Chris White may be the hardest Mississippi State player to project, as he is likely a fifth to seventh round draftee this weekend.
Honestly, I'm not sure why he is not though of more highly. NFL linebacker Channing Crowder expressed his dismay that a white quarterback could chase down a Florida player, but I think that's a small sample size.
He did not have blazing speed at the combine or pro day, but his tape shows his motor to be plenty fast when it matters, and you can only argue against production for so long. The 6'3", 240 pound linebacker racked up 105 tackles in 2010, including 15.5 tackles for loss (fourth in the SEC) and six sacks. He's played both outside and inside linebacker and was named the Conerly Trophy award winner. Yet, he's the 10th ranked inside linebacker (by one site's account) heading into the NFL Draft.
White said that is nothing new, as he was not recruited very highly in high school.
As for his position, he said NFL teams ask the same question.
"Teams ask me about my position, and I tell them I can play all three linebacker spots," White said. "But I will probably be picked as a mike or will linebacker. To tell you the truth, I feel comfortable at both of those spots. It is all about making plays wherever you are on the defensive side of the ball."
I asked him what teams he has heard from, but, as his agent Bus Cook advised him, he did not go into detail on specific teams.
Even if he did, he said it is still hard to tell who really likes him.
"I've been taking a lot of calls from a bunch of NFL teams, but it is hard to get a feel for who is the most interested," White said. 'I've been hearing I could go anywhere from the third to the fifth round so I hope that is right."
Most profiles and projections list White no higher than a fifth round prospect, with the occasional fourth-round listing, and some as low as a seventh rounder. With that bit of uncertainty, White has been doing all he can to prepare himself for when the day comes.
He said he has been working out with his other NFL-ready teammates with MSU strength coach Matt Balis, but in recent weeks he has been mostly working out privately.
"After the combine we had our pro day," White said. "During that time, Coach Balis was working me and K.J. [Wright] out, but after pro day we had to work out on our own and do the running on our own to stay in shape. It is a big luxury to have Coach Balis working us out, and I owe him a big thanks for what he did. He didn't have to train us, and he put in a lot of time with us and kept us from having to pay someone to do that for us."
White said Balis is not the only who has helped him prepare for the NFL. He said Dan Mullen and the rest of the program gave him everything he needs to succeed at the next level.
"Mississippi State prepared me for this like no other," White said. "Coach Mullen is all about hard work, and I don't see another coach in the country that works as hard as he does or makes his players work that hard. My two defensive coordinators [ Carl Torbush and Manny Diaz ] also prepared me for this week, and I owe a lot to those guys, too."
One issue White will have that very few people can help him prepare for is the NFL lockout. It's a bit confusing right now, but it may not end any time soon, or at least things may not be normal for some time, which could put White at a significant disadvantage. If he's drafted in the fourth or fifth round, he's probably OK. But if he slips to the sixth or seventh, things get hairy. Players drafted by a team are by no means guaranteed a spot on the roster. The top picks will always make it because of the perceived investment in drafting a player in the first five rounds or so. For example, Jamarcus Russell remaining a Raider as long as he did. But when NFL teams have to cut their roster from 105 down to 53 over the course of a few weeks, there are casualties. Typically, draft picks make the cut the first time, but in the wrong situation White may never get to prove himself.
If the lockout continues, there will be no minicamps. There will be no rookie camps. There will be no two-a-days. Nothing. So when is a rookie supposed to learn the playbook? How is he supposed to get to know his coaches, and more importantly, how is he supposed to impress them?
White is a smart and talented player, so he should be fine, but it's a terrible time to be entering the NFL, particularly if it's as a late-round pick. White knows it, too.
"It's kinda crazy how it's happening," White said. "And since it's now, I got unlucky, but basically, it's all about money in the NFL right now. It's just my luck all this happens the year I'm coming out."
Now, projecting which team is likely to draft White is a bit more difficult than projecting which round he will be drafted in. After all, there are only seven rounds, but there are 32 teams.
If White is drafted in the fourth or fifth round, it's a little easier to project, but if he falls to the sixth or seventh it's a really a crapshoot. Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles weren't necessarily looking for linebackers, but they took a flier on Jamar Chaney because, hey, it was the seventh round.
But, for the sake of discussion, let's say White is drafted in the fifth round by a team looking for a linebacker. There are two types of teams to look for.
1) A team with a glaring need at either inside or outside linebacker who is likely to draft multiple linebackers,
2) Or a team with a medium need at linebacker who will spend their higher picks on the positions they deem more important.
The thing working in White's favor, much like his teammate Wright, is his proven ability to rush the passer and get in the backfield. The NFL has become a quarterback driven league, so the natural thing for GM's and coaches is to try and find a way to disrupt opposing quarterbacks. White has proven he can do that.
My number one example of a team that fits the first scenario is the Detroit Lions. They are looking for multiple starting linebackers in this draft, and they are not likely to draft a linebacker in the first round because there likely won't be one available worth that high of a pick when they go on the clock. The Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots are two other teams who could be looking for multiple linebackers. The Cowboys, in particular, are looking for a pass-rushing inside linebacker, and White would be a good fit as they address more pressing needs like offensive line or cornerback, maybe even defensive end, earlier in the draft.
Scenario two involves many more teams. A few teams regionally could be looking for mid-to-late round linebackers, such as the New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Getting less local, the San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears all appear to be in the market for a linebacker or two at some point in the draft.
As White gets ready for the draft, he said his weekend will be just like his high school recruitment - low key.
"I will probably go to my grandma's house in Louisiana to watch the draft," White said. "It will probably just be me and my family watching the draft."