Predicting Mississippi State football's defensive depth chart at the start of summer

Let's take our first crack at projecting Mississippi State football's depth chart on defense for 2024.
Mississippi State Spring Football Game
Mississippi State Spring Football Game / Justin Ford/GettyImages

Summer has arrived, and that means we're just a few more months away from the return of college football season. Mississippi State football will begin a new era Labor Day Weekend as Jeff Lebby's first season as the Bulldogs' head coach gets underway.

There's lots of new faces on this MSU team, so what do we expect the depth chart to look like? Earlier this week, we predicted the depth chart for the Bulldog offense. Today, we dive into the defense.

Predicting Mississippi State football's 2024 defensive depth chart

Coleman Hutzler takes over the Bulldog defense after spending the last two years coaching linebackers for Nick Saban at Alabama. He's bringing the Saban 3-4 defense with him as basis for this unit, which means there will be a few positional changes from the Zach Arnett 3-3-5 ran at State the last four years.

Here's an early look at how the depth chart could shake out...

Defensive End

Starter: De'Monte Russell (Sr.)

Backup: Deonte Anderson (Jr.)

State will have a pair of veterans battling for the job at DE between De'Monte Russell and Deonte Anderson. Both have been solid players in their careers. The biggest question is if either can develop as more of a pass rusher.

Nose Tackle

Starter: Kedrick Bingley-Jones (Jr., North Carolina)

Backup: Kalvin Dinkins (So.)

Kedrick Bingley-Jones transfers in from UNC after dealing with injuries at his first collegiate stop. By all accounts, the former 4-star looked good in the spring. Dinkins missed last season and the spring with injury, but he's got a very high ceiling.

Defensive Tackle

Starter: Trevion Williams (So.)

Backup: Sulaiman Kpaka (Sr., Purdue)

It's possible this position is labeled as another "D-End" on the depth chart, but for our purposes, they're D-Tackles. Williams went down with injury early last year, but now is the time for the former coveted signee to breakthrough. Purdue-transfer Kpaka is a veteran who will challenge.

Jack Linebacker

Starter: Donterry Russell (So.)

Backup: Ty Cooper (Jr.)

In this defense, the Jack is essentially the stand-up edge rusher, and that's a great spot for Donterry Russell, who flashed in that role last season. This is his job to lose, but Ty Cooper played well down the stretch for State a year ago.

Mike Linebacker

Starter: John Lewis (Sr.)

Backup: Nic Mitchell (Jr.)

After playing as an edge rusher last year, John Lewis is back to his more natural position of inside linebacker. He's a leader on this unit now, and could be in for a big year. Nic Mitchell isn't a guy we've talked much about, but he looked very good in the spring game.

Will Linebacker

Starter: Stone Blanton (Jr., South Carolina)

Backups: Javae Gilmore (So.) and Zakari Tillman (So.)

Blanton is the lone defensive transfer with power conference starting experience (SEC experience at that) coming in from South Carolina. He was a solid player for the Gamecocks, and should slide right into a starting role at State. Younger players like Gilmore and Tillman could also see time at one of the inside linebacker spots.

Sam Linebacker

Starter: JP Purvis (Sr.)

Backup: Branden Jennings (Jr., Hinds CC)

I'll be honest, I don't know where to slate Purvis because we didn't see him in the spring. Like John Lewis, he played as an edge for MSU last year but was naturally an inside guy. For now, we'll put him at Sam, but it may be more likely he compete for an ILB job (especially because in most looks a Sam won't be on the field). Jennings was my favorite defender in the spring game. He played some at Jack and flew all over the field. They may have to find ways to get him and Russell both off the edge, which would mean playing him at Sam.


Starters: Montre Miller (Sr., West Virginia) and Traveon Wright (Fr., Memphis)

Backups: Brice Pollock (So.) and Kelley Jones (Fr.)

The corner room is one of the more concerning spots with little experience there. Montre Miller almost certainly takes a starting role after transferring in as he's the most proven college player. I thought Traveon Wright played well in the spring game. Pollock saw starting reps last year, and Jones is intriguing because of his size.


Starter: Brylan Lanier (Jr., EMCC)

Backups: Hunter Washington (Jr.) and Kobi Albert (So.)

The nickel position is a big one in this defense, and this will be a major battle in the fall. Brylan Lanier has bounced around some, but coaches love his football IQ. He's got some experience within this defense as well. Hunter Washington split first team reps with him in the spring. Kobi Albert is a wildcard. He missed all of last season and the spring with injury, but the previous coaching staff expected him to be a major contributor at safety. He's a bit undersized, but could he move in to the Star spot and take over?

Strong Safety

Starter: Issac Smith (So.)

Backups: Chris Keys (Jr.) and Tyler Woodard (Jr., EMCC)

Issac Smith was the prized recruit in the 2023 signing class, but he was thrown into the fire a bit as a freshman while not quite ready. With a year under his belt, you hope he taps into his potential. Chris Keys and Tyler Woodard should both be solid options behind him.

Free Safety

Starter: Corey Ellington (Sr.)

Backup: Jordan Morant (Sr.)

Corey Ellington's decision to return was huge for MSU if for no other reason than having a veteran on the backend who was a regular starter in 2023. Jordan Morant has also been around for a while now with plenty of game reps.