With the 2013 season just days away it's already time to turn our attention to the 2014 NFL Draft. Last season was historic, there's no denying it. The MAC's very own Eric Fisher shot up Draft boards, thanks in part to a strong Senior Bowl performance, to become the No. 1 overall pick. How will the 2014 Draft look for the MAC? Are scouts paying more attention to the conference's players now? Who are team's going to be giving a hard look at this season? How many MAC players can actually expected to be drafted? To answer these questions and give some insight into who the best prospects from the MAC are, Dan Kadar SB Nation's NFL Draft Editor (an Akron alumnus as well) was kind enough to lend his expertise.
HB: Last season the MAC produced the No. 1 overall Draft pick. Is Eric Fisher an anomaly or are we seeing the Mid-American Conference take a huge step forward in draft talent?
DK: Fisher was probably an anomaly. The conference will do well in the 2014 draft, but none of the players seem to have Fisher's combination of athleticism, size and upside. And don't forget, no one was considering him an option for the No. 1 pick before the Senior Bowl.
Hustle Belt: What does this year's stock of NFL hopefuls from the MAC look like? Any possible first rounders?
Dan Kadar: The MAC isn't going to have the No. 1 pick again, but top to bottom 2014 should be a better year for the conference in regard to the draft. The last really good draft for the MAC was probably 2009, when three of the top 50 picks were from our favorite little conference. Khalil Mack of Buffalo and Dri Archer of Kent State could both get into that top 50 range. Then a player could come out of nowhere and rise up, like we sort of saw with Fisher a year ago. Mack is the most likely to be a first-round pick. Archer has an outside chance.
HB: Khalil Mack has been recently touted as a Top 60 draft prospect by RotoWorld. Do you agree?
DK: Yes. Mack is the best player in the conference and probably the best pure pass rusher since Dan Bazuin, who's NFL career unfortunately didn't amount to much. Mack is just so relentless, tough and versatile. His skill set is quite unique and he'll be attractive to teams that run the 3-4 or need a linebacker that can cover tight ends.
HB: Dri Archer, what do NFL teams think of him?
DK: I don't know what NFL teams think about Archer. I have a good guess by April they're going to be wondering just how many different ways he can be used in the NFL. The playmaking ability and versatility is obvious with Archer. This year, the Jacksonville Jaguars took Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and straight away said he'd be an "offensive weapon." If he has even a modicum of success, look for an NFL team to want to do the same with Archer. At the worst, he's going to be a return specialist. But chances are that NFL teams will think he'll be much more.
HB: Of the crop of QB's coming out of the MAC this year, who if any has the best shot of being drafted, and what round?
DK: The thing to keep in mind about quarterbacks is that about a dozen go every year. Sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less. Because of that few players, it's always going to be a challenge for the MAC to get a quarterback drafted. The quarterbacks this year just don't have the type of tools that will warrant a pick. It doesn't look like there is a Zac Dysert this year, and even he went in the seventh round. The two top quarterbacks in the conference are Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois and Tyler Tettleton of Ohio. But I think they're pretty known commodities. Lynch might get a look if he does something in an all-star game. If any quarterback in the conference could help himself, my eye is on Terrance Owens of Toledo. He's been shaky, but has flashed at times.
HB: Speaking of QB's: Jordan Lynch. He's a phenomenal college player, but doesn't fit the NFL prototype. Do you see him getting taken as an offensive weapon style player, or will he get a shot as a quarterback?
DK: It's always hard to see a quarterback getting moved. I can't really think of a quarterback who has successfully been transitioned to another position other than Antwan Randle-El. Hines Ward I guess counts, but he played a lot of wide receiver at Georgia. Maybe Brad Smith, the former Missouri quarterback, but he hasn't exactly had a standout career. I want to see Lynch's athletic numbers before giving much credence to him playing another position in the NFL.
HB: Seven MAC running backs have been named to the Doak Walker watch list this season. In the year of the running back in the MAC, which backs' talents are the most translatable to the NFL?
DK: If Branden Oliver of Buffalo can play a full season, he's someone you can see getting a look. Trayion Durham of Kent State certainly has the power running ability to make it, but I wonder about his speed. And I don't think he'll come out early. David Fluellen has been productive, but needs an all-star game to showcase himself. Oliver and Fluellen could get drafted, but it's always a crapshoot with running backs because NFL teams draft specifically for what fits. Not to mention it's become a greatly undervalued position.
HB: After Mack, Roosevelt Nix is widely regarded as the next-best defensive player in the MAC. But, is his size a concern as a defensive lineman?
DK: If you want to pick out an anomaly, it's Nix. A player that size shouldn't be playing defensive tackle, not to mention playing it so successfully. I'm not sure you'll find an NFL Draft prospect that converts speed to power in a small area as well as Nix. He's incredibly disruptive. But like all of the MAC players, he needs to show well in an all-star game. That's not a knock on the conference, but there's always going to be questions about the level of direct competition. For instance, Fisher last year looked great in games, but it was hard to judge him against an average to poor group of defensive ends. But he really took off at the Senior Bowl. Anyone who thought he would be the No. 1 pick before that week in Mobile, Alabama is lying.
HB: Defensively, after Mack and Nix who are some of the other names NFL teams are looking at?
DK: After Mack, there's quite a bit of a drop off for defensive players. After him, in addition to Nix, I have my eye on Johnnie Simon and Donald Celiscar of Western Michigan, BooBoo Gates and Gabe Martin at Bowling Green and Jimmie Ward at Northern Illinois.
HB: Some coaches seem to do a better job of making their players more appealing to NFL teams. Which MAC coach would you say makes his players more marketable to NFL Front Offices?
DK: Before he left for Purdue, I would have said Darrell Hazell. He's not quite there yet, but I'll say Matt Campbell of Toledo. Three players on his offense – Fluellen, wide receiver Bernard Reedy and center Zac Kerin – could all get drafted.
A special thanks to Dan for taking the time to answer some questions. For more information about who Dan thinks the MAC's best prospects are check out his preview HERE.