Inside LB Countdown: Scouting McKinney

We have a portion of the official scouting report that teams will receive on Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney. What are NFL scouts' concerns that have led to his fall from the No. 1 spot at inside linebacker? This is the type of unprecedented access given to Packer Report subscribers.

Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney was once rated the top middle linebacker eligible for the 2015 draft, but becoming a top-flight linebacker was not the original plan when the youngster joined the Mississippi State program. He was a big and physical, dual-threat quarterback with a live arm and good productivity coming out of high school.

McKinney could throw on the run and improvise out of the pocket, but with his good blend of size and athleticism, along with his height, large frame and impressive straight-line speed, linebacker became the position his coaches chose for him. He made a rapid transition, ranking eighth in the SEC with 102 tackles as a freshman, adding 71 hits with seven stops-for-losses during his sophomore season.

While McKinney has manned the middle position and is our third-ranked inside linebacker prospect, some teams feel that his quickness and lateral agility might also be a good fit to play rush end or strong-side outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at the next level, thanks to his quickness and lateral agility. McKinney shows explosive acceleration coming off the snap and above-average hand-eye coordination. He has the ability to pursue plays in front of him, but there are some concerns that his hip stiffness will prevent him from chasing down faster ball-carriers along the sidelines.

The Bulldog “mike” man shows balance and quickness to make plays playing downhill, but he lacks even average change-of-direction agility. He just does not consistently flash the lateral speed needed to make plays from the backside, taking down opponents behind the line only 20 times in three seasons.

It is very hard for a quarterback to get McKinney to bite on misdirection or play-action fakes. He has a keen sense for the ball and on plays in front of him, especially playing vs. the run. He is alert dropping back in zone coverage, but lacks the hip snap to come out of his breaks without taking extra steps. He shows awareness sifting through trash and his anticipation skills will generally see him get to the ball, but with his tight hips, he does struggle to recover when he over-pursues.

McKinney is a much better tackler on the move than when trying to make plays in-line. He holds his ground well at the point of attack, but there are times when he gets caught up in the battle too much and is slow to shed vs. inside running plays. He fills quickly, but is best when unblocked.

When he slips through and avoids blocks shooting the gaps, he is able to use his quickness to close. That is also an issue with some scouts, as they wonder why such a physical-looking player would prefer to slip past blocks than “blow up people” in pursuit of the ball. While he does play in control, you have to wonder if he just lacks that innate spark and urgency in his play that elite linebackers possess.

On first eye contact, you have to be impressed with McKinney’s frame, as he appears to be a strongly-built player with long arms (80 1/8-inch wingspan) to keep himself off offensive linemen when playing vs. the run. But he just does not look comfortable or smooth in his pass drops and perhaps due to his size, he does not always stay low in his backpedal and get into depth at the proper angles.

In pass coverage, McKinney does not have good hands for the interception, and it is not often that you will see him break up passes using his hands. What he does better is read the quarterbacks' eyes and while he lacks above-average range (doesn't always get deep enough when asked to drop into zone coverage), he does read routes well. His issues are that he takes too long to open hips and this indicates that he could have some problems turning and running with some NFL tight ends.

McKinney does play the nine-technique well, ripping off the tackle's block and getting to the ball carrier on inside runs and he also closes on the ball quickly when playing in the stack, along with showing adequate ability to shed blocks and go through backs on blitzes. You just wish that he would pop the fullback and create a pile to stuff inside runs more often.

McKinney has had good success in recognizing misdirection, quickly diagnosing plays and affecting their success. While he can get to the quarterback on the blitz, he needs to be more consistent in making the play (all three of his pressures in 2014 should have been sacks). As stated previously, he also doesn't explode into tackles consistently, but when he does tackle, he will use his long arms to try and wrap up.

McKinney is quick enough to disrupt running plays in the backfield, but he plays with just adequate leverage and aggression. He extends his arms once locked on and can set the edge, but there are times when he will turn his shoulders too quickly, creating a seam for the back. He has the strong hand punch needed to shed blockers in time to make a play, but will try to avoid opponents if he can. He shows decent sideline-to-sideline range, but his effort in pursuit is a little too inconsistent.

When he squares up to the ball-carrier, he wraps properly and drives his legs once he is in position, but he has to maintain good pad level or he will wrap up too high and then struggle to stop the ball-carrier's forward momentum when that happens. While not used often as a pass rusher, he seems to be explosive enough to turn the corner at the NFL level and shows ideal straight-line closing speed.

Even though there are some obvious deficiencies in his overall game, McKinney shows good body control and can recover when gets knocked off balance. He needs to remain active with his hands and be relentless in combating one-on-one blockers rather than rely on quickness too much and he also needs to become more polished in terms of pass rush moves.

Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces The NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.

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