|Spruce Derden/USA Today Sports|
|Benardrick McKinney is the leader of Mississippi State's defense, but might not fill that role much longer.|
HOOVER, Ala. -- Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney has two more seasons of college eligibility, but if the fourth-year junior's comments Tuesday at SEC Media Days are any indication, he won't be around for the second one.
Arguably the most talented linebacker in the SEC, McKinney set the stage for an early exit to the NFL after this season by suggesting he will need only one more year in the college ranks to be ready for the NFL.
"I thought about (coming out early last year), but after talking to my coach and my family, I felt it was best for me to stay another year," McKinney said.
It's actually not the first time that McKinney has suggested his junior year at Mississippi State will be his last. He said the same in announcing he would return to MSU after last season. When asked what he needs to do this season to feel ready to make the NFL jump, McKinney said he simply wants to do more to bring fans to their feet.
"Coaches put me in a great position to make plays, but (I need) to make bigger plays," he said. "To make unbelievable plays that make people say 'Oh, wow.' Plays like that."
As for his college education, McKinney said he is on track to earn his college diploma in December, which would allow him to turn pro early with a degree in hand. It would also make him eligible for the Senior Bowl, which has begun extending invitations to underclassmen who have earned degrees.
As a third-year sophomore last season, McKinney led the Bulldogs in four defensive categories: tackles (71), tackles for loss (seven), sacks (3.5) and fumble recoveries (two). He had veteran Deontae Skinner beside him as the team's emotional leader on defense, but with Skinner now trying to catch on with the New England Patriots after going undrafted, the leadership role on defense will fall to McKinney this season.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen believes he's ready to handle the role.
"You look at Benardrick McKinney, watch him on the field, watch his leadership, how he steps up and makes plays when plays need to be made. Watch his vocal leadership when he talks. Young guys are being taught to do that, but they also get to watch how it's done," Mullen said.
More than likely, they'll only get to watch McKinney for one more season.
Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.