The Mississippi State Bulldogs have quietly been a pipeline of NFL talent in recent years, but what do they have to offer in the 2018 draft?
When talking about the colleges (farm systems) that produce quality NFL talent, Mississippi State often curiously gets left out of the conversation. The 2017 season in particular saw two Bulldogs playing at an elite, All-Pro level – Fletcher Cox was arguably the best defensive tackle in the league, and Darius Slay led all cornerbacks in nearly every meaningful stat. To a lesser degree, quarterback Dak Prescott and linebacker Preston Smith continued to show that they have star potential, if not now then in the near future.
The Buccaneers unfortunately have not been able to squeeze much juice from Mississippi State players recently. Johnthan Banks was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft, but was never able to live up to expectations and eventually found himself traded to the Detroit Lions. In 2001 the Bucs drafted defensive tackle Elis Wyms from Mississippi State who went on to make contributions on the team’s Super Bowl run, including 5.5 sacks, and a sack on Raider quarterback Rich Gannon.
After losing head coach Dan Mullen to the Florida Gators, one might think that there would be an outpouring of underclassmen leaving Mississippi State early to avoid the growing pains of a new coaching regime. That however is not the case, as the Bulldogs have precisely zero underclassmen that declared for the upcoming NFL draft. We’ll exclusively be looking at the seniors today, and hopefully finding some that fit the Buccaneer’s needs.
Linebacker – Traver Young
Wide receiver – Gabe Miles
Wide receiver – Donald Gray
Cornerback – Tolando Cleveland
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Linebacker – Dezmond Harris
Cornerback – J.T. Gray
Wide receiver – Kareem Vance Jr.
Cornerback – Lashard Durr
Running back – Trey Braswell
Punter – Logan Cooke
Longsnapper – Hunter Bradley
Offensive line – Martinas Rankin
Tight end – Jordan Thomas
Senior to watch: Cornerback – Tolando Cleveland
The Buccaneers are walking on dangerously thin ice with their cornerbacks, and are somewhat at the mercy of Brent Grimes. If the veteran free agent decides to pursue a team closer to winning a Super Bowl it would leave the Bucs with Vernon Hargreaves as their only semi-decent corner (and that’s being generous). We can expect the Bucs to turnover every rock at the cornerback position in this year’s draft, and Tolando Cleveland could be one such rock.
Cleveland had a longer college career than the average prospect thanks to knee injury that he suffered in the training camp before his senior season in 2016. He was granted an injury red-shirt, which allowed him to play an extra year in 2017. Cleveland went on to start in twelve of thirteen games in his comeback season and was elected team captain as well.
In four total seasons played Cleveland racked up two interceptions, three forced fumbles, fourteen pass breakups, and 91 tackles. According to Miss. State’s website, Cleveland was especially on his game as a senior and was rarely targeted. Thanks to Cleveland’s experience and respected locker room leadership we could see him go somewhere between rounds four and seven, but it’s too early to tell for certain.
Bonus Senior to watch: Offensive tackle – Martinas Rankin
Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson are safely locked in as next year’s starters at offensive tackle, but could definitely use a young tackle to groom for the future. Dotson is aging and coming off a serious knee injury while Donovan Smith is far from a proven commodity, so while it’s not an urgent need, they certainly need to think about drafting one this spring. Enter Martinas Rankin.
A transfer from junior college, Rankin started and impressed for two seasons with the Bulldogs and is generally considered a top ten offensive tackle in this year’s draft. On Daniel Jeremiah‘s initial top 50 big board, Rankin was 48th and praised for his upper body strength. Rankin was invited to the Senior Bowl but couldn’t participate because of an ankle injury suffered in the Bulldog’s bowl game. Rankin was told before his senior season that he could be drafted as high a the second round, so there’s no reason to believe that a year later he won’t find himself in a similar range.
That’s it for our look at Mississippi State prospects. Which players from the Bulldogs are you keying in on in this year’s draft, Buccaneer fans? Sound off in the comments and check back tomorrow for a look at what USC has to offer in the upcoming draft.
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