We're a week closer to the NFL Draft and, even though there is still a lot that can happen between now and then, the free agent market has slowed to a glacial pace and teams that still have holes are putting that focus on the draft. As always, let's see where your favorite #MACtion guys could possibly land in May.
First, our weekly "Mack Watch" update. Mel Kiper recently posted a column (Insider only) projecting what he would consider a perfect draft through three rounds for every team (more on this in a bit) and he had Mack going number three to the Jaguars:
"I see the strides made in the second half of last season [by Jacksonville], and I think my first goal is: 'Take a great football player.' That's Mack, a high-impact pass-rusher and a great player in space."
Of all the players at the top of the draft, I think Mack has benefited the most from the scrutiny of this year's quarterback class. With how important the QB position is in today's game and with all of the QB needy teams drafting in the top-10, it seems like the main signal callers this year have been looked at much closer than in recent years. That growing weariness helps a guy like Mack, who can look like a safer pick next to the guy who's been picked apart for four months.
Looking elsewhere around the internet, four mock drafts by writers on CBSSports.com have Mack being selected no later than number seven to Tampa Bay: Will Brinson and Rob Rang have him going number three overall to the Jags, Dane Brugler has him going number six to Atlanta, and Pete Prisco mocked him to the Bucs. Brugler had this to say on his decision to put Mack in a Falcons jersey:
"The Falcons have more than a few needs, but especially at pass rusher where the production has been underwhelming. Mack is a hybrid rusher who can play with his hand on the ground or rush from different angles, giving the Falcons an instant boost in the front seven."
Interestingly, Shaun King of Yahoo Sports has Mack heading to Minnesota at number eight, the latest I've him mocked in a long time. He'd be an interesting fit there, especially with the defensive-minded Mike Zimmer taking over this off-season (a point King makes as well). I keep using the word interesting because he also has Clowney falling to sixth and doesn't have Johnny Manziel going in the first round at all. Yeah, I'll stick with interesting.
As far as other MAC prospects, only two others surfaced in Kiper's draft piece and, coincidentally, both landed in the same place. In Kiper's scenario, Jimmie Ward and Dri Archer land with the Baltimore Ravens in the second and third round, respectively:
"I get the free safety I need in Round 2, where Ward is a steal. I look for an explosive playmaker in Round 3. Archer adds another dimension to the offense -- he's a Darren Sproles-type."
I think Archer would be an intriguing pick here for Baltimore. Jacoby Jones is already the incumbent return man and, while that doesn't mean they couldn't split duties, it would probably mean that Archer would have a bigger role in the Ravens' offense, one that lacked any form of explosion last year. Also, for what it's worth, De'Anthony Thomas, Archer's go-to comparison for this draft, was "selected" by Kiper four picks later. Whether Kiper knows that teams prefer Archer to Thomas or he just sees them as interchangeable on draft boards, it's good to see the MAC product getting the edge.
Archer was mentioned in another piece in ESPN's NFL Draft Blog (Insider only) that focused on the New Orleans Saints and their need for a return man due to the departures of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. Obviously that all depends on how much the Saints view their return game as a need, but that would be a good fit for the former Kent State star.
Aside from the usual suspects, there are certainly other guys to watch out for come May. For a more extensive list of what MAC prospects to look out for, here's how Mel Kiper answered a question I posed to him on a recent chat on ESPN.com:
The most intriguing name on there that I somehow forgot to mention in my question is obviously Jordan Lynch, but Kiper's response definitely shows that the MAC will be heard from at Radio City Music Hall come May.
If you're looking for more MAC-centric NFL Draft coverage, stay tuned for the next couple of weeks. Starting this Sunday we'll be posting draft profiles of several guys, and the week after we'll be looking at the draft history of every MAC team.