It's usually with a heavy heart and halting oration that we say goodbye to our beloved MAC football players but they're now pursuing what they've really dreamed doing all along and can realistically accomplish: be productive NFL players. In all, eight players were taken by teams in the 253 picks — the exact number taken in the last two drafts. So perhaps the NFL talent drought is over.
Oftentimes we watch the players in the MAC so much and see them dominate that we use a knee-jerk analysis and say "well, he was awesome in college so he's bound to be that same way in the pros!" And unfortunately it's a different game in the professional world. Size, speed and power are just necessities. Occasionally an undersized role player can make good in the pros, but there are only a tiny number of those spots to go around.
But it's one of the reasons I've slowly diverged from following the NFL. Whereas in the MAC, if you can play well, you will play. Folks like Jordan White and Chandler Harnish wouldn't have had nary a chance to compete in the Big Ten, but through the magic of "having another conference exist," they showed that they're very adept at the game, not only against themselves but against the bigger competition too. Would they have been all-conference if they played eight Big Ten games? Maybe, but likely not, and that's why they were seventh rounders and marginal NFL players.
That's not to say the conference is a bunch of misfits. We know that's not true. You can build a Super Bowl team with a nice handful of MAC players. The best of the MAC can hang with the best of other conferences, as we know — it's the depth of talent that hurts the conference the most.
And I should add that one more need factors into NFL success, and that is luck. Ben Roethlisberger "fell" to the Steelers, a team that's barely ever down but had just enough of a terrible year to pick 11th in the 2004 Draft. Only once since 1993 did they pick higher than 11th, and they selected Plaxico Burress at No. 8 overall. Imagine if Roethlisberger had been selected by the Lions or Cardinals or Raiders. His career would be very different: perhaps still in the league, maybe even a Pro Bowl selection, but I'd venture that he'd be much more ridiculed on quarterbacking ability than he is now.
We hope that some of these fellas (and the UDFAs) get the chance they need, because they're bringing with them the ability if not the size.