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Mississippi State Football 2013 Impact Players: No. 2, Benardrick McKinney

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Recruiting rankings don't always get 'em right. Benardrick McKinney was a two-star linebacker out of Rosa Fort. He had very few offers. He was rated as the #149 best player at his position for the 2011 recruiting class. Last fall, that two-star, 149th best LB finished 8th overall in the SEC with 102 tackles as a redshirt freshman. Can he step up and be the centerpiece of this defense yet again?

Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Sometimes recruiting is more about finding the guys that other coaches didn't than reeling in the four and five stars. In the case of Benardrick McKinney, that was exactly the situation, as Dan Mullen saw something he liked in the long and lean Tunica linebacker a few years ago. Two years after signing under the radar, McKinney comes into just his redshirt sophomore season as the leader in the middle of an ever improving defense.

It will be hard for McKinney to outdo what he was able to accomplish last season. He quietly surprised many of us, registering 102 tackles total and ultimately settling in well at the middle linebacker position. State's defense struggled at times last year, but that wasn't necessarily on Benardrick. He did his part in making that defense successful, but even so, he, the coaching staff, and the fans will all be looking for how he can improve this fall.

One of the things I'll be interested to see from McKinney this fall is how he fares in big games. He was quiet at times last year in the brutal back half of MSU's schedule, and with another tough schedule on the way this fall, State will need him to step up in big games, and even as a sophomore, be a leader on Geoff Collins' defense.

I expect the defense to go much as he goes this year.