterwards started 38 games and played in 49 in his career. Blaine was a physical left tackle that dished out pancake blocks frequently, but also rarely gave up sacks. He was a part of the best offense in school history in 2014. He was selected to the senior bowl in 2015 after graduating from Mississippi State. He entered the 2015 NFL draft, but was not selected. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2015 as an undrafted free agent. In September of 2015, Clausell was waived by the Ravens. He then was picked up by the Patriots where he spent September-November with the team before being released. Almost immediately after being released, Baltimore signed him back to the practice squad where he currently remains.

9. Malcolm Johnson – Johnson came from the Alabama Crimson Tide’s backyard in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He played tight end and wide receiver at Northridge High School, but signed with Mississippi State as a 2-star tight end in 2010. Johnson redshirted his first season on campus, but followed that up with an All-SEC Freshman Team season during his redshirt freshman season. He finished his career with 23 starts, while appearing in 45 games, catching 79 passes for 1148 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns. He was selected to the Second Team All-SEC team in 2013, and was named a team captain in 2014. He entered the 2015 NFL draft where he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round. Johnson switched positions once he made it to the league from tight end to fullback. Johnson has been described as a “bullish blocker” at times and is currently the starting fullback for the Cleveland Browns.

10. Taveze Calhoun – Calhoun, who was described as the heart and soul of the Bulldog secondary, was only a 2-star corner coming out of high school. He signed with the Bulldogs in 2011 where he redshirted his first season. He started 36 games, while appearing in 56 throughout his career, and accumulated 161 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 6 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. Known as a lockdown corner, Calhoun was the leader of the secondary as he made plays on the field and had an exceptional work ethic off of it. He was also one of the brightest young men to ever play football at Mississippi State as he was named a finalist for the Campbell Trophy (academic Heisman). After graduating at Mississippi State, Calhoun was not drafted in the 2016 NFL draft, but was signed as an undrated free agent by the Chicago Bears in May. He was unfortunately cut during final cuts in September by Chicago, but now has signed with the New Orleans Saints practice squad.

11. Preston Smith – Smith was a 2-star recruit that chose Mississippi State over other offers from Kentucky, Syracuse, and West Virginia in 2011. It took some time for Smith to develop, but once his junior season rolled around, his skills were taken to a new level. He was described as one of the most disruptive and athletic defensive lineman to ever wear the maroon and white. He played in 47 games in his career with 24 starts and recorded 134 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, and 1 touchdown. He’s also the only player to ever be named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week three straight weeks in a row. In 2013, he was named the Liberty Bowl Most Outstanding Defensive Player, First Team All-SEC in 2014 according to coaches’, and the Senior Bowl National Defensive Player of the Week. After a very successful career in Starkville, Smith set his sights on the 2015 NFL draft. He was selected by the Washington Redskins in the 2nd round. After being drafted, the Redskins decided to move Smith to outside linebacker. During his rookie season in the last game of the regular season, Smith was voted Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week with 3 sacks in one game. Smith has currently claimed a starting role as an outside linebacker for the Redskins.

12. Benardrick McKinney – McKinney was a 2-star athlete that played quarterback and linebacker in high school. He chose the Bulldogs over other offers from Memphis and Southern Miss in 2011. Following a redshirt year in 2012, McKinney produced 102 tackles at the linebacker position his redshirt freshman season, which led all SEC freshmen and tied for second in the nation amongst all freshmen. Those gaudy stats earned him All-SEC Freshman honors and First-Team Freshman All-American honors. During his sophomore and junior seasons, McKinney led the team in tackles with 71 both years. During his junior season, McKinney earned First Team All-American honors, First Team All-SEC honors, 2014 Bednarik Award semifinalist (best defensive player in the nation), 2014 Butkus Award semifinalist (best linebacker in the nation), and 2014 Lombardi Award semifinalist (top linebacker in the nation). McKinney decided to forego his senior season in Starkville and declare early for the NFL draft. He was drafted in the second round in 2015 by the Houston Texans. He had a nice first season for the Texans, but according to head coach Bill O’ Brien, McKinney made huge improvements in his game from 2015 to 2016. He is currently a starting outside linebacker for the Texans.

13. Josh Robinson – Robinson, a 3-star running back from Louisiana, was a first-team all-state running back in high school. After a tough upbringing that eventually led to him living in his car for 6 months, Robinson’s hard work and great high school career led to him signing with the Mississippi State Bulldogs in 2011. After redshirting his first year on campus, Robinson was the backup tailback to former Bulldog running back LaDarius Perkins his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons. Robinson still managed about 800 yards and 4 touchdowns in a limited role. Once he took over the starting spot his junior year, Robinson blew up. Robinson rushed for 1203 yards, 370 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns. He was even listed as a darkhorse Heisman candidate by several media outlets. After one dominating season in maroon and white for Robinson, he decided it was time to move on from Starkville and test the NFL. In the 2015 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts selected Robinson in the sixth round. Josh played one season in Indianapolis before being waived and now is currently a free agent.

14. Ryan Brown – Brown, another Louisiana prospect, was a 3-star defensive end that chose the Bulldogs in 2012. He played all four seasons in Starkville with no redshirt season. His first two seasons were decent, but the final two seasons in Starkville were Brown’s best. Brown became a full-time starter his junior and senior seasons, and racked up 78 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks. Against Troy in 2015, Brown was named the Defensive Lineman of the Week as he finished the game with 7 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Brown was also declared as one of the leaders on the Bulldog defense. In 2015, Brown entered the 2016 NFL draft where he was not selected. He was, however, signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals and is currently on the practice squad still.

15. Dak Prescott – Prescott, a 3-star QB from Louisiana, was not rated very highly, but little did we know would go on to be the best Mississippi State football player in school history. After choosing the Bulldogs over the hometown team LSU in 2011, Prescott redshirted his first season in Starkville. Prescott played sparingly in 2012, but still accounted for 8 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. 2013 was the season the legacy of Dak began. After starting QB Tyler Russell suffered a concussion, Prescott replaced him and never looked back. In 2013, Prescott passed for 1940 yards and 10 touchdowns, and rushed for 829 yards with another 13 touchdowns. He was also named the MVP of the Liberty Bowl after leading the Bulldogs to a 44-7 win over Rice. In 2014, Prescott led the Bulldogs to their first number 1 ranking in program history and a 10-2 overall record. Dak broke 10 school records in his first season as the full-time starter including: single season passing yards (3449), total yards of total offense (4435), passing touchdowns (27), and total touchdowns (41). He was also named the Manning Award Player of the Week 5 times and the 2014 SEC Offensive Player of the Week 3 times. He also was first-team All-SEC, an All-American, and finished eighth in the Heisman voting. In 2015, Dak dominated the whole country once again as he added 39 total touchdowns and 4381 total yards to his resume. He was one of four players in the nation with at least 25 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing. He led the SEC in conference games in completion percentage (67.1), passing yards (2528), touchdown-to-interception ratio (17:4), passing yards per game (296.3), and total offense per game (363.2). H was also the only player to lead his team in both passing and rushing in the same season. He was named the MVP of the Belk Bowl in 2015 where he threw for 380 yards and 4 touchdowns as Mississippi State cruised to a 51-28 victory over NC State, and a 9-4 overall record. He also became just the 4th players in FBS history to finish his career with 9000 passing yards and 2500 rushing yards. He won the SEC Offensive Player of the Week twice, Manning Award Quarterback of the Week once, and Davey O’Brien National QB of the Week once. He was voted to the All-SEC first-team and an All-American. He also went on to win the 2015 Conerly Trophy, which is rewarded to the best player in the state of Mississippi. Dak finished 3rd in SEC history in total yards and 4th in total touchdowns. He participated in the 2016 Senior Bowl right before the 2016 NFL draft where he was named the 2016 Senior Bowl MVP as he completed 7 of 10 passes for 61 yards and a 1 touchdown. Dak was taken in the 4th round by the Dallas Cowboys where he played extremely well in preseason. During preseason, Cowboys starting QB Tony Romo went down with an apparent back injury. Shortly after, Prescott was named the starting quarterback for the Cowboys where he currently still remains.

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