All week we’ll be examining how each team in the SEC performed on national signing day. Up next: Mississippi State.
Biggest need heading into signing day: There’s no sugar-coating it: Mississippi State’s offensive line was terrible last season. Their linemen couldn’t generate any semblance of a running game and they let Dak Prescott get sacked more than any quarterback in the conference. It’s really a wonder the Bulldogs won nine games. But that kind of success isn’t going to happen again next season without serious improvement in the trenches, especially considering the fact that there will be a new starter at quarterback. With left tackle Rufus Warren and left guard Justin Malone also gone, coach Dan Mullen and his staff were in need of some capable replacements.
How it was addressed: Maybe former No. 1 junior college offensive tackle Martinas Rankin will develop into the difference-maker everyone anticipated he’d become last season. Maybe a few other talented underclassmen already in the program will blossom as well. Because by the looks of the 2016 class, Mullen didn’t land any ready-made impact guys on the O-line. His highest-rated signee at the position was Stewart Reese, who didn’t appear in the ESPN 300. Other than Reese, Mississippi State signed three-star tackle Greg Eiland, who is a monster at 6-foot-7, and three-star guard Dareuan Parker, an in-state product from Southaven.
Position of strength: If there’s one thing Mississippi State has been built on, it’s the defensive line. Though they may not all develop into household names, Mullen and his staff seem to always find a few standouts at the position like Chris Jones and Ryan Brown. This year’s class promises more of the same, starting with four-star defensive end Jeffery Simmons, who surprised many by not signing with either supposed front-runner Alabama or Ole Miss. At 6-foot-4 and 262 pounds, he has the potential to be used as a third-down pass-rusher right away. What’s more, the third highest-rated signee State landed was defensive tackle Kobe Jones, a four-star product right in their backyard of Starkville.
Biggest remaining question mark: Whether the departure of former assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Hughes had a significant impact on this class is a matter of opinion. But now that he’s moved on to become the head coach at Jackson State, all eyes will be focused on how Mississippi State’s recruiting operation changes. After all, Hughes was the engine that made it go. After spending a lifetime coaching in the state, his relationships were as plentiful as they were important. Secondary coach Terrell Buckley is now the designated point man for recruiting, and he has a solid reputation. The addition of defensive coordinator and former USC recruiting coordinator Peter Sirmon could help fill the gaps as well.