The Great Mississippi Debate is a series of player comparisons between Ole Miss and Mississippi State aimed to determine which program from the Magnolia state is best entering the 2014 season.

Read previous installments in the series here:

This fourth installment features a comparison of veteran middle linebackers: Deterrian Shackelford (Ole Miss) and Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi State).


Deterrian “DT” Shackelford and Benardrick McKinney are more than just a couple of guys with awesome names.

They’re the starting middle linebackers at Ole Miss and Mississippi State, respectively, and they’re both poised to have huge seasons in 2014.

Shackelford is a sixth-year senior who was granted a medical hardship waiver by the NCAA after missing the 2011 and 2012 seasons with injuries. The former SEC All-Freshman honoree was redshirted following a knee injury in 2011, then returned the following spring only to tear his ACL and miss a second consecutive season in 2012.

Shackelford didn’t let his injury troubles derail his career, and he returned to the field in 2013, finishing the year with 44 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

RELATED: Projecting SEC stat leaders: Linebackers

McKinney’s path to the SEC was much more traditional.

The Bulldogs’ junior linebacker redshirted as a freshman in 2011 and debuted in 2012 with 102 tackles, the most among SEC freshmen that season. After earning Freshman All-America honors from the likes of Phil Steele and CBS Sports, Benardrick returned in 2013 to record a team-high 71 tackles, 7 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks as the starting middle linebacker in all 13 games.

Which player shows more promise heading into 2014? Let’s break it down:


Strengths: Toughness, football IQ, versatility

Weaknesses: Durability

Shackelford’s career at Ole Miss is the embodiment of toughness and resiliency – overcoming multiple knee injuries and two years away from the field to return as a productive player in the nation’s top conference. And while Shackelford may not have the physical capabilities of some of the SECs elite middle linebackers or defensive ends, he makes up for it with his toughness and versatility.

Few players can handle playing two different positions at the college level, but that’s exactly what Shackelford has done time and time again throughout his career. That versatility allowed co-defensive coordinators Jason Jones and Dave Wommack the opportunity to shuffle the Rebels’ lineup to match up with different personnel groupings by opposing offenses.

Even more valuable than Shackelford’s toughness and versatility, however, is his football IQ. As the middle linebacker Shackelford is tasked with quarterbacking the defense. That means calling plays, ensuring his teammates are lined up correctly, analyzing how the offense is lined up and what it might run, etc.

Few players in the SEC are as smart as Shackelford is. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Ole Miss in just three years and last year completed a master’s degree in education as well. For those keeping score at home, the dude has two college degrees in the span of one college football career, which is pretty damn impressive considering how time-consuming playing football and/or rehabbing injuries can be.

Shackelford’s intelligence is perhaps his greatest asset as a middle linebacker, and is the reason he has been able to balance two positions so well throughout his career.

The one knock on Shackelford is his durability. No one would dare question his desire to play, but it’s whether his body will cooperate that has been an issue throughout his Ole Miss career.


Strengths: Athleticism, explosiveness

Weaknesses: Consistency

McKinney is projected as one of the top linebackers in the entire conference entering the coming season, and for good reason.

The redshirt junior has played in all 26 of MSU’s games over the last two years while starting in 23 of them. He was named to Phil Steele’s preseason All-SEC squad and earned his way onto the Bednarik, Nagurski, Butkus and Lombardi Award watch lists for the 2014 season.

RELATED: 2014 SEC Top-100 Countdown: No. 29 Benardrick McKinney, Miss. St.

His greatest strength is his freakish athleticism, which caught the eye of’s Mike Huguenin when he listed his 14 most freakish athletes in college football this summer. McKinney can play both inside and outside linebacker, and he has the physical capabilities to chase down quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel in the backfield when lined up as an outside pass rusher (McKinney sacked Manziel twice in MSU’s showdown with Texas A&M last year).

Mississippi State defensive coordinator loves to use McKinney in a number of ways thanks to his almost-surreal combination of size and speed.

The Bulldogs’ star linebacker is also as sure a tackler as there is in the SEC, making him a run-stopping force when lined up inside, which is his primary position. McKinney can cover ground sideline-to-sideline and when he lines up in the heart of the Bulldogs’ defense, it often means bad things for opposing offenses.

The one knock on McKinney to this point in his career is his consistency. His total tackles dropped by 31 from 2012 to 2013 despite increased playing time in ’13, and he recorded three-or-fewer tackles in five of MSU’s 13 games a season ago. McKinney might not make headlines after each game, but he does need to make an impact on each of the Bulldogs’ contests this year as they try and move up through the ranks of the SEC West.


McKinney is the obvious choice in this showdown, although Shackelford’s remarkable comeback to football might culminate with a strong super-super-senior season in 2014. The Ole Miss linebacker may be more fundamentally sound and football-savvy, but he is nowhere near the player McKinney has turned out to be. When this season comes to a close McKinney may begin preparing for the 2015 NFL Draft, where he could go as high as the first round. As for Shackelford? Come season’s end he’ll resume his path to becoming an education administrator.