Benardrick McKinney is a force to be reckoned with in the run game, but less than ideal coverage skills question his status as an every down linebacker at the next level.
There wasn't much more that Benardrick McKinney needed to prove. After the leader of Mississippi State's acclaimed "psycho defense" was named as a First Team All-American, McKinney decided to forgo his senior season and pursue NFL aspirations. The Tunica, Mississippi native has a 6-4, 250-pound presence with a physical style of play to match. His exceptional athleticism allowed the former high school quarterback to account for 22 total touchdowns his senior year alone. Looking back, McKinney never saw himself in his current position growing up.
"To be honest, I didn't," said McKinney. "I had a dream when I was growing up that I wanted to be in the NFL but playing quarterback and barely playing linebacker, I didn't know I'd be standing right here at my position. In high school, my coach, he pushed me to a higher level. He told me he saw something in me that I could play at the next level. When I started getting looked at as a linebacker, I started playing and working more at the position. Then getting to college, we had unbelievable strength coaches that made me tough and developed me to be the size I am."
A primary reason for McKinney's decision to turn pro a year early is based off of the praise that surrounded him after a highly productive junior year. Throughout the pre-draft process, some flaws have come to the forefront of the McKinney's draft campaign. His strength came into question at the combine when he only accomplished 16 reps on the bench, the fewest of any linebacker. A middle linebacker in college, his coverage skills worried scouts so much that he even worked out as a defensive lineman at times during his pro day. Although McKinney knows he must work on his coverage skills, the 22-year old believes that he can become an impact NFL linebacker with the right coaching.
"I'm here to get better," said McKinney. "The league has great coaches to prepare me and develop me as a great linebacker. I feel that I can play any linebacker position on the field."
Many draft analysts share the same ideas regarding McKinney's pro potential. He's going to be great against the run, but there is fear that he could become one-dimensional. It's a matter of finding the right system that makes the most of McKinney's strengths. While he is confident in his versatility, McKinney has made it clear that he is most comfortable as an inside linebacker.
NFL media draft analyst Lance Zierlein believes that McKinney can become a very good pro:
"Productive, steady performer in the middle with above-average size and length for the position but below-average agility," Zierlein wrote. "McKinney plays within the scheme and finds himself near the play frequently. He plays with strength and has an ability to take on offensive linemen and get downhill to finish his tackles. McKinney looks like an above-average NFL inside linebacker who could become part of a really good defense. He lacks star-making talent, though."
Buffalo's current situation at linebacker may entice GM Doug Whaley to acquire more talent. Kiko Alonso was traded and Nigel Bradham is an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season. Keith Rivers was released and Brandon Spikes still remains a free agent.
Expect new defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman to use many 3-4 packages, requiring high usage of physical, run-stuffing middle linebackers. David Harris was a second round selection in 2007 who has had a very successful career as a New York Jet under Rex Ryan and Thurman. Harris, like McKinney, was known as a run-stopper with below average agility before he was drafted. At the NFL combine, McKinney and Harris ran nearly identical times in the 20-yd shuttle, the test used to measure change of direction ability and quickness.
Although David Harris was heavily rumored as a potential Bills signing, he wound up returning to the Jets on a three-year contract. If Ryan is looking to replace Harris' production, McKinney is a possible answer. McKinney is projected as a second round pick.