Dan Mullen's Mississippi State Bulldogs will showcase several players with NFL potential in the 2013-14 season.
Over the past few years Mississippi State has produced a surprising amount of NFL talent, including first-rounders in the 2011 and 2012 drafts. In the upcoming 2013 NFL draft, Johnthan Banks is looking to extend that streak.
Because Mississippi State does not consistently sign high-profile recruits, many of the Bulldogs' NFL prospects are developed through hard work, good coaching, and playing some of the top competition in the country.
So while there are typically never any guaranteed first-rounders on Mississippi State's roster, there are always several players with the potential to surface as coveted NFL prospects. The upcoming college football season will afford these players the opportunity to showcase their abilities to NFL scouts.
Here are the Bulldogs' five best prospects for the 2014 NFL draft.
Charles Siddoway, OT
In his first year at Mississippi State, Siddoway started at right tackle for the Bulldogs. At 6'7", 300 pounds, Siddoway is a massive athlete on the offensive line. If Siddoway can consistently hold his own against SEC talent next year, he could become a viable option for NFL teams when the 2014 draft rolls around.
Deontae Skinner, OLB
Skinner amassed 62 tackles last year, including five tackles for loss. With the departure of Cameron Lawrence, Skinner could have a more prominent roll in the Bulldog defense. If Skinner can show he has the ability to get pressure on the quarterback as well as be reliable in coverage, his draft stock could rise.
Baker Swedenburg, P
This season will mark Baker Swedenburg's third year to start for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Swedenburg has showcased a strong leg with good accuracy over the past two seasons. He punted 57 times last year with 18 punts inside the 20 and only three touchbacks. Only three punters have been taken in the last two NFL drafts, which is not promising for Swedenburg. But if he can establish himself as one of the most consistent punters in the country this year, a team may address a need and select him in the 2014 NFL draft.
Next season Nickoe Whitley has to show NFL scouts that he can step up and be reliable in coverage, despite the departures of Corey Broomfield, Darius Slay, and Johnthan Banks.
Whitley had a productive junior season with 88 tackles and three interceptions.
At 6'1" and 205 pounds, Whitley is a solid defensive back with the ability to come up and stop the run. Additionally, he can make tackles in the open field, which is a highly desirable trait in a team's safety—the last line of defense. Yet Whitley's cover skills are still in question.
In order to solidify himself as one of the top safety prospects in the 2014 NFL draft, Whitley needs to demonstrate greater coverage awareness. He was sporadic last year in coverage—often allowing receivers to slip behind him.
Combine that with the fact that Whitley will not have the luxury of three NFL-caliber defensive backs in the secondary with him this season, and his path to the NFL draft seems an even more daunting task.
Yet it could be argued that Whitley was overly aggressive in defending the run last season because he had confidence in the Bulldogs' star-studded secondary, and without Broomfield, Slay, and Banks, he will tend to be less aggressive and more committed to staying in coverage.
Thankfully, Whitley's obstacle is not a physical barrier. With the correct preparation for this upcoming season, he may prove to be the talented safety many NFL teams will be looking to draft in 2014.
Mississippi State defensive end Denico Autry has the potential to drastically rise up draft boards this fall.
The junior college transfer accounted for 42 tackles last year, including 9.5 tackles for a loss and 4.0 sacks.
At 6'5" and 255 pounds, Autry is an athletic pass rusher. He improved with each game last year, and as the schedule increased in difficulty, Autry seemed to raise his level of play.
Denico is poised for a strong year wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks.
If Autry can carry over his momentum from last season and continue improving, watch for his stock to rise among NFL prospects.
Tyler Russell's draft stock is highly dependent on his performance in the upcoming season.
Russell is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in Mississippi State history. Last season Tyler broke the school records for most pass attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns. And over the course of his career, he has thrown for 4,566 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Solely based on his 6'4" frame and strong arm, Russell will draw attention from NFL scouts. The key for him to maintain that attention is to perform at a high level in big games this year. Russell showed flashes of brilliance last season with bullets over the middle and perfect touch passes to the corner of the end zone.
Yet he has the tendency to get rattled under pressure and force throws. Consequently, Tyler threw a combined five touchdowns and nine interceptions in Mississippi State's five losses last season. But with another year under his belt, Russell is poised to come into the 2013-14 season with more confidence.
Tyler Russell is not a guaranteed first-rounder, but due to his height, arm strength, and impressive resume, he will likely be taken in the 2014 NFL draft, and his performance this season will determine how high he will go.
LaDarius Perkins has the potential to be one of the top running back prospects in the 2014 NFL draft.
Perkins has amassed 2,478 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns over the course of his college career—including 1,184 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns in 2012.
He has proven to be a strong runner with serviceable hands during his time at Mississippi State. Impressively, he has maintained an average of 5.1 yards a carry over the course of his college career.
But last season against Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, Perkins averaged a mere 2.8 yards a carry. Consequently, in this upcoming season, Perkins needs to show NFL teams he can perform at a high-level in big games against some of the best defenses in the nation.
Furthermore, in addition to evaluating his running ability, NFL scouts will be watching to see if Perkins can consistently read and pick up the rush when he is asked to pass block. With the NFL's transition to a passing league, teams are becoming more concerned with a running back's ability to block. Additionally, it allows teams to mask their play call if they do not have to change running backs depending on whether they are passing or running.
In this upcoming season, if LaDarius Perkins performs at a high-level in big games and demonstrates his ability to pick up the pass rush, he has a legitimate shot at being one of the top running backs selected in the 2014 NFL draft.
At 6'4", 320 pounds, Gabe Jackson is a force to be reckoned with on Mississippi State's offensive line.
Jackson has 39 career starts and is a two-time All-SEC selection.
It is likely that he would have been selected in April's upcoming draft had he opted to forgo his senior season at Mississippi State. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Jackson stayed put in an effort to help his draft stock.
After the upcoming season, it is very possible that Gabe Jackson will be considered the best offensive guard entering the 2014 NFL draft.
Thus, Jackson is the Bulldogs' surest bet to play on Sundays.