- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Benardrick McKinney’s two scholarship offers outside of Mississippi State were from junior colleges. Preston Smith received a little more attention during his high school days, but not much from anyone in the Southeastern Conference.

A lot has changed in four years.

The two defensive players worked out in front of dozens of NFL scouts and coaches at Mississippi State’s pro day on Wednesday. The Bulldogs haven’t had a first-round pick in the draft since Fletcher Cox in 2012, but both have at least an outside shot at ending that mini-drought.

Smith said an underdog mentality can work in preparation for the NFL draft just like it did when trying to become a college star.

“We had a chip on our shoulders when we were coming in as freshman and talked about not being highly-recruited by teams,” Smith said during Mississippi State’s campus pro day on Wednesday. “Mississippi State gave us a chance. We had to show them they took a good (chance) on us and we made the best of it. We want to show that stars don’t define players.”

McKinney and Smith were part of the defensive nucleus for a Mississippi State team that won 10 games last fall and had a five-week stretch as the No. 1 team in the nation.

McKinney measured at 6-foot-4 and 247 pounds and went through position drills on Wednesday, though he did not participate in the 40-yard dash or bench press. He ran a 4.66 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in February, which was decent for his position, but his 16 repetitions on the bench press were low for a linebacker.

If McKinney is underestimated because of a few measurables, well, he’s used to it. He was barely noticed during his high school days in Tunica, Mississippi, before becoming Mississippi State’s first All-American linebacker since 1999. He made 244 tackles over 39 career games.

“I think I’m a football player,” McKinney said. “You’ve got to do those (workouts) to stay healthy and stay on top of your game, but I’m a better football player than a track star.”

The 6-foot-4, 273-pound Smith also did just position drills on Wednesday. He ran a 4.74 at last month’s combine and finished with 22 repetitions on the bench press.

Unlike McKinney, who was a starter throughout his college career, Smith was a part-time player until he was a junior. Then this fall as a senior, his production exploded with 48 tackles, including 15 for a loss, nine sacks and two interceptions.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said he takes pride in taking little-known prospects and then four years later watching them graduate to the NFL.

“One of two things - either we develop them really good or all the recruiting rankings are way off,” Mullen said with a grin. “I don’t know. There’s probably a little bit of both in there.”

Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson also had an encouraging day. The 5-foot-8, 215-pounder ran a disappointing 4.70 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but improved to a 4.61 on Wednesday.

Robinson rushed for 1,203 yards and 11 touchdowns in the fall.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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