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2015 NFL Draft Prospect You Need To Know: SEC

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Linebacker Benardrick McKinney reportedly considered coming out early, but returned to Mississippi State for the 2014 season. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
Linebacker Benardrick McKinney reportedly considered coming out early, but returned to Mississippi State for the 2014 season. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

It's not a name most football fans outside Starkville, Mississippi are aware of yet. It's not yet become familiar to YouTube searches or a name that strikes fear in the hearts of quarterbacks and copy editors alike.

Benardrick McKinney is no Jadeveon Clowney, neither in name nor in football potential. 

Still, it is a name you need to know if you're following the evolving storylines of the 2015 NFL Draft.

As was the case with Clowney at this time last year, McKinney projects to be the most distruptive defensive force in the SEC in the upcoming season. He's a 6-foot-5, 245-pound ultra-athletic linebacker, who led Mississippi State in tackles in 2013, and tied for the team lead in sacks (3), tackles for loss (7) and fumbles recovered (2).

But stats don't tell McKinney's story. When you watch him, you see a guy who seems to be moving at a different pace than everyone around him. He's smooth and agile for a taller backer (he's listed at the same height as Anthony Barr, and 10 pounds lighter; Barr, Trent Murphy and Trevor Reilly were the only 6-5 linebackers drafted in 2014). 

A former high school quarterback, he's athletic enough to have been included on Bruce Feldman's "Freaks" list last spring (a list topped by Clowney). And when it looked like McKinney might declare for the 2014 Draft, Todd McShay projected him to be taken by Chip Kelly and the Eagles in the first round. That kind of athletic.

What's most appealing perhaps to NFL scouts is that McKinney will be able to play anywhere at the next level. He can be a tackling machine if left at middle linebacker. He has the range and coverage skills to play the Mike position the way Brian Urlacher did in a Tampa 2 scheme.

Or he can move outside, where his length and explosiveness can be maximized as a pass rusher. With so many NFL teams using Nickel and Dime packages as their base defenses, there's far less demand for inside linebackers, who typically had to be replaced in passing situations. Only eight of the 34 linebackers drafted in May were inside backers.

The move to outside likely wouldn't happen until he gets to the NFL. Mississippi State plays primarily a 4-3 defensive front, so McKinney likely will stay put, in the middle, earning attention and accolades along the way (hey, you can't spell "Benardrick" without "Bednarik."  He may wind up seeing more snaps at defensive end than at either outside linebacker spot.

Still, there's little doubt he can -- and likely will -- make the switch to OLB at his first rookie camp.

Just like Clowney.