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April 27, 2011

The Draft: Pernell McPhee

Continuing our series looking at the draft prospects of Mississippi State's four players likely to be drafted, we hit Pernell McPhee today.

McPhee and K.J. Wright could be drafted near each other, but most projections have McPhee going before Wright.

He's rated just inside most draft analysts top 100 list of prospects, but his profile on NFLDraftScout.com, through USA Today, said McPhenom may be able to find his way inside into the second round, despite being projected as a third or fourth rounder.

"McPhee lacks the explosive first step to ever register double-digit sacks, but his size, strength and hustle make him one of the better all-around defensive linemen available," the report reads. "Position and scheme versatile, there are enough similarities between McPhee and Tyson Alualu, selected No. 10 overall by Jacksonville in the 2010 draft, that a selection in the top 50 is possible despite McPhee's lack of ideal production."

It's certainly a possibility for McPhee to go higher than expected, as nearly every team in the NFL is searching for defensive ends. Most mock drafts have as many as 13 defensive linemen going in the first round, so any team that drafts a different position could reach for a defensive end in the second round to make sure they get at least one good one.

The NFL Draft Scout report hit on an important factor in McPhee's draft prospects, noting his versatility in both scheme and position. At 6' 4", 285 pounds, McPhee is a run-stopping end who could transition to tackle if need be. He also fits in well with either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.

Former MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said last year that McPhee's versatility was invaluable.

"He's a powerful kid; strong, with good speed and quickness, but you know, he plays like a smaller guy with his quickness, but he has the size and the strength to overpower blockers, too," Diaz said. "You never want to get big and sacrifice the pass, because then they'll play action pass and you got no pass rush. That's why we're blessed to have him because he can really help us out with both. It's hard to win with guys that are only one or other. Whichever it is, sooner or later, they're gonna find you out."

McPhee is also listed by USA Today as a "Draft Gem," as writer Tom Pedulla notes his high upside. Pedulla points out that McPhee didn't start playing football until his senior year of high school. His biggest offers out of high school were Southern Miss and South Florida because he had only played one year, but, boy, what a year it was. McPhee was a starter at both offensive tackle and defensive end, racking up 35 tackles for loss, 19 sacks and 12 forced fumbles on the defensive side. He was also a two year starter for his high school basketball team.

The "Draft Gem" report quotes ESPN's Todd McShay as saying McPhee "is never going to be a great pass-rusher but when you look at his strength and his ability to take on blockers outside, he shows some upside. He loves the game. He's physical and aggressive with a real good motor."

Now the question is, who will draft McPhee? The more I research, the more I feel like McPhee goes in the third round and maybe even sneaks into the second, though it's really up to the teams.

However, if second or third round is right, we're most likely looking for a team who needs a defensive end and didn't draft one in the first round. Maybe that team had a greater need at different position, such as quarterback or offensive tackle, or maybe that team did not feel that the defensive end they wanted was on the board when their draft slot came.

A great number of mock drafts predict the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams will take a defensive end or a linebacker who could transition to defensive end. The Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are also frequently projected to take defensive tackles.

If all of that holds, those teams would be likely to look elsewhere, but it'd pretty shocking if none of those teams drafted a different position.

One team in particular, the Saints, has shown interest in McPhee, spending time with him at the Senior Bowl, when McPhee said they were trying to get to know his personality and character.

Also, the Buccaneers are almost sure to take a defensive end or pass-rushing linebacker in the first round, but their need on the edge is pretty severe. Last year, the Bucs needed extreme help at defensive tackle, and they used the third pick in both the first and second rounds on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. It's very plausible, and has been suggested by many, they could do the same again.

Now, a number of teams are not expected to go D-line in the first round. Any team taking an offensive lineman, quarterback, defensive back or receiver could conceivably be a landing spot for McPhee.

Defensive end is pretty far down the list of needs for the Panthers, Eagles and Giants, but nearly every other team has a medium to high need at the position, it just comes as a secondary need. The Lions, Redskins, Dolphins, Colts, Bears and Seahawks are all teams with a pronounced need for improved pass rushing, but are likely to look elsewhere in the first round.

Projecting exactly where McPhee lands is difficult with so many teams, as mentioned, in the market for a defensive end. It's an incredibly strong class of defensive ends, but McPhee will likely benefit from the even greater need for pass rushers.

Where he goes we don't know, but I'd be surprised if McPhee isn't the second Bulldog off the board behind Derek Sherrod.

Speaking of Sherrod, the likely first-rounder on Thursday night lined up against McPhee for two years, and Sherrod said McPhee is one of the toughest guys he faced, both at MSU and across the SEC.

"I go up against him every day, and he's the same every single day. That's just an intense physical competitor and he's one of our great leaders on the team and a driving force for us," Sherrod said when asked how McPhee compared to other SEC stars. "I think he's definitely on that level. He's very good with his fundamentals and technique. The sky's the limit for him."


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