Lists are always fun, right? Sure, so let’s do one.
A lot of MSU players have been added to preseason award watch lists – more than usual, it seems. In fact, a total of eight Bulldogs occupy 12 of these watch lists*, and it got me thinking: Who are the top five players on this year’s MSU squad?
It was a pretty tough list to compile, but after giving it much thought, I’ve come up with who I believe are the five best players on this team. I factored in pure talent, contributions thus far, accolades, all of that. I’m sure many of you will disagree with it, which is kind of the point of doing these lists, so please give me your top five players in the comments section below.
Let’s count ’em down.
5. TE Malcolm Johnson. The junior is one of the best athletes on the team and is a wide receiver at heart. He’s led the team in yards per catch each of the last two seasons (minimum 10 catches) and has a career average of 17.9 ypc. If Johnson stays healthy, he could have a big year. He’s also becoming more of an effective blocker.
4. DE Denico Autry. The senior has all the tools to be a top-shelf SEC defensive end. He’s 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, and has great quickness. It took him a while to find his way last year as a juco transfer, but he showed great promise toward season’s end. Autry could end up a star, but he still has to show he can do it consistently.
3. LB Benardrick McKinney. As a redshirt freshman, the middle linebacker was second on the team with 102 tackles, and he also had 4.5 tackles-for-loss and four pass breakups. The 6-5, 235-pounder can cover a lot of ground and play different roles, and the experience and knowledge he gained last year should help bring out even more of his abilities.
2. QB Tyler Russell. The fifth-year senior is on three of the watch lists, and for good reason. He set 11 school passing records last season, including completions (231), attempts (394), completion percentage (58.6), yards (2,897) and touchdowns (24). Russell makes this offense go, and if he can have better showings against highly ranked teams, he could reach elite status.
1. OG Gabe Jackson. Back for his senior year, Jackson anchors a strong interior part of the offensive line. He made first-team All-SEC last season (AP) and was named to the preseason All-SEC first team last week. Phil Steele lists Jackson as a second-team preseason All-American, and he’s on two watch lists (Outland, Lombardi).
*–Kudos to Kyle Niblett for compiling that watch list information.