The linebacker position continues to evolve in the NFL. Unfortunately, Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney doesn't fit the definition of a modern-day linebacker.
Today's linebackers are asked to drop into space far more often and work sideline to sideline.
Downhill thumpers aren't necessary to counteract an opponent's rushing attack when the goal is to find three-down linebackers—players who are stout enough to hold up against today's ground games yet athletic enough to stay on the field when offenses try to spread out the defense.
The Carolina Panthers' Luke Kuechly is the embodiment of a modern linebacker in today's pass-happy league.
When the former Boston College Eagles linebacker declared for the draft, the only knock on his game was an inability to take on blockers directly. He could be overwhelmed at the point of attack by much larger offensive linemen and physical fullbacks. None of that mattered once he was in the NFL. Kuechly went on to become the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year within his first two seasons.
McKinney resides on the opposite side of the spectrum from Kuechly.
The Mississippi State product is an imposing presence as middle linebacker. At 6'4" and 246 pounds, McKinney is at his best when working from tackle to tackle by consistently displaying proper run fits. He also presents enough length to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or stand-up defensive end on passing downs.
However, the Mississippi native didn't test as well at the combine as expected.
"Shows very good attention to assignment," NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote in McKinney's prospect profile.
The linebacker competed in six different drills and only finished as a top-five performer among his peers in the vertical jump. Otherwise, his overall workout was rather pedestrian.
Despite a somewhat disappointing effort, McKinney fell within the parameters of two successful NFL linebackers he's often compared to due to size similarities—the Houston Texans' Brian Cushing and Cleveland Browns' Karlos Dansby.
|Predraft workouts: McKinney vs. Dansby, Cushing|
|Player||40-yard dash||Bench||Vertical||Broad jump||3-cone||Short shuttle|
|Sources: NFL.com, NFLDraftScout.com|
All three are longer and rangier linebackers. They do excel in different areas—for example, Cushing is a very physical downhill run-stuffer, while Dansby excels in pass coverage—but it provides an indication of how McKinney's athleticism at his size can translate to the next level.
As such, McKinney decided to stand on his previous combine numbers and didn't try to improve upon them during Wednesday's Mississippi State pro day.
Once the linebacker participated in position-specific drills, he looked far more like Cushing than Dansby. McKinney didn't display the ability to sink his hips or play with any type of fluidity while dropping into space.
The Clarion-Ledger's Michael Bonner provided a glimpse of McKinney's performance:
Mississippi State's official Twitter feed added more video of the linebacker during bag drills:
In both instances, McKinney was far too high. His feet were too close together. And he did not display the lower-body flexibility to really turn and run, which is a necessity for NFL linebackers.
These are obviously major concerns for a 6'4" linebacker with natural leverage issues, and his problems don't end there.
Not only is McKinney likely to receive the label of being a two-down linebacker who doesn't hold much value against the pass; his overall instincts have been questioned as well.
"He jumped 40 inches and you see that in spurts on tape," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said during the combine, via Bonner. "But the more you watch, the more I got concerned. He couldn't find the football. He couldn't get off blocks. So to me, he's one of the tougher guys to figure out. I ended up dropping him down."
NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock agreed with his colleague: "I started out with a late one to a mid-two (grade). The more tape I watched, I kind of felt the same way. You were around the football a lot, but why didn't you make more plays?"
The All-American did lead the Bulldogs in tackles during the past two seasons, but his overall impact doesn't always show up when viewing Mississippi State games.
So, where does McKinney fit in at the NFL level?
The former high school quarterback could find a new home by converting from linebacker to defensive end.
McKinney provided an idea for scouts after completing a defensive line workout at his pro day, according to Tru Maroon Nation:
If the linebacker doesn't eventually convert to defensive line, McKinney can still be an inside linebacker in certain schemes, particularly within a 3-4 front, as The Football Educator's Jordan Plocher noted:
By "Belichick linebacker," Plocher is referring to the bigger and more physical players used at inside linebacker by those from the Bill Parcells coaching tree.
In recent years, the New England Patriots used Brandon Spikes as a two-down run defender. The organization also drafted linebacker Dont'a Hightower—who was 6'2" and 265 pounds at the combine and is now closer to 270 pounds—in the first round.
Certain teams such as the Patriots and Houston Texans, for example, still see value in a player with McKinney's skill set. Not every team does, though.
McKinney is essentially a prospect without a position. Some teams will view him as a legitimate linebacker option, while others might select him with the intention of converting him into a defensive lineman.
Whatever the case, McKinney didn't provide any answers during his recent workouts. He only created more questions about his game. Teams will have to decide exactly where the All-SEC performer fits into their plans if he does at all.
In a league where organizations are asking players to do more on the field, a player who displays very little versatility becomes devalued. McKinney's draft value will reflect his limited options.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.