Kansas State's Justin McKinney is expected to be a Day-2 selection in this year's draft, but according to some draft pundits, his stock is on the rise as teams have been taking a closer look at him during the Hula Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine.
The 5-10, 188-pound cornerback spent two years in junior college before transferring to Kansas State, where he jumped right in as the team's nickelback before being moved into a full-time starter's role for his final two seasons.
McKinney is a scrappy, aggressive corner who really enjoys laying out his opponent at every opportunity. During his senior year, he made 74 tackles, picked off three passes while defending nine, forced a fumble and blocked a kick.
He talked to Scout.com's Ed Thompson about his college career, his Hula Bowl experience and teams that have been showing interest in him in this exclusive Scout.com interview.
Ed Thompson: You've built a reputation as a hard-hitting cornerback, finishing up this season as the team's leading tackler. How have you developed your tackling ability over the years and the way you fly around the field?
Justin McKinney: I always felt like I was aggressive, and I had a bit of a temper when I was a kid. I had to find a way to use that extra energy that I had, and so I worked hard. I've been playing football since I was seven or eight, and I try to use my body the best I can. I'm not the biggest guy. I'm not the strongest guy. But I'm pretty tough, I can say.
Thompson: What is it that you want NFL coaches and general managers to know that you're going to bring to their team?
McKinney: Most of all, I'm going to go to 100 percent every setup. I play with a lot of passion, and I'm going to bring a lot of energy to the field. I'm going to play smart, I'm going to watch a lot of film, and I'm going to be on top of my game.
Thompson: What do you love the most about the game?
McKinney: I just love being on the gridiron, the adrenaline, the fans, being part of a team. Even though I know the NFL is more business-minded than it is team-minded, being part of an organization makes me feel like I'm wanted and like they want me to be here. I'm going to play hard for whoever I play for.
Justin McKinney breaks up a pass during a 2005 game against Nebraska with a big-time hit on receiver Nate Smith.
AP Photo/Dave Clark
Thompson: Is it safe to say that if you were given the chance to be up on the line and pressing a guy versus laying back and having to outguess him, would your preference be to press him all the time?
McKinney: If I could press every time, that would be great for me because I feel like I could get in the receiver's head better. I think one of my strengths is that I can play really well from a press-coverage position.
Thompson: In addition to being physical, are you also a talker out there when you're pressing guys?
McKinney: It all depends on the mood and the guy, too. If I know this guy is eyeing me, then I might talk a little trash to get in his head a little bit. But I like to talk with my pads. I'd rather not talk with my mouth. I'm not a rah-rah guy. I'm an excited guy, but that's not my role.
Thompson: What is it you are trying to make sure NFL scouts and coaches see in the months leading up to the draft?
McKinney: I have to go out there and show them that I have speed. There's a lot of speculation about my speed, so I need to show them that I can run. I'm very athletic for my size, I've got pretty good character, and I'm going to show them that I can play the game. All that stuff means a lot, but when I get on the field I also know what I'm going to do when I step off.
Thompson: You had a nice game in the Hula Bowl. Do you feel you showed yourself well there and showed the NFL teams what you're capable of doing as a player?
McKinney: I had a great time at the Hula Bowl. I had fun. I want to give Coach [Ron] Zook a shoutout because he's a great coach. I was happy to sit down and talk to him and to be coached by a great guy like that. As far as me having a great game, I felt like I could have showed a lot more. Running those basic schemes, I wish I could have showed them I could play different coverages like Cover 2, press man, off man, so that I could have shown them that I can do it all at my position. I feel like I'm a pure cornerback and that I can play special teams. I can press the best of teams, and I'm going to hustle at every stop. I thought I did a good job of showing them that, that I'm going to come up and make tackles, and I'm going to be able to run with guys.
Thompson: Who was talking to you during Hula bowl week from the NFL teams?
McKinney: The scout that I think liked the most, who came to a lot of games this year, was from Miami. I spoke with numerous teams like Carolina, Chicago, New England, Kansas City, Minnesota, and I think Denver and the Seahawks as well. It was most of the teams that play in the defenses I played in the last two years, which is the Cover 2 and the 3-4 defense. But I ran all three, including the 4-3.
McKinney forces a fumble in 2007 action against Missouri State.
Thompson: What do you think kept the scout from the Dolphins coming back over and over again?
McKinney: He told me that he's been a scout for a very long time, and watching me play he could tell that something got into me last year. He said he noticed that I played really hard, getting across the field making tackles that guys wouldn't make. I told him that it was the passion I have for the game. I love the game. I can remember commercials from a couple of years ago, I believe it could have been either basketball or football, and in them they'd say "I love this game." When I tell somebody I love them or love something, I really do. I love this game. And I express it in different ways and I take that on the field with me.
Thompson: I know you were born in Tampa. I'm looking at the Buccaneers, and they need a young cornerback. And your old defensive coordinator is now the Tampa Bay defensive backs coach. When you look at your skill set, the scheme — is that a perfect matchup for you?
McKinney: That would be the pinnacle of my career if I can go to Tampa Bay and showcase my talent where I was born. To play for Raheem Morris would be like playing for my father because he's a father-figure in my life. I always felt like if I didn't get a chance anywhere, just give me a camp in Tampa so I can show them what I can do. If I had the opportunity, I would love to play for the Tampa. Like you said, it would be the ideal situation. I would love it.
Thompson: Who are some of the NFL players you keep an eye on to try to pick up tips?
Thompson: Is there anything else you want to let the fans know about you?
McKinney: I'm just representing my school and playing hard for my fans. And please make sure that you mention that I give thanks to God first before any of this. That would make my day.