Has Dan Mullen turned Mississippi State into the best developmental program in the country?

STARKVILLE, MS - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs speaks to his players during the third quarter of a game against the LSU Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
STARKVILLE, MS - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs speaks to his players during the third quarter of a game against the LSU Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Whether it’s coming from Athlon Sports, ESPN’s Alex Scarborough and David Ching, or Ben Kercheval of CBS Sports, the consensus among sports analysts and experts seems to be that Dan Mullen is the best coach in the SEC outside of Nick Saban.

With SEC Media Days looming, many writers across the country have decided to rank the best coaches in each conference. Athlon Sports has the Bulldogs’ second to only Nick Saban.

He landed at 19 on the list ranking all of the 130 coaches in college football. Mullen is just ahead of Florida’s Jim McElwain (21), Auburn’s Gus Malzahn (22), Arkansas’ Bret Bielema (27), and, yes, Hugh Freeze (29). Here is what Athlon Sports’ Steven Lassan wrote on Mullen:

"19. Dan Mullen, Mississippi StateWhile Mississippi State is the SEC West’s toughest job, Mullen has carved out a consistent and successful stint in a brutal division. The Bulldogs are 61-42 under Mullen’s eight years and have earned seven bowl trips in that span. Additionally, Mississippi State’s 19 wins from 2014-15 were the most in a two-year stretch in program history. The Bulldogs also grabbed the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll for the first time in 2014, while earning the top spot in the first CFB playoff rankings that season. Last year’s six wins were the fewest since 2009, but 2016 was expected to be a transition year after quarterback Dak Prescott expired his eligibility. However, with 10 returning starters and the continued development of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State will be a dark horse team to watch in the SEC this fall."

When it comes to finding and developing raw talent, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has to be one of, if not the best, in the entire country. Mullen, heading in to his 9th season at Mississippi State, is the second longest tenured coach in the SEC. Again, only behind Alabama’s Nick Saban.

Mississippi State doesn’t recruit on a national scale like many other programs in the SEC. Instead, the Bulldogs recruit local while occasionally branching out regionally to fill in spots of need. The philosophy Mullen uses has been a recipe for success and has served the Bulldogs well.

Dan Mullen has turned former SEC West doormat Mississippi State into a program that has been one of the most consistent winners in the conference the last seven years. He’s made an effort to find guys that might have slipped through the cracks while being recruited. Yes, I know it may be somewhat cliche, but he finds guys with that “chip on their shoulder”.

This is not to say that Mullen doesn’t want a roster full of 4 and 5-star players though. I’m sure he would be glad to welcome many to his team. However, it’s not a priority of his. Everybody is fighting for those guys.

What makes Mullen different is he wants to find guys that will fight for him. He considers a player’s character and work ethic as much as their physical talents. He finds guys like Dak Prescott that has that “It factor” that just finds ways to win. He’s built is team with grinders and fighters. He has welcomed the underrated with open arms when no one else would give them a chance. These guys fight for him.

They fight for Mississippi State and the Maroon and White. They’ve bought in to Mullen’s system, and as a result, they win.

What Dan Mullen has been able to do in his eight seasons at State is nothing short of amazing. The recruits he brings in, he molds and develops both physically and mentally. Once they step on the field, they look every bit the part of those 4 and 5-star recruits that were once rated higher than them.

Now, not every player will pan out as hoped. That’s just part of it. Some develop slower than others and some just don’t figure things out. Mullen’s eye for raw talent and his ability to develop that talent has paid off big for MSU, and often times has paid off big for the players themselves.

Let’s look at a handful of former MSU Bulldogs that have come through the Dan Mullen developmental program.

Player and recruiting rank taken from 247 composite ranking system:

Darius Slay (2-star) – Starting CB for the Detroit Lions. Was picked in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft. Last year he signed a 4-year $48 million contract with the Lions.

Deontae Skinner (2-star) – Under a 2-year $1,140,000 contract with the Giants according to spotrac.com

Dillon Day (2-star) – Known for his hard-nosed physical style of play. Day started 46 games in his MSU career. He was very instrumental in MSU’s success in 2014. Protected QB Dak Prescott and helped the Bulldogs reach #1 in the country for 5 weeks. Though he didn’t get drafted, he’s found a spot in the Broncos organization making $465,000 a year.

Gabe Jackson (2-star) – Just got paid! Gabe is a starting guard for the Oakland Raiders. He just signed a 5-year $56 million contract.

Related Story: Gabe Jackson becomes third-highest paid guard in the NFL

Johnthan Banks (2-star) – His SR year at MSU, Banks was an All American cornerback and won the Jim Thorpe Award that goes to the nation’s top defensive back. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL draft and signed a 4-year $4.726 million contract, including a $1.817 million signing bonus.

K.J. Wright (2-star) – One of the best linebackers in the NFL. Won Super Bowl XLVIII and was a Pro Bowler in 2016. He’s currently in a 4-year $27 million contract with the Seahawks.

Malcolm Johnson (2-star) – Was an ALL-SEC freshman at MSU.  Johnson was drafted in the 6th round in the 2015 draft by the Browns, and last singed a 1-year $615,000 deal with the Seattle Seahawks.

Related Story: Ranking the Top 10 Bulldogs in the NFL

Preston Smith (2-star) – Selected in the 2nd round of the NFL draft. Has become a starting linebacker for the Washington Redskins and will make a nice $5,779,354 over a 4 year period.

Benardrick McKinney (3-star) – Was drafted in the 2nd round in 2015 and has already been selected 2nd team All-Pro. McKinney was by far the leading tackler on the NFL’s best defensive team. While he’s making a little over $1.3 million a year, I expect him to get a big bump in pay real soon.

Dak Prescott (3-star) – Starting QB for the Dallas Cowboys. Owner of countless school, SEC, and NFL records. Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year winner and selected to the Pro Bowl in his first year as an NFL QB. Dak has become one of the most popular players in the NFL after taking the Cowboys to a 13-3 record. His jerseys are the #3 selling jersey in the NFL according to nflshop.com.

Justin Senior (3-star) – Was a 3 year starter for the Bulldogs and won the Kent Hull Trophy that’s given to the best college lineman in the state of MS. He was drafted this year by the Seahawks.

Dan Mullen has built up quite the track record of developing raw and overlooked talent. If you want to be developed into a professional — both on and off the field — there aren’t many better than Mullen.

Next: Mississippi State 2018 Hoops Recruiting Picture

It’s no wonder Dan Mullen is considered the second best coach in the Southeastern Conference. With State coming off a rare subpar season under Mullen, expect the head man to make sure his Bulldogs are ready to play right out of the gate.

Behind arguably the best quarterback in the conference and a new defensive staff, Mississippi State has a chance to make some noise in the SEC West.