UNDATED (WLOX) - Benardrick McKinney arrived in Starkville as a two-star quarterback recruit from Rosa Fort High School in Tunica, Miss.
He's now leaving Mississippi State after his junior year as one of the best linebackers in program history. The first-team All-American has officially declared for the 2015 NFL Draft.
“I can't thank enough my coaches, teammates and the Bulldog fans for the memories we have created over the years," McKinney said in a press release. "It's been a privilege to be a part of one of the best teams in school history. Mississippi State has developed me into the player I am today, and I will always be part of the Bulldog family.”
The 6-foot-5, 249-pound inside linebacker led the Bulldogs in tackles for the past two seasons, helping Mississippi State to a 44-7 Liberty Bowl victory over Rice in 2013 and to an Orange Bowl appearance against Georgia Tech. He is ranked No. 1 among inside linebackers heading into this year's draft according to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.
If those projections are accurate, McKinney would become just the second linebacker in Mississippi State football history to be drafted in the second round or better. The only other time it happened was in 1982 when Johnie Cooks was selected second overall by the Baltimore Colts.
McKinney played 39 career games in Starkville, starting 36 of them. He finished with a team-high 71 tackles and eight tackles for loss in 2014. As a result, he was a semifinalist for three separate awards (Bednarik, Butkus and Lombardi).
Junior running back Josh Robinson also declared for the 2015 NFL Draft before his team's 49-34 loss to Georgia Tech on New Year's Eve. He's projected as a 5th- or 6th-round pick, which would be on the final day of the draft scheduled for April 30-May 2 in Chicago.