NFL Draft Preview 2015: ILB Bernardrick McKinney
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This sixth week, the focus is on linebackers. Because many college defensive ends transition to linebacker in the NFL, we would like to clarify that all players being analyzed this week played linebacker in college. Our first prospect is ILB Bernardrick McKinney out of Mississippi State.
Playing both quarterback and linebacker in high school, McKinney was highly recruited coming out of high school before committing to Mississippi State. After redshirting, he recorded 102 total tackles his freshman year, being named to the Freshman All-SEC Team. In his sophomore and junior years, McKinney showed steady improvement, recording at least 70 tackles, 3 sacks, and 7 TFL in each season; in 2014, his performance earned him All-SEC and Second Team All-American honors.
McKinney is, no doubt, a physical presence. At 6'4" and 246 pounds, he has the stature to be a dominant tackling force, and is willing and able to deliver big hits. His biggest strength comes against the run, where he is able to make quick reads and meet runners in the open field. His size allows him to shed blocks, making him even more effective in pursuing the ball carrier. An attacking presence, he also displays explosiveness as a pass-rusher, and can shoot the gap to get to the quarterback.
Despite his talents as a tackler, McKinney lacks technique, causing him both trouble shedding athletic offensive lineman and making open-field tackles on shifty running backs. Despite his prowess delivering big hits, McKinney has trouble changing direction, and he can be beaten with a well-placed juke move. This also leads to troubles in coverage, where speedy wide receivers have been able to gain separation from him, leading to big plays over the middle.
McKinney's defects have been obvious throughout his college career, but his athleticism has been thought to make up for it, giving him a first round grade coming out of his senior season. However, a poor showing at the combine has led to questions as to whether his speed is sufficient at the pro level, and thus he's fallen on many draft boards. However, he is still one of the top prospects at inside linebacker, and will probably go earlier rather than later on draft day weekend.
Many teams in the league could use an inside linebacker, and given McKinney's fluctuating status on big boards, it's hard to predict where he'll land. However, the conventional pick has been the Green Bay Packers with the 30th overall pick, and given the team's need at the position, it makes a lot of sense. Other teams with need at inside linebacker include the New Orlean Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles, and given the recent retirement of Patrick Willis, the San Francisco 49ers; all of these teams make sense as landing spots for McKinney.