STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State signed a recruiting class of 20 players on Tuesday, including heralded defensive end Chris Jones.
The Bulldogs landed Jones, who is from nearby Houston, Miss., after a hard-fought recruiting battle with rival Mississippi. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound defensive lineman was a relative unknown a year ago, but shot up the recruiting rankings following a stellar senior season that included 160 tackles and 14 sacks.
Mississippi State was one of the few schools that recruited him before he became such a hot commodity, and that early confidence was rewarded when the Bulldogs were able to fight off several other suitors over the final weeks and sign him.
Jones is a 5-star recruit and the No. 2 defensive end recruit in the country according to Rivals.com. The Bulldogs also landed two 4-star players — receiver Fred Ross (Tyler, Texas) and quarterback Cord Sandberg (Bradenton, Fla.). Ross is a Parade All-American while Sandberg is also considered an outstanding baseball prospect.
Mississippi State's signing class doesn't have a ton of marquee names, but fifth-year coach Dan Mullen has never been a big fan of recruiting rankings.
"A lot of people say Chris Jones might be the No. 1 player in the country," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "Six months ago, he wasn't on any of your lists."
Jones could be the next in a growing line of quality Mississippi State defensive lineman. Fletcher Cox, Pernell McPhee and Josh Boyd have all been very productive under Mullen, which is one reason the Bulldogs have had three straight winning seasons. Cox was a first-round selection by the Philadelphia Eagles last season while McPhee just helped the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl.
Mullen said Ross is a receiver who could play right away because of his skill level and the team's current lack of depth. The 6-1, 200-pounder picked the Bulldogs over Oklahoma State and could help take the place of departed seniors like Chad Bumphis and Chris Smith. He was one of six receivers the Bulldogs signed and Mullen said several could contribute quickly.
"There's going to be some spots open," Mullen said.
At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Sandberg has good size for an SEC quarterback and the Bulldogs are excited about his future. But he's such a good baseball player that there's some worry he'll be selected early in the Major League Baseball draft and elect to play professionally instead of coming to Starkville.
Mullen said it was a good problem to have. There's also the possibility Sandberg could play both football and baseball at Mississippi State.
"From getting to know Cord and his family, that's a win-win situation, Mullen said. "If he gets drafted high (in the MLB Draft) and goes in the first round, hey, I'm happy for him. That's a big deal."
The Bulldogs also added three defensive backs in an effort to help rebuild after losing Thorpe Award winning cornerback Jonathan Banks to graduation.