The five best players of the Mike Leach era for Mississippi State football

We sadly only got three years of Mike Leach in Starkville, but he still coached some great players during that time.
Mississippi State v Kentucky
Mississippi State v Kentucky / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

Mike Leach is a college football coaching legend. His impact on the game of football is remarkable, and it's a blessing we got to have him at Mississippi State, even if just for a few seasons before his tragic passing.

Let's look back at the five best players he coached during his time in Starkville...

Cornerback Emmanuel Forbes

Mike Leach may have been an offensive coach, but the greatest player of his tenure played defense. Emmanuel Forbes is the best play-making corner MSU has ever seen. In three seasons, he picked off 14 passes, returning six for touchdowns, a FBS record. A consensus All-American in 2022, Forbes would be drafted in the 1st round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Offensive Lineman Charles Cross

Maybe the best pass-blocker in school history, Charles Cross anchored the MSU OL at left tackle for Leach's first two seasons in Starkville. The 5-star recruit allowed just two sacks in 919 pass blocking snaps in 2021 and earned 1st Team All-SEC honors. In 2022, he became the first Bulldog taken in the Top-10 of the NFL Draft since 1983.

Linebacker Nathaniel Watson

Nathaniel "Bookie" Watson had one of the greatest careers of any Bulldog LB with 379 tackles and 21 sacks, playing alongside another stud in Jett Johnson. A terror in the middle of the field, Watson became the first player to lead the SEC in both tackles (137) and sacks (10) as a senior in 2023. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Wide Receiver Makai Polk

It'd be crazy to be discussing the best players of Mike Leach's career at State and not name a WR. Makai Polk played just one season for State in 2021, but it was a fantastic one, immediately becoming the go-to target on offense after transferring from Cal. Polk owns the school record for single-season receptions (105) and yards (1,046), adding nine touchdowns that season as well.

Quarterback Will Rogers

You can't leave Will Rogers out of this. He's the one player that will forever be synonymous with the final years of Leach's career. Rogers rewrote MSU record books playing in The Pirate's Air Raid offense with the best passing numbers ever seen at State. His 2021 season was one of the best by an individual player with 4,739 yards and 36 touchdowns while completing 74% of his passes.