While most of the attention surrounding Mississippi State players and the 2014 NFL draft has focused on Gabe Jackson, a topic that has not been discussed much deals with which Bulldog in the class will end up having the most success in the NFL. While Jackson seems like the obvious choice, and all Mississippi State fans would like to see all of the players succeed, history says that will not be the case.
The players who will have the most difficult time in establishing an NFL career will be the players that do not hear their named called during the draft. Undrafted Free Agents face the challenge of finding a team, and then sticking with that team, knowing that they had been passed over multiple times by that team already. However, they do have an advantage in that they can look to join a team that provides a right fit—if options exist—instead of having to try to make the team that owns their rights.
Several Bulldogs could find themselves in this category, and the most intriguing name of the group may be Tyler Russell. Russell's senior season, like those of so many Bulldog quarterbacks before him, saw injuries cause havoc early in often. He missed significant time because of a concussion and a torn labrum, and saw very little real action during the season. Unfortunately for him, he also missed significant time during the predraft process. However, he has had strong workouts, and a team might decide to either draft him late or bring him in as a developmental project. If he can survive the summer camps and make a roster, he might have the most staying power as a serviceable quarterback on the depth chart.
Nickoe Whitley, who will also most likely be an undrafted free agent, has the talent and ability to make a roster, and should he do so, he could put together a decent NFL run as a special teams and situational player. An ACL injury that could cost him part of the 2014 season might be the biggest strike against Whitley in his quest to make an NFL roster. Should he make a roster, coaches will love the fact that he often plays bigger than his measurements, but they will have some concerns with how quickly he can react on the field. Whitley strikes as a player who will best succeed in predictable situations, so a crack at special teams or playing in certain situations seem like his best chance of success.
A player like Denico Autry will draw attention because of his odds of producing at multiple positions. Autry has spent time working at defensive end and outside linebacker, so he might have the ability to help a team at a couple of different positions. If he can do this successfully, this would make him a valuable commodity and could help him put together an NFL career.
Moving towards players more likely to be drafted, LaDarius Perkins has a chance to become a contributor in a backfield quickly, but he also plays a position that sees its average player fail to last in the league three seasons. A player who saw his pass catching skills underutilized at Mississippi State, Perkins has several talents that will have teams attracted to him. If Perkins can prove a capable blocker against the pass rush and able to find a way to get yards when needed inside, he could make for a solid third down running back that could play in expanded situations. He also participated in the return game at Mississippi State, giving him one more way to contribute to an NFL team. The odds for a running back having a long career are not great, but Perkins may be the type of players to beat those odds.
The most prominent name that will be drafted is Gabe Jackson. Jackson, who will hear his name called no later than Friday night will most likely have the chance to contribute as a backup or starter during his rookie season in the NFL. Talented offensive linemen are always in demand, and should Jackson prove to be such a player, he will have a long and lucrative NFL career. The offensive line can prove to be a difficult position in which to succeed, but give Jackson's health and abilities, he should carve out a long and successful NFL career.