While football season is over, and we're still a ways away from the start of next season we're just over 100 days until the start of the 2014 NFL Draft. The grand holiday for all NFL fans. Part of the thrill of the NFL Draft is seeing not just who your favorite pro team takes, but where the players from your favorite college team winds up.
For the Mid-American Conference, being a smaller conference typically means less opportunities to see players get drafted, but lately things have been looking up. As the talent level in the MAC has risen, so too has the quality of player coming out, and the draft stock of said players. Things reached an all-time high last year when Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher made history by being selected No. 1 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2013 NFL Draft. Can the MAC maintain its momentum and continue to put out first-rounders?
Taking a look around the Mock Draft landscape, the answer is yes. While it's unlikely to see a MAC player go No. 1 overall this season, there is one special player who is surely a Top 10 pick, Buffalo's Khalil Mack. Let's take a look at where various draft experts have Mack going.
First up is SB Nation's in-house Mock Draft specialists: MockingTheDraft.com. Dan Kadar, himself a MAC alumnus (Akron), and his team do a fantastic job of breaking down the talent and providing great, detailed mock drafts. Kadar has been high on Mack all season, and for good reasons. Mack is a supreme talent, the likes of which the NCAA has rarely seen before. There are some concerns about Mack's level of competition in college, which is fair, but all one needs to do is look at how he dominated Ohio State in the season-opener to erase those worries.
Kadar has Mack as the No. 6 best prospect on his big board, and the second-highest linebacker behind only Anthony Barr of UCLA. But where does he see Mack going? How about No. 3 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. With Jadeveon Clowney projected to go No. 2 overall by Kadar, Mack would be the best pure pass rusher left on the board. Jacksonville can use help in the pass rush. If Mack has a strong showing in the Senior Bowl, Kadar believes this is the most likely spot to see him land at. Not bad for a guy who only received one FBS scholarship offer.
Elsewhere around the world of Mock Drafts: CBS Sports' Draft insiders Rob Rang and Dane Brugler aren't as high on Mack in the Draft as Kadar was, but still see him being a Top 10 pick. Brugler has Mack going No. 7 overall to Tampa Bay, still ahead of Barr, where he would be a valued asset to Lovie Smith's defense. Whereas Rang has a more interesting scenario, one that would cost Mack millions but would be a great story: Mack staying put in Buffalo and going to the Bills at No. 9. I'm sure Bulls fans would love this scenario as it would allow them to keep watching their stud linebacker in person while he's off terrorizing NFL quarterbacks, but I have a feeling that is Mack has a strong showing in the Combine and Senior Bowl that he won't last until No. 9.
Sports Illustrated's Mock Draft is slightly more in-line with Kadar, but still has Mack falling outside of the Top 5. According to Chris Burke, Mack is a good fit at No. 6 to the Atlanta Falcons. Mack's combination of size and speed would make him a versatile edge rusher for the Falcons according to Burke.
"Atlanta needs to adjust, both in scheme and in personnel. Mack would upgrade the latter while driving changes to the former. The Seahawks have popularized the "Leo" linebacker position, which combines elements of the DE and OLB positions. Mack could play that role for the Falcons." —Chris Burke, SI.com.
ESPN's Todd McShay has Mack going at No. 8 to Minnesota in his Mock Draft that was done nearly a month ago (Insiders only). But Mel Kiper Jr. has Mack going at No. 7 to Tampa Bay, opting for the popular choice. Even better, unlike McShay's, Kiper's mock is up to date seeing as he did it Wednesday, Jan. 15..
So what about other MAC players? Well, it's still too early for full Mock Drafts, but on breakdowns of the top offerings at each position Dan Kadar has NIU's Jordan Lynch ranked as his 22nd best quarterback, CMU offensive tackle Jake Olson is ranked as the No.26 offensive lineman and Ball State's Jonathan Newsome is considered the No. 25 best offering at defensive end. Keith Weening, the Ball State quarterback, Willie Snead, his dynamic receiver and Kent State speedster Dri Archer aren't on the big-board radar. Also missing: Any number of the talented running backs entering the Draft from the MAC this season. But that's what combines and senior bowls are for.
It's still too early to tell what that means, if anything, for MACletes not named Khalil Mack. Strong showings in senior bowls and the Combine could certainly catapult some of these guys into the middle rounds. But one thing is certain, the MAC is going to have a Top 10 pick.