STARKVILLE — Mississippi State hasn”t had a player selected in the NFL draft since 2007, but this year figures to be the end of that run.
Running back Anthony Dixon, who passed Jerious Norwood as the program”s leader in career rushing yards last season, and linebacker Jamar Chaney are projected to selected between the third and fourth rounds of the draft, which starts at 6 tonight with round 1.
In 2007, the Tennessee Titans selected defensive tackle Antonio Johnson in the fifth round. He was the only MSU player selected.
Norwood was a third-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2006 and, like Johnson, he was the only MSU player selected that season.
Two draft picks in four years signifies the lack of NFL-caliber talent MSU has fielded in that span, but Chaney and Dixon hope to start a pipeline from Starkville to the league.
The pair had All-SEC seasons in 2009 and have had stellar NFL combine and Senior Bowl performances after leading MSU to a 5-7 record against the toughest schedule in the nation.
Both players have experienced the ups and downs of a Liberty Bowl win and multiple losing seasons. They”ve seen All-SEC players Quinton Culberson, Willie Evans, and Derek Pegues go undrafted, so hearing their names called in the draft will be a blessing and a relief, Dixon said.
“I”m ready for it to be over because it is stressful,” Dixon said. “Right now, everybody likes you. Everybody says, ”You”re a good player, you”ve got good talent, and we think you”ll fit.” But nobody ever says, ”We”re going to take you here.””
Dixon, who set the school record for single-season rushing yards with 1,391 in ”09, interviewed in person with Tennessee, San Diego, and Detroit. He said San Diego has shown the most interest, though a first-round selection from the Chargers hasn”t been guaranteed.
“My gut feeling? I”m hoping San Diego,” he said. “The weather, the scenery, all that. They were definitely telling me how they need two backs and how they were thinking of taking one with their first pick. I think I”m a first-round pick, so I”m hoping I”m going right there.”
Dixon added NFL coaches have raved about his experience in the West Coast offense and in the spread, which they feel makes him a more versatile asset.
Chaney is looking to cash in on his best season as a college player. His combine numbers helped his draft stock. The Florida native ran a 4.54 40-yard dash and had a 39-inch vertical at the combine. Both numbers were tops for all linebackers.
Chaney beamed about how he planned to show the NFL he was the fastest linebacker available after working out with trainer Pete Bommarito in Miami, Fla.
He did just that, and his experience playing outside and inside at MSU gives teams more incentive to take him higher than his third- or fourth-round projection.
“I really wasn”t surprised with by my workouts because when I was training in Miami, I was running with the running backs and receivers,” Chaney said. “You can ask (MSU strength coach Matt) Balis about my speed. It”s something I”ve always had.
“The biggest thing has been the interviews, where they”ve mostly tried to see where your football knowledge is. Most of the teams that have talked to me run a 4-3, so they”re similar.”
The 4-3 defense teams that have flown Chaney out for interviews include Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Baltimore. New England, which runs a 3-4, also has shown interest.
“When you go to the Patriots, it”s different. You two gap on the run plays and it”s a lot of adjustments and a lot of different plays,” Chaney said. “Most teams are talking about the mike (middle) and the will (weakside) as far as where they want me to play, but I prefer the middle because that”s where I”ve played the last two seasons. I prefer that because you make all the calls.”
McCluster figures to lead Rebels
The University of Mississippi might not have a player sneak into tonight”s first round, but days 2 and 3 could see as many as five Rebels drafted.
Running back Dexter McCluster turned in a dominating season, finishing first in the Southeastern Conference in yards per carry (6.7) and totaling 1,488 all-purpose yards.
McCluster, rated the fifth best running back by NFL.com, is slated to go in the second or third round.
The knock on McCluster, as has been the case his whole life, is his height and weight. At 5-foot-9, 172 pounds, scouts are concerned his value doesn”t extend past being a return specialist or slot receiver.
NFL.com”s Pat Kirwan slates guard John Jerry, brother of former Rebel and current Atlanta Falcon Peria Jerry, to be a second-round pick.
Oft-injured defensive end Greg Hardy, who was sidelined for most of last season with a wrist injury, is the 10th-ranked defensive end on Kirwan”s board. He was once heralded as a first-round pick.
While Shay Hodge led the SEC in receptions and receiving yardage, he”s slated as a late-round pick.
Jevan Snead, who had an inconsistent season at quarterback in 2009, turned heads when he skipped his senior season and declared for the draft. Snead led the SEC with 17 interceptions and ended his season with a three-interception game against Mississippi State before being knocked out in a lackluster Cotton Bowl performance.
Still, Snead is slated for late-round selection as a developmental quarterback.
McClain could be taken in top 15
University of Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, the SEC”s Defensive Player of the Year, is rumored to be in the running for a top-15 pick by the Denver Broncos, who would pair the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder with D.J. Williams in their 3-4 scheme.
Alabama”s No. 1-ranked defense could produce as many as five picks in the first three to four rounds, with massive nose tackle Terrence Cody an outside shot to crack the first round.
Fifteen teams will run 3-4 defenses next year, which could drive up Cody”s value. Alabama runs a 3-4 defense.
Cornerback/returner Javier Arenas is slated to be a second- or third-round pick, while Kareem Jackson is the fourth-rated cornerback by Kirwan.
Kirwan believes monster tight end Colin Peek and guard Mike Johnson could be day 2 or day 3 picks.