2014 NFL Draft Bowl Preview: Liberty Bowl – Mississippi State vs. Rice

Ladarius PerkinsNot many people would’ve predicted Rice to win the Conference USA title, but their season opening battle versus SEC competitor Texas A&M was the first of many promising signs for the ever-improving football program. Facing off against the Owls, Mississippi State endured another up and down season that had more disappointing injuries than successes.

Nevertheless, Mississippi State closed the season on a high note with a victory over in-state rival Ole Miss and will look to avoid being upset by an underrated Rice football team. Here are some prospects you need to make sure you do follow during the game, including an interior line matchup that will be worth watching closely.

LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State, #27
Nicked up with an ankle injury for much of his senior season, Perkins’ draft stock took a dip this year with a decreased workload. Perkins sports a well-built frame and has impressive quicks, with the burst to explode through the first level of the defense and into the secondary. Although he flashes the ability to run through arm tackles and has enough speed to take advantage of creases in the defense, Perkins is a pick-and-slide, slashing runner that lacks any elite qualities. He’ll need a strong predraft season to climb back into the day two discussions, as he’s more of a day three prospect right now.

Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State, #61
As a big bodied, power-scheme guard, Gabe Jackson is everything you look for at the next level. Blocking with a wide base, bent knees and powerful, controlling hands, Jackson has shown the ability to execute a variety of NFL blocking schemes and with consistent success. Jackson tends to overreact laterally to speed rush moves by opponents, leaving him susceptible to well-timed counter moves; however, he still is a dominant force on the interior and a plug-and-play starter that could warrant a top 40 overall selection.

(RS SO) Bernardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State #50
Although he would likely garner a top 3-round selection from NFL teams, McKinney is best served returning to Mississippi State for at least one more season. He needs to continue to fill out his very long and athletic frame, and take cleaner angles to the ball carrier as a pursuit defender. McKinney takes very aggressive read steps and will thud up lead blockers in the hole; however, he’s not clean with his run fits right now and relies on athletic ability to correct errors in technique.

(RS SO) Christian Covington, DT, Rice, #56
An explosive defensive tackle that can get upfield and rush the passer, Christian Covington kick started the 2013 season with a very disruptive outing versus Texas A&M’s offensive line. Able to lock out and disengage with a counter move or win with quickness moves off the snap, Covington flashes the hand use and body control to compensate for his lack of plus length. Despite being draft eligible, look for Covington to return for his junior season as a player to watch for the 2015 NFL Draft. His matchup against Gabe Jackson will be where scouts ought to focus their attention.

Others to watch:
Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State, #17
(JR) Robert Johnson, WR, Mississippi State, #12
(JR) Jameon Lewis, WR, Mississippi State, #4
Charles Siddoway, OT, Mississippi State, #77
Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State, #90
(JR) Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State, #91
Deontae Skinner, OLB, Mississippi State, #11

Charles Ross, RB, Rice, #12
(JR) Jordan Taylor, WR, Rice, #15
Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice, #15