Over the past several days ESPN.com has released its preseason top 10 position rankings for the SEC. Let's take a look at which Bulldogs landed on the list:
Benardrick Mckinney, Linebacker: ESPN lists Mckinney as the #1 linebacker in the league. I believe that starting since he was a freshman has helped Mckinney in so many ways. A middle linebacker has more responsibilities than his own; he is the leader of the entire defense. It is Mckinney's job to read the offense, make the correct audibles, and get everyone in position to make a play. He certainly did his job in 2013, leading the team in both tackles and sacks with 71 and 3.5, respectively. As a third year Sophomore, he was eligible for the draft but chose not to go that route. There were rumors that he gave it some thought, but I know this team and fanbase are very glad that he chose to come back to school. With all the great linebackers in this league every year, being ranked preseason #1 shows just how elite Mckinney really is. I expect he'll have a bigtime season and have a chance to get selected in the first 3 rounds of the draft.
Brandon Holloway, Kick Returner: Listed as the #10 returner in the league, this pick is based more on potential than anything. Holloway played sparingly in his first season but did have an impressive 95 yard kickoff return against Alcorn State that ended just shy of the goal line. Holloway is probably the fastest guy on the team and should see more action on kickoff returns this season. I wouldn't expect to see him line up much at punt returner. However, anything is a possibility especially if he doesn't see the field much on offense. I think Mullen has to find a way to get him involved whether its jet sweeps, snaps from the wildcat, or solely on special teams. Holloway has pure SEC speed and definite big play potential every time he touches the ball.
Chris Jones, Defensive Lineman: This 6-5, 300 pound monster makes the list as the #2 overall defensive lineman (one spot ahead of Robert Nkemdiche I might add). This comes as no surprise at all after the stellar freshman season Jones put together in 2013. He had 7 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and a whopping 10 Quarterback hurries. He drew enough attention from opposing offensive lineman that even when he wasn't making plays his teammates around him usually were. His presence was felt every snap that he was on the field. The highlight of the season came when CJ blew up an LSU offensive lineman and put him on his butt. I was at the game and believe me, it sure got the crowd fired up. It is hard to believe that he wasn't even a starter on his own team, and he is still ranked the second best defensive lineman in the SEC. If that doesn't show how deep the Bulldogs are on the D-line, I don't know what does.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback: Dak comes in at #2 on the list of QB's, one spot ahead of Bo Wallace. When was the last time State and Ole Miss had 2 of the 3 best Quarterback's in the league? Probably never. The door of opportunity opened for Dak last season when Tyler Russell went down with injury. A strong performance on the road at national runner-up Auburn grabbed everyone's attention. Prescott was granted the starting job and never looked back. He showed unbelievable heart in a tough 51-41 loss at Texas A&M just days after his mother's death. When Egg Bowl time came around, Prescott had been sitting out with an injury for almost three weeks. With a bowl opportunity on the line, he knew his team needed him. He gutted it out, coming in the game in the 4th Quarter and leading the Dogs to victory. Dak has a chance to put up bigtime numbers this season if everything falls into place. Is it fair to put Heisman expectations on him like most fans are doing? Probably not, but one thing is for sure: he has as much heart and determination as any player who has ever held that trophy.
Jameon Lewis, Wide Receiver: Jameon is ranked as the #4 wide receiver. I believe he has a chance to move up that list if he can build off the finish to last season. He is easily the biggest playmaker on the team so he will certainly have his opportunities. He will be targeted a lot in the passing game especially on third downs. The only thing that I could see possibly holding his production back is if some teams choose to double team him. Even then, he is good enough that he will still make his fair share of plays. Lewis really needs to match his production from last season if not even exceed it and become a 1,000 yard receiver. He is such a crucial part of State's passing game, and they could be in bit of trouble if he goes down with an injury. Tubby is the type of player that can take this team from good to great.
Jamerson Love, Cornerback: The Redshirt Senior is listed as the #7 cornerback. This is a bit of a surprise not because he isn't a solid player, but because he has always been underrated. He has sat behind guys like Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay, and Corey Broomfield his entire career. He finally got the opportunity to be a starter for an entire season in 2013, and he did nothing but produce. He had 10 pass breakups, the most of anyone on the team, and snagged three interceptions. Love is one of the faster players on the team and returns as the main leader of a very deep and experienced MSU secondary.
Justin Cox, Safety: They list Cox as the #10 safety and that comes as a major shock to me considering he has yet to play a down there. But this selection is definitely not far-fetched at all. Cox was a 4 star prospect coming out of EMCC last season and State fans had major expectations for him. He played mostly at cornerback last season and got off to a slow start. At times he looked like he didn't know what he was doing out there, but by the end of the season he really came into his own. He made an absolute spectacular interception on the sideline during the Egg Bowl. I believe that the coaches made the correct call returning him to his natural position at safety this spring. With Dee Arrington making the move from safety to linebacker and Jay Hughes returning from injury, Cox should see a lot of playing time.
Malcolm Johnson, Tight End: Johnson was voted #5 at the tight end position. He had a solid season last year coming up just shy of 400 yards. One concern is the injury bug which has bitten him more than once during his career. Another concern is can he develop some more chemistry with Dak Prescott. It seemed like Tyler Russell targeted Johnson a good bit more than Dak did, and he certainly had all of his best games when Russell was behind center. There are a couple of guys behind him on the depth chart that are considered better blockers. If State chooses to go with a two tight end set and run the football, Johnson may not be as involved as he would like. I think his best chance to make an impact is going to be in the red zone. That is where good receiving tight ends make their money. And besides, who could possibly forget his spectacular one handed catch in the back of the end zone against Tennessee two years ago?
Taveze Calhoun, Cornerback: Calhoun lands #2 amongst SEC corners. Talk about a guy who came out of nowhere. Nobody even knew if Calhoun would earn a starting spot last year. He was not recruited heavily out of high school but Dan Mullen saw something other schools did not. Mullen definitely got the last laugh on this one. Calhoun, a Redshirt Junior, recorded 3 interceptions on the season. He also tallied 45 tackles, including a personal best 11 in the Egg Bowl. I think Calhoun will only take another step forward and continue progressing. He now has a full season under his belt and is more comfortable in the system of cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend. I think this #2 ranking only verifies what we already know. Calhoun is a rising star, and every team in the league is starting to take notice. We should have listened to Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks 2 years ago when he voiced his opinion that Calhoun would be the next big-time corner to come out of Mississippi State.
The Big Picture
You could make an argument that this is the most talented team Dan Mullen has had to work with. Outside of the offensive line, I believe this team is better at every position than the 2010 team that finished 9-4.
With all of that being said, something just doesn't add up. It makes you wonder how Mississippi State can land nine players on this list, but yet not be ranked in any preseason poll. Are the Bulldogs being overlooked? Only time will tell.