In 1996, the Green Bay Packers took defensive tackle Keith McKenzie from Ball State with the 252nd pick overall — third from last. For where he was selected, he had a pretty solid NFL career, including a Super Bowl with the Packers. But I bring this up because he was the only Mid-American Conference player taken that year. It was also the last time the MAC had fewer than four players taken in a single draft.
This year, just three MAC players were selected by teams:
And, yes, TWO of them were from Temple, leaving Thomas as the lone gunman in the set of 12 full-member teams. This is uncanny. But don't fret, because undrafted free agent signings are our specialty. In fact, I've keyed in on ten MAC players that'll likely get signed as a UFA, whenever that window opens (thank you very much, price of business):
Buffalo running back Brandon Thermilus — I'm taking a flier on him thinking he'll be ready, but this accomplished back was lost for much of his senior year, which is a bummer. If he can come back from that ACL tear, he may back into a team not unlike former teammate James Starks did with the Packers. (If it helps, Thermilus's father is a scout with the Packers.) He's a large boy, and I've also seen him rated as a fullback, so he could play either.
Buffalo strong safety Davonte Shannon — Thomas had the talent, but Shannon had the credentials. He's the fourth-ever four-time First Team All-MAC player in history, and two others from the last 15 years include punter Dave Zastudil and safety Barry Church, both in the pros. (Brian McClure, where are you?)
Central Michigan linebacker Nick Bellore — He'll get a team, without a doubt. He posted some great combine numbers, including the top 20-yard shuttle time (4 seconds) and a 36 on the Wonderlic test, best of any defensive player. He has limitations but somebody's going to snap him up and be happy they did.
Central Michigan cornerback Vince Agnew — No dice for Bellore's former teammate playing behind him, who was grazing the end of some mock drafts. What we remember from the last five years was a very fun offense, but underrated in its period of greatness was a promising, fundamentally-deft defense. Bellore and Agnew are proof of this.
Kent State safety Brian Lainhart — He's not speedy but he grabbed 17 career interceptions, most of anyone from FBS in his class. Someone will see that, even though Lainhart's best season numbers-wise was his junior year.
Kent State inside linebacker Cobrani Mixon — When the Golden Flashes finished their year 5-7, it didn't help their talented defensive leaders' chances to impress scouts. The proof by Lainhart not being taken and by Mixon, an ex-Michigan player, hardly being sniffed. He can do a bit of everything and may round out some depth on an NFL chart.
Northern Illinois running back Chad Spann — What, have scouts never heard of Michael Turner or Garrett Wolfe? When an NIU back declares, you take him at some point. His senior year he averaged 5.38 yards per carry and just destroyed defenses everywhere. He's really a hybrid of both Turner and Wolfe, and these days teams continue to extend their depth chart of running backs.
OHIO defensive back Julian Posey — There hasn't been a lot of discussion on him, but cornerbacks are so popular these days (it was the most frequent selection in the '11 Draft) and Posey has the speed to keep up with a No. 2 or slot receiver.
Temple defensive tackle Elijah "Peanut" Joseph — Nobody likes drafting an injured player. If he was fully healthy, you might've seen him in a later round. But if he gets healthy, a team pining for depth on the defensive line or on special teams will take a chance on this powerful Peanut.
Toledo center Kevin Kowalski — This year's Draft took 19 tackles, 16 guards, and five centers. It's just not a position of need, but Kowalski has been an anchor of the Rockets offensive line for four years. He's got size and athleticism and I'll even give you a specific team: the Bengals are already considering Kevin Kowalski, per the Dayton Daily News.
That's not to say zero players will be signed by Akron, Ball State, BGSU, EMU, and WMU. But it's not looking rosy either.
As we saw with the Super Bowl alumnus breakdown, MAC players have had a bevy of success (or at the very least, attendance) at the pro-level. Understandably, when a team is given two equal players, they'll take the one from the bigger conference, just because the competition is stronger. So we've seen that these kids can play, and whenever the allowance to sign UFAs presents itself, the floodgates will open with free agent hopefuls making teams. And a few of them will.