SEC: Jeremey Chappelle

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.

[+] EnlargeChris Jones
John Korduner/Icon SMIWith refined technique, Chris Jones is a star in the making in the SEC.
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.
Every year, players come and go in college football. With the turnover, teams can either grow or take steps back.

It's time to check out Mississippi State's strongest position and weakest position heading into the 2013 season:

Strongest position: Offensive line

The Bulldogs have the luxury of bringing back a very talented offensive line that is led by first-team All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson. Jackson could have tested the NFL waters after last season but decided to stay for his senior year. That's great news for the Bulldogs, who return three other starters. Both tackles -- Blaine Clausell and Charles Siddoway -- return, but they have to be better in pass protection. Quarterback Tyler Russell took far too many hits last year, and offensive line coach John Hevesy made it a point to make his line much tougher this spring. Expect to see the tackles play at a much higher level this fall. Dillon Day is also back at center, giving the Bulldogs four upperclassmen returning up front. Filling the right guard spot is the next step for Mississippi State; sophomore Justin Malone left the spring as the starter. The coaching staff has some pretty good depth to work with all along the line. Pass protection should get better and the Bulldogs should once again be fine running the ball with this line coming back.

Weakest position: Wide receiver

The Bulldogs are basically starting over at wide receiver, as four seniors, including three starters, are gone. Those seniors accounted for 148 receptions, 2,096 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. The Bulldogs' top three receivers from last year were all seniors, including Chad Bumphis, who caught a team-high 58 passes for 922 yards and 12 touchdowns. Replacing this group won't be easy, and there isn't a lot of experience there to help. Juniors Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis are the leading returning receivers -- having combined for 27 catches for 272 yards and two touchdowns, both by Johnson. The good news is that both had good springs, but they'll need help this fall. Sophomore Joe Morrow has all the potential to be a deep threat for Mississippi State, but he has to become more consistent on the field and in practice. He dealt with a bad knee last year, but will have much more responsibility this fall. Junior-college transfer Jeremey Chappelle enrolled this spring and has a chance to start. He could provide another deep threat for the Bulldogs, too. Getting junior Michael Carr back helps, too.
Mississippi State has announced its 2013 signing class.

The Bulldogs signed 20 players on Wednesday, including one ESPN 150 member in defensive end Chris Jones (Houston, Miss.). There had to be some stressful moments for Dan Mullen and his staff, after finding out that Jones visited rival Ole Miss twice over the weekend before signing day. But his decision to stay committed to the Bulldogs was huge for Mullen and Co.

Quarterback Cord Sandberg (Bradenton, Fla./Manatee), who is the nation's No. 9 dual-threat quarterback, and junior college wide receiver Jeremey Chappelle (Tyler Junior College) were two very big signees for the Bulldogs, along with four-star ESPN 300 athlete Ashton Shumpert (Fulton, Miss./Itawamba Agri).

To view Mississippi State's 2013 class, click here.

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