Benardrick McKinney- Mississippi State
By: Paul “The Closer” Wanecski
As the NFL draft inches closer and closer, the Buffalo Bills find themselves in a position that may be two decades in the making; they are not drafting a single position that doesn’t already have either an incumbent starter or someone who played the position last year. You have to give the Bills front office credit in building a roster that will not be dependent on whatever selections they make on draft day. With that, we all know the struggles of the offense and the overpowering nature of the defense that Rex Ryan and crew have taken on. While the defensive unit is an expensive one, this year may be the start of a youth movement, supplanting long time players such as Leodis McKelvin. The team may also look to handcuff pending player’s extensions such as Marcell Dareus, Nigel Bradham, or Cordy Glenn. With all that said, let’s take a look at the 2013 and 2014 leading tackler for Mississippi State, inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney.
Why Should The Bills Be Interested?
His physical statistics speak for themselves. Standing at 6’4”, McKinney ran a 4.66 40-yard dash at the combine, coupled with a 40.5” vertical leap. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he was only able to finish 16 reps at the 225lbs bench press, which was a disappointment. He was named First Team All-SEC and Second Team All-American for the 2014 season. He also started every game in 2013 and 2014. While most of his combine numbers rank just above the middle of the pack, his game film shows quite a different story. It is also important to remember that the NFL combine lumps outside and inside linebackers together. Given players who are considered inside linebackers, McKinney ranked:
5th in the 40-yard dash
6th in the 3-Cone drill
5th in the Short Shuttle
1st in the Vertical
4th in the Broad Jump
14th (tied for last) in the Bench Press
Inside linebackers do not carry the same draft day value as outside linebackers, so even though McKinney is being ranked only behind Eric Kendricks (UCLA, projected mid-low first round selection), the enormous value of offensive line and wide receivers in this draft will push him down draft boards. The Bills last year got tremendous value from third-round selection Preston Brown. Interesting to note, McKinney was actually his high school team’s quarterback and punter before transitioning to the defensive side of the ball in college, which speaks to his vocal leadership on the field.
Pull up any game Mississippi State played the last two years and you will see #50 around the football. McKinney has the size, speed, and frame to also move to outside linebacker at an NFL level. He has shown great knowledge of his college system, directing traffic around him and making line adjustments when needed. Coming from the SEC, he has played solid and competitive football against high-powered offenses all season. With his height and speed, he will be able to keep up with most NFL tight ends, a definite need on the defensive side in the AFC East division.
Above all of this, McKinney is an artist in wrap-up tackles. He is able to avoid over-pursuing defenders on the edge and is very assignment aware when having to hold the cutback lane. His length allows him to gain separation from offensive linemen and still power through gaps in the run game. He is not the type of player that will run around you; he will use his legs and powerful hands to take on linemen down the stripe and still power through a running back in the hole. He is a finisher.
As displayed in his 3-cone drill and short shuttle time, he has only average agility. While his 40-yard dash time ranked only 5th, he does display good in-line speed but lacks the ability to dip and dive through the offensive line. He does not show great reaction and has excelled because of his anticipation and knowledge of assignments. Scouts are referring to him not have “great feet”, which is drawn to his lack of lateral movement in the pass game. He has shown solid awareness in the run game but struggles to make adjustments while engaged with a lineman. He has been criticized for allowing too much space in the passing game when in zone coverage.
What Does It All Mean?
According to Nfl.com writer Chase Goodbread on 11/14/2014, McKinney was called “Ronaldo McClain or a poor man’s Brian Urlacher” from a director of college scouting in the AFC to NFL Media’s Albert Breer. While that may not sound like a compliment, McClain had a renaissance in Dallas last season and Urlacher will be up for voting in the NFL Hall of Fame in 2018, the same year as fellow inside linebacker Ray Lewis.
As the Bills continue to invest heavily into the defense, will they use a player like McKinney and Preston Brown to be in the center of the defense for the next 3 years or longer? Give the salaries that come with the rookie wage scale, they would be smart to look at ways to save salary cap space with the cost of the “Cold Front” defensive line. Will the Buffalo Bills be able to contain themselves (specifically Rex Ryan) if McKinney were available with the 50th selection? Well, he did wear number 50 in college.