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2014 MSU Football Preview: Benardrick McKinney

Today we start our individual player previews for the 2014 season, and we kick it off with the lynchpin of the MSU defense.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Benardrick McKinney

Hometown: Tunica, MS

Class: Junior

Position: LB

Height: 6'5"

Weight: 245

Achievements: Racked up 173 tackles the past 2 seasons including 11.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks. Freshman All American in 2012. Voted as the 11th freakiest athlete in college football for the upcoming season by FOX Sports. Rated as the #1 linebacker in the SEC by Voted preseason All-SEC by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele. Named to Bednarik Award watch list which goes annually to the top defensive player in college football. Expect him to be named to several more watch lists as they come out.

2014 preview: McKinney returns for the third straight season as the starting middle linebacker and unquestioned leader of the defense for the Bulldogs. After leading the team in both tackles and sacks a year ago, expectations are at an all-time high.

McKinney, who was actually a quarterback in high school, has unbelievable athleticism. How many middle linebackers have you seen chase down Johnny Manziel for 2 sacks? Not very many. He has the size of a middle linebacker but the quickness of an outside linebacker. McKinney's size combined with his closing speed and tackling ability make him one of the most elite linebackers in the country.

It also doesn't hurt that this will be his second season in the scheme of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. With more familiarity of the playbook, his production should only go up this season. Collins' style, which involves multiple blitzing schemes and getting his linebackers involved, fits McKinney to a tee. I expect them to be even more aggressive this year, and don't be surprised to see McKinney and the rest of the linebacking corps rack up several sacks.

One of the most important but least talked about things is his ability to stay healthy. He was able to play in all 26 games the past 2 seasons including starts in 23 of those. If he can continue that run of good fortune this season and stay on the field, he could easily be a finalist for the Bednarik Award.

Another thing that makes Mckinney great is the type of person he is. There haven't been any off the field issues, and you always hear nothing but great things about his character. He plays the game with as much passion as anyone, and that is easily noticeable when he's on the field.

The Bulldogs are going to need his leadership this season if they want to take that next step. McKinney solidifies what is already a good defense around him. With his presence, this unit has a chance to be one of the best in the SEC.

All signs point to a monster season for McKinney, and that would likely mean this is his last year to wear the maroon and white. Can you really blame the guy?  It will be mighty hard to turn down a multi-million dollar contract. One NFL team is going to be very happy to get this guy.

Before it's all said and done, he could go down as one of the best linebackers in MSU history. That's very good company when you look at guys like D.D. Lewis, Paul Lacoste, Johnie Cooks, Mario Haggan, KJ Wright, and Cam Lawrence among others.