New Orleans Saints draft targets: Linebackers _lowres

Associated Press file photo by David J. Phillip -- Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State linebacker

Benardrick McKinney

Position: Linebacker

School: Mississippi St.

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 246 pounds

McKinney is a big dude. It doesn’t take long to locate him on the field. He’s the one casting shadows on everyone around him.

Watching him move, it’s easy to see why people are excited about him. He’s quick for his size and knows how to get around the field. It’s not uncommon to see him drop back in coverage and then close in on screen pass to a running back underneath. And he can hit in open space.

But watching McKinney, I found myself confused. There were moments where I was completely smitten by him, stretches where I was turned off, and other moments when I almost forgot I was watching him because he disappeared for stretches.

You can see where he could become a complete force for a defense. He has the potential to be the kind of linebacker who could transform a defense by simply being all over the field. He has the sideline-to-sideline ability the Saints lack. You can imagine him being coached up to be better in coverage and developing better recognition skills. Coming from New England before I arrived here, there were moments when I pictured Jamie Collins. Every defense needs that kind of player.

But the other side of that is maybe he doesn’t get better. Maybe all the false steps he takes and moments when you question his instincts are part of his DNA. For his size, you’d also like to see him be more aggressive and violent in traffic. There were many moments where he almost took a finesse approach.

If the team that drafts McKinney can’t coach these things away, he will still be a good player, but he might not develop into a star.

Where would he fit in New Orleans?

Anywhere, really. McKinney appears to have the ability to play any linebacker spot. Assuming he develops, he could be a three-down player at either inside or outside linebacker. It’s difficult to put him into a specific role since the rumor mill is reaching out and touching so many players at this position, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan could plug him in anywhere.

Where could the Saints draft him?

The first round seems too high. If the Saints want him, they’ll have to hope he slides into the second round. At that point, the value would make sense.