With the departures of notable and further household names such as Johnathan Abram, Mark McLaurin, and Jamal Peters, Mississippi State will be showcasing new talent at safety and corner. In year two of the Moorhead era, it will be safeties Jaquarius Landrews and Marcus Murphy along with Maurice Smitherman and Cameron Dantzler likely to start come fall. All are hard hitters and have a nose for the ball, essential tools for a defensive back in the SEC.
Landrews, like Abram, jumps off the screen and can make his presence felt in an instant. The senior will be heavily relied upon as a leader, as he, along with Smitherman Dantzler are upperclassmen. Landrews saw his first action in 2018, having posted 21 tackles, 4.5 for loss, along with three sacks.
Given the growth of talent at quarterback throughout the SEC, expect Landrews to capitalize on sacks. Furthermore, he should make an impact in both the running and passing game. Landrews’ versatility should make him an immediate threat. Look for a full stat line and for Landrews’ name to be recognized throughout the nation early.
Joining Landrews at safety will be Marcus Murphy, who stands just over six feet. Known for his speed, Murphy should be able to cover a lot of ground. As he is only a sophomore, there is not much to judge. That said, Murphy will have to adjust to the SEC’s star wideouts, as names such as Jerry Jeudy of Alabama and Bryan Edwards of South Carolina come to mind.
In addition, Murphy had the perfect mentors in Abram and McLaurin. And if that was not enough, Landrews should show him the way. Expect Murphy to jump out of the gate.
Smitherman, another senior, emerged onto the scene this past season with 23 total tackles, an interception, four passes defensed, and a forced fumble. While he is capable of filling the stat line, Smitherman should hold his own at corner. Furthermore, he is not afraid of the moment and can keep up with any receiver down the sideline.
Having said that, tackling in the open field was a monumental issue for the Bulldogs last season. If Smitherman can do so, he can become an elite talent on the defensive side of the ball. Expect a monster year numbers wise for Smitherman.
A proven lockdown corner who can take over a game at any moment, Dantzler will enter the 2019 season 68 total tackles, three interceptions, and 15 passes defensed in his first two years with Mississippi State. As these numbers are sure to increase, the most notable of the categories mentioned above will be interceptions, as Dantzler is a freak athlete and ballhawk.
While Dantzler will take his chances, he is a student of the game. Tall and lanky, Dantzler is a prototypical corner who can also fly. Though the jury is still out on his total game as a starter, Dantzler will have the ultimate opportunity to elevate himself into superstar status this coming year.
Overall, this is an intriguing group with bright upside. They should be fun to watch, but will have their work cut out for them. Big things to come.