Mississippi State didn’t make especially significant use of its first-year players -- save one high-profile signee who exploded onto the scene last fall -- but there are several Bulldogs who are poised to step into much larger roles this fall.
We focus on that group -- particularly the aforementioned high-profile signee, who seems to be on the verge of superstardom -- in today’s second-year star installment on Mississippi State.
Class recap: The Bulldogs have already experienced some attrition with the 2013 class, losing signees Ulric Jones and Donald Gray to junior college and ESPN 300 quarterback Cord Sandberg to professional baseball. They recently lost receiver Jeremey Chappelle – the No. 9 overall prospect on ESPN’s 2013 JUCO 50 – as well, as he decided to transfer elsewhere in search of more playing time. Nonetheless, several players from the class have already made a big impact, especially our pick for Mississippi State’s second-year star.
Second-year star: DL Chris Jones (6-foot-5, 300 pounds)
Recruiting stock: At the center of a heating recruiting battle, Jones became the highest-rated prospect in the Bulldogs’ signing class when he opted to stick with State. The four-star prospect was ESPN’s No. 6 defensive end and No. 46 overall prospect in the 2013 class.
2013 in review: As is often the case with defensive linemen, Jones’ stat line from last season (32 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, three sacks) isn’t a clear indicator of his impact. Freshmen frequently don't make a case to be considered among the SEC’s top defensive linemen, but Jones was legitimately in that group last fall.
2014 potential: It’s up to Jones how good he will become. If he keeps developing his technique -- he frequently relied on freak athleticism instead of know-how last season -- he can become one of the nation’s top defensive linemen. He regularly made his presence felt in opponents' backfields last season. If he can start cashing that penetration into more sacks, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him earn some All-America attention this fall.
Also watch for: De’Runnya Wilson (26 catches, 351 yards, 3 TDs) made a splash as a freshman receiver and should contend for a starting spot in 2014. And Jammal Clayborn has an extremely good chance to jump into the starting lineup at offensive guard. Keep an eye, also, on Ashton Shumpert (46 carries, 190 yards, 3 TDs) at running back and Fred Ross (9 catches, 115 yards) at wideout. As long as Dak Prescott stays healthy, Damian Williams (23-of-47, 279 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 112 rushing yards) likely remains a backup quarterback. But he looked good in the Bulldogs’ spring game and could contend for a starting job in the future.