The 2014 NFL Draft is almost upon us. After what feels like a decades worth of prognosticating, we're about to enter the Holy Day of the NFL offseason.
We decided to host a roundtable discussion on the NFL Draft, as it pertains to the Mid-American Conference. This roundtable is split into two: A podcast discussing the big picture items; a written component looking at some more specific questions about the MAC's Draft class.
Episode 13.1 of Mid-American Hustle features myself, Alex Alvarado, Matt Daley and Chris Cullum breaking down where we think Khalil Mack, Jimmie Ward and Dri Archer will go in the Draft, and whether or not the MAC's talent pool is increasing, or if the league is just paying more attention now.
Together we also addressed the following four questions about the MAC's Draft prospects:
Who is the most undervalued/underrated MAC prospect in this Draft class, and why?
Chris - I’d say Jimmie Ward. For a guy that Mel Kiper called possibly the best coverage safety in the draft, he certainly hasn't gotten a lot of press. He is a bit on the smaller side when it comes to safeties, but times are changing in the NFL; big, intimidating safeties who stalk their prey between the hashes aren’t as prominent. He’s still being talked about as a mid-2nd round pick, and I think that’s where he’ll go, but he has the talent to go earlier than that.
Bryan - For me, it's Roosevelt Nix. Here's a guy that was every bit as dominant of a pass rusher/run disrupter as Mack was in college, and yet he has a snowball's chance in hell of getting drafted. Yes, he's small and has no shot of being a defensive tackle at the NFL level, but clearly he knows how to play, and has a high motor. I think with some work and in the right system, he could develop into a hell of a linebacker/edge rusher. He did it in college with his hand in the dirt against much larger guys, if he can work on pass coverage, I see no reason why he could turn into a NFL starter at some point in time. He wouldn't be the first undersized guy to succeed at linebacker, and none of the other guys who came before him succeeded as much as he did in college.
Matt - There are a few guys who could be named here, but I'll say David Fluellen. Running backs are being de-valued across the NFL, and Fluellen seemed to have a very lackluster off-season leading up to the draft. I'm not sure why, either. He performed well at the Senior Bowl, and he was clearly the top back in the MAC in 2013. I know health is a bit of a concern with him, but he could definitely be a value to a team that gives him 10-15 carries a game and targets him out of the backfield.
Alex - I've been big on Keith Wenning for the past two seasons and I'll stay that way through the draft. On our last podcast, I regret not mentioning him as a prospect that would be selected in the 6 or 7th round of the Draft, but I digress. Wenning's got an arm. Two of them, if I recall. On his throwing arm, there's a cannon attached, and he's got the simple tools and makeup of your stereotypical "NFL Quarterback". We can keep throwing theories out there like he's from the MAC which puts him at the biggest disadvantage, but even Teddy Bridgewater can be seen as an "undervalued" prospect for no reason at all. Most quarterbacks have a lot of success through the air with big, tall wideouts. Most of Wenning's damage was done with a receiver under 6'0", which has got to have some sort of merit to his skill set, right?
Who is the one MAC player you think can make the biggest impact as an undrafted free agent?
Chris - David Fluellen. He put up big numbers at UT and, despite being a little banged up, I'll put my money on a big-time production guy like him.
Bryan - This one is tough, but I'll take the easy route and say David Fluellen. He's not fast, he's not incredibly powerful, and his line at Toledo was underrated, but I do think with the right team, he could be a decent No. 2 or third down guy next year.
Matt - I'm going to go with a Bowling Green guy and say Alex Bayer. Pass-catching tight ends with size are becoming much more valuable in today's NFL, and Bayer has the size (6-4, 258) and hands that can allow him to develop into a weapon over the middle. He's not fast/elusive, but as a possession receiver, Bayer could have a good career.
Alex - f Jonathan Newsome doesn't get drafted, he's an easy "get" for many teams. Last year, Andy Mulumba from EMU signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent and became a starting outside linebacker. And this is a guy that was born in Luputa, Congo, where American football isn't exactly the biggest sport over there. Mulumba wasn't the biggest MAC UFA name last year, and to keep up with that trend, I'm going to spitball another EMU guy in Kalonji Kashama. A defensive end with three brothers that played their way through college to play in the CFL, could find some success in the NFL if he doesn't go Canadian. At 6'3", around 250 lbs., Kashama has the body and talent to be a decent pass rusher and drop into flats coverage, but he's not athletic enough to become an OLB, just a really useful defensive end.
Will Jordan Lynch make an NFL roster and, if so, at what position?
Chris - I want to say yes, but I think the answer is no. He'll probably be drafted in rounds six or seven (he's too athletic not to be) but I just don't know if teams will be willing to use a precious roster spot on a guy who will be such a project.
Bryan - Yes, but not at QB. Lynch is a freakish athlete. He's strong, quick, and his agility is out of this world (even better than Dri Arhcer's. That screams nickelback to me. I don't think he'll be playing from Day 1, at least not on defense, but a smart team would put him in on special teams, and give him extensive snaps in practice.
Matt - It's difficult to say if he'll actually make a roster, because much of that opportunity depends merely on which team drafts/signs him. I certainly think he can, I don't think it will be at quarterback. More likely, he'll need to transition to defensive back and may get to see some time at wide receiver, depending on his hands.
If he acclimates himself to that change, he'll have a very good chance of success. Lynch has a rare brand of athleticism that, by itself, translates very well to the NFL. If he learns quickly and is utilized well by his new coaches, I see no reason why he won't be on a roster for opening weekend in September. If Julian Edelman can make it, so can Lynch.
Alex - This is the object of football: to [give the other team members head trauma for years and years and] move the leather thing from one rectangle to the other. Just because Lynch doesn't fit perfectly into the offensive systems that 32 NFL teams are running with their quarterbacks, doesn't mean that they can't make a few changes for the dynamic playmaker. Just because a quarterback is athletic, doesn't mean he can't play quarterback. So what if Tim Tebow didn't fulfill the prophesy that our Lord and Savior John Elway had played out? Let's stop being fearful of Lynch's football career for the same reason we bash(ed) on Tebow, Denard Robinson and Michael Vick. Lynch has shown that he can play quarterback, so try him out there. There's no need to reinvent the wheel here. He's not pressured to be a starting player in the NFL, let alone your fantasy team, so let's ease up on the guy.
If you could place Khalil Mack on the NFL roster he'd have the most success with, who would it be and why?
Chris - Two teams come to mind: Jacksonville and Dallas. I've seen him mocked to the Jaguars so many times that it's hard not to see him in one of those gaudy helmets (he also fits their defensive scheme well, which I guess is important too). The Cowboys just let go of Demarcus Ware this offseason, wouldn't it be nice to replace him with another elite pass-rushing talent?
Bryan - I think it's Houston and Atlanta. Both run 3-4's, both need help in the pass rush. Both seem like solid, gritty defenses (ok, maybe Atlanta isn't solid, but it can be). There are pieces on both of those teams that compliment Mack's style, and his versatility would be an asset at those stops.
Matt - From a pure scheme perspective, Mack would be very likely to have success with any team that runs a 3-4 defense. His natural abilities both as a pass rusher and in pass coverage make him perfect for that system. Not only can he play the outside, but his ability to play the run and read offenses also mean that he can shift inside. Mack could end up having a hybrid role where his team is able to move him constantly so that opposing offenses can't always double-team him.
Selfishly, I'll say that he'd have the most success in Pittsburgh. It's not going to happen, but Dick LeBeau has been a master at transforming linebackers into stars in his 3-4 alignment, including Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter and James Harrison. Mack would be a star on that team.
Alex - I think a team that runs a 3-4 defense to put Mack on the outside and be the freakish athlete that he would be a good fit for him. Somewhere like Washington, Philadelphia or San Francisco comes to mind.