SDS talent evaluators Jon Cooper and Brad Crawford spent several months breaking down last year’s highlights, incoming talent and projected 2014 impact following spring practice to compile a list of the SEC’s Top 100 players heading into fall. Athletes were selected by position then ranked overall counting down to No. 1.

Stick with SDS throughout summer and get in on the action using the hashtag #SDSTop100 as we unveil a new player daily leading up to opening night on Aug. 28.

29. Benardrick McKinney, Jr., LB, Mississippi St.

Long, lean and mean.

That’s elementary way we would describe McKinney, one of the SEC West’s top defenders and one of eight returning starters at coordinator Geoff Collins disposal on the Mississippi St. defense. McKinney’s a fourth-year veteran after redshirting in 2011 and has compiled a team-leading 173 total tackles and 11.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage over his last two seasons.

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A godsend for Collins against mobile quarterbacks, McKinney showcased his speed and athleticism on the outside against two of the SEC’s best passers last fall, pulling down Connor Shaw for a 13-yard loss at South Carolina and then following that up with two sacks against Johnny Manziel.

NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper considers the 2014 All-America candidate as the top underclassmen prospect at his position, a projected first-round pick in 2015. An explosive linebacker with tremendous size at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, McKinney has started 23 consecutive games in the middle of the Bulldogs’ defense dating back to 2012.

2013 statistics: 71 tackles, 7 TFL, 3.5 sacks
2014 projection: 79 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks