The National Football League announced the official list of 335 players invited to participate in the 2014 NFL combine, which will be held from Sat., Feb. 22 to Tues., Feb. 25 in Indianapolis, Ind. at Lucas Oil Stadium. The entire combine will be televised by NFL Network.
Ten players from the Mid-American Conference are among the invited participants. Six of the ten players are skill position players on offense, and half come from either Ball State (three) or Northern Illinois (two). The Cardinals' total of three players is more than all but three Big 12 teams and all but four Big 10 teams.
Here is a list of the ten MAC players who will trek to Indianapolis:
|Jordan Lynch||QB||6'0"||220||Northern Illinois|
|Keith Wenning||QB||6'2"||219||Ball State|
|Dri Archer||RB||5'8"||179||Kent State|
|Willie Snead||WR||5'11"||193||Ball State|
|Jonathan Newsome||DE||6'2"||234||Ball State|
|Jimmie Ward||S||5'10"||191||Northern Illinois|
The combine's four days feature different position groups on each day, and MAC players will be involved on each day of the event.
Saturday (Feb. 22) features tight ends, offensive linemen and special teams. Rob Blanchflower will be the only MAC player to compete on that day. Sunday (Feb. 23) transitions to quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. This will be the big day for the MAC, as five players (Lynch, Wenning, Archer, Fluellen and Snead) will compete. Monday (Feb. 24) is reserved for defensive linemen and linebackers, which means that Newsome and Mack will participate on that day. Carrie and Ward will be among the defensive backs who participate on the combine's final day (Tuesday, Feb. 25).
Let's take a brief look at each player:
Mack, named a 2013 first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, is in Eric Fisher territory. He is already regarded as one of the 10 best prospects in the entire draft. Both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper (ESPN's draft gurus) project that Mack will be selected seventh overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their latest mock drafts.
Mack led the MAC with 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, and he led Buffalo in tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles. He set NCAA career records for forced fumbles and tackles for loss during his senior season.
Unlike Fisher, Mack did not play in the Senior Bowl, but he is in position to improve his draft stock further with a strong showing at the combine. If his workout numbers impress in the way that his film clearly does, he could vault into the top five players selected. I won't say that he could reach the first overall pick -- it's incredibly unlikely that he could vault Jadeveon Clowney or the teams who need to select quarterbacks -- but he could be viewed positively enough that someone trades up for him.
Ward was an absolute force in the Northern Illinois defensive backfield in 2013. He led the MAC (and finished fifth in the country) with six interceptions. He also had 14 passes defensed. He led the Huskies with 77 tackles and added a sack and a fumble recovery. He was eventually named a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.
ESPN gives Ward the second-best grade among all MAC prospects. He earned a mark of 70 (out of 100), and he is ranked fifth among all prospects at safety. His size (listed as 5'10" and 191 by ESPN) might be on the small side for an NFL safety, so his workout numbers will be of particular importance.
Ward should be the second MAC player taken off the board when the draft takes place in May, and with particular importance of his position in today's NFL, he could be a high-round pick. I'm not sure if the first round is possible, unless he really wows in Indianapolis, but if he doesn't go on the first night, he should be off the board early on Day 2.
Archer had an enigmatic 2013 season. He was injured for much of the first two months of the season and could not produce at the level that was expected of him after his junior season. Still, he managed to score 11 touchdown and provide some late season highlights for Kent State. He ended his career with 4,980 all-purpose yards and 40 touchdowns.
ESPN ranks Archer tenth out of all running backs and gives him a grade of 58 out of 100. This equates out to a middle-to-late round prospect, which is where I expect him to go at this point. He's likely the final MAC player virtually certain to be selected.
Of these first three players, Archer's measurables will probably mean the most. If he shows a little more bulk and can combine that with a good 40 time, he could conceivably push his way into the second day (2nd or 3rd round) of the draft. If teams aren't impressed with his size and his 40 time is weak, he could drop into the 6th or 7th round.
Much like Archer, Blanchflower's senior season was shortened significantly due to injury. He was able to play in only half of Massachusetts' games, but he still accumulated 27 catches, 313 yards and three touchdowns for an offense that had generally very poor quarterbacking all season. He ended his career with 109 catches for 1,164 yards.
Blanchflower has good size (6'3", 260) and solid hands, so he makes for an intriguing draft prospect. Teams in today's NFL value good pass-catching tight ends that are athletic and can beat linebackers over the middle. ESPN ranks him as the 15th-best tight end prospect, and he's probably a late-round draft pick at best. However, he's another player who could be helped by his performance in Indianapolis, particularly in passing drills.
Jordan Lynch and Keith Wenning
Of all the MAC players, Lynch and Wenning are probably the biggest question marks as far as whether or not they will be drafted. It appears that this draft class will have a heavy dose of drafted quarterbacks, and both players put up very prolific numbers during their collegiate careers.
However, both (especially Lynch) will have to show that their size will not be an impediment to NFL production, and they'll both also have to overcome very shaky performances in their appearances at the East-West Shrine Game.
Both players will need to have excellent showings at the combine to improve their draft stock, and it's very likely that if either (or both) gets drafted, it will be very late in the third day -- the area in the seventh round where Zac Dysert was drafted last year would be a good starting guess.
I'll take the glass-half-full approach and say that one of these two get drafted, and in my opinion, Wenning is the more likely candidate. He has better raw passing skills, is taller with a better frame, and while he isn't nearly as mobile as Lynch, can make throws outside the pocket. His performance at the end of the regular season and in the post-season was markedly better than Lynch's, as well.
Now, we get into the players who have a shot to get drafted but, more likely, will end up as undrafted free agents. Starting with Fluellen, these next four players are all rated 30 (out of 100) by ESPN and ranked 30th or lower among their position groups.
Fluellen was like Blanchflower and Archer in that he missed several games due to injuries. Despite those problems, he finished 2013 with 1,121 rushing yards and ended his career with 3,336. He was selected first-team All-MAC twice.
If any of these final four players have a chance to vault into the "will be drafted" category, I'd say it's Fluellen. He played in the Reese's Senior Bowl and ran eight times for 44 yards, including a long of 11. He received positive reviews during the week's worth of Senior Bowl practices, and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will be seen as valuable. Positive numbers, especially in the speed and quickness drills, could get him drafted.
At just 5'11" and 193, Snead simply must produce a great time in the 40 to have a real chance to get drafted. Several times in recent years, we've seen MAC players post prolific receiving numbers only to go undrafted because they weren't fast enough (Freddie Barnes comes to mind).
In 2013, Snead caught 106 balls for 1,516 yards and 15 touchdowns. His yardage total was third among all FBS players. For his career, Snead posted 223 catches for 2,991 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Newsome was a first-team All-MAC selection in 2013 and accumulated eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss during Ball State's 13-game season. He is ranked by ESPN as the 49th-best defensive end, so he has a long road ahead of him in his quest to be drafted. He'll need fantastic combine numbers and then to have a great performance at his Pro Day to have a realistic chance.
One advantage that Carrie has over others on this list is his ability to play special teams. He was named first-team All-MAC as a punt returner in 2013 (and third-team as a cornerback). For players selected at the tail end of a draft (or not at all), performing well on special teams is a player's best hope of making an NFL roster.
Carrie ended his final season with Ohio by leading the MAC with an average of 12.7 yards per punt return. He also hauled in four interceptions, two of which came in the Bobcats' final home game and were both returned for touchdowns.
I don't consider it likely that Carrie, a 5'11" cornerback, will be drafted without a great combine and Pro Day. However, if nothing else, he should have no problem finding a team as a free agent and should have an excellent chance to make an NFL roster.
Despite the 10 selections from the MAC, there were several other players who were not invited but possibly should have been.
Omissions noted by NFL.com include Branden Oliver (RB, Buffalo), Alex Neutz (WR, Buffalo), Bernard Reedy (WR, Toledo), Alex Bayer (TE, Bowling Green), Zac Kerin (C, Toledo), Ken Bishop (DT, Northern Illinois), and Jerry Gates (S, Bowling Green).
That list doesn't include other names that could be viewed as snubs, such as Seth Cunningham (CB, Akron), Jordan Hansel (G, Ball State), Jasen Carlson (G, Buffalo), Roosevelt Nix (LB, Kent State), Joe Windsor (LB, Northern Illinois), and Ryan McGrath (T, Ohio).
All of these players will have to put in extra work and have one less opportunity in which to impress scouts. For these guys, Pro Days will be even more important. They'll all have three months to do what's necessary to get noticed, and if they don't get drafted, many (if not all) of them will end up being signed as free agents after the draft.
Stay with us at Hustle Belt for complete coverage of MAC players at the 2014 NFL Combine. For official coverage of the Combine, you can visit NFL.com.