It’s easy in the springtime to let your pursuits become about stuff other than sports. When your biggest events are the opening of baseball season (yawn...) and watching pastel wearers hack around Augusta, it’s a dire time for the sports fan. Sure there’s NBA, NASCAR, and soccer (I think), but let’s not get it twisted, kiddies. Football makes the world go round and the NFL is the biggest dog on the block. And this Thursday there are going to be some new puppies added to the mix.
Starting on Thursday the squads that make up the NFL will make their selections of future stars and while the majority of the conversation will be about the first few picks, what Cleveland does, which QB goes first, and a host of other first world problems, there are at least some uncertainties that involve your favorite rust belt group of student athletes.
So let’s get out of the way that in all likelihood, what isn’t going to happen is a repeat of last year’s tremendous draft for the MAC. The 2017 version of draft weekend saw eleven MACtion alums get the call up to the big leagues, highlighted by 5th overall selection Corey Davis. This year will likely feature fewer than that called and it almost certainly will not have a top tier pick, but Cleveland does crazy things.
And while there may not be the top level talent of years past like Davis, Khalil Mack, Eric Fisher, or Ben Roethlisberger, there are MAC alums who will get their shot at an opportunity for Sunday football. And if playing in the MAC has taught them anything it’s that between those lines on gameday, where you started or came from doesn’t matter in the least.
Here’s the MAC prospects the NFL believes have a chance in the league:
No players listed.
Ball State Cardinals
NFL.com Breakdown: Winbush is an undersized defensive end who will likely transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker spot. Winbush plays with a sense of urgency and determination that helped him make a high number of game-impacting plays over the last three years. His lack of size and length is a concern as an early-down run defender so teams may view him as a designated pass rusher option. What Winbush lacks in physical traits he makes up for with intangibles giving him a solid chance of making a roster. (Graded 5.0 - Given a 50-50 chance to make an NFL roster)
Bowling Green Falcons
NFL.com Breakdown: Davidson has excelled both as a punter and student at Bowling Green State University. After the 2017 season, he was a second-team Academic All-American with a double major in finance and mathematics, as well as a first-team All-MAC selection for his punting (44.0-yard gross average, 18 fair catches, 28 inside the 20 yard-line). He was a first-team Academic All-American as a junior, as well as a first-team All-MAC pick with a 45.8 gross punting average (ranked fifth in the FBS). His 43.1-yard net average ranked second in the country, as he had only three touchbacks while placing 21 punts inside the 20-yard line. The tall, lean left-footer used his full extension to earn first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore, as well. He averaged 46 yards per punt gross, with 16 inside the 20 and just four touchbacks. As a redshirt freshman, Davidson had outstanding first season on the field for the Falcons (42.6-yard gross average, 24 inside the 20, three touchbacks). (Graded 5.20 - Designated as a backup or special teams potential)
No players listed
Central Michigan Chippewas
NFL.com Breakdown: It seems that every year more former basketball players are moving to the gridiron. Conklin signed with Northwood University in Michigan to play hoops but after playing sparingly for one season decided to transfer somewhere to play football. After one season on the scout team adding weight, he played in 13 games as a reserve, catching six passes for 95 yards. Conklin earned the starting job in 11 of 13 games as a junior, using his athleticism and soft hands to become a top short-yardage and red zone target for the Chippewas with 42 receptions for 560 yards and six scores. His production was down slightly in 2017, but the team captain still proved athletic enough to earn a third-team All-MAC selection after grabbing 35 passes for 504 yards and five touchdowns. (Graded 5.62 - Chance to become an NFL starter)
NFL.com Breakdown: Ostman didn’t get picked up by Big Ten schools as a high school star linebacker and tight end in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He was also a three-time state wrestling champion, a positive flag that NFL scouts take seriously. Ostman was the only true freshman to play for the Chippewas in 2013, playing in all 12 contests at defensive end and on special teams (20 tackles, 1.5 for loss, two pass breakups). He moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore, earning third-team All-MAC notice with 60 tackles, 10 for loss, and three sacks. Unfortunately, a left ankle injury cost him all but three games of the 2015 season (11 tackles, sack). Ostman bounced back strong as a redshirt junior, however, landing team Co-Defensive Player of the Year and second-team All-MAC honors with 69 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks using underrated athleticism, a killer spin rush move, and his relentless nature to attack the ball. He continued to gain accolades as a senior, garnering first-team All-MAC notice with 69 tackles, 20.5 for loss and 14 sacks, as well as four forced fumbles in just 11 games (he missed two with an injury). He ranked in the top five nationally in tackles for loss and sacks per game. (Graded 5.47 - NFL Backup or Special Teams Potential)
NFL.com Breakdown: Undersized outside cornerback with below average makeup speed who has the playmaker’s mindset and instincts to challenge throws underneath. Coleman is a good athlete with impressive footwork and body control to mirror and match short to intermediate routes. He needs to be more diligent in taking on vertical targets as his ball skills with his back to the quarterback are below average. Coleman’s 2017 wasn’t as good as his 2016, but there is enough athletic ability and cover talent to give him a shot at making a team. (Graded 5.10 - Better than average chance to make NFL roster)
Eastern Michigan Eagles
No players listed
Kent State Golden Flashes
No players listed
NFL.com Breakdown: Called “the Mayor” by coaches, teammates, and others, Harding has become a strong presence on the Miami campus since arriving in 2013. He was a first-team all-state pick in Ohio, and a nominee for the state’s Mr. Football award, after rushing for over 5,000 yards, scoring 102 touchdowns, and intercepting six passes in his career. Harding played in 12 games, starting nine, as a true freshman, making 56 tackles, intercepting three passes, breaking up four others, and forcing two fumbles. Harding started nine of 12 games again in 2014, earning the team’s Defensive Skill Player of the Year (team-leading 98 tackles, two interceptions). His junior year ended prematurely due to a back injury (four tackles in three games), but he received a medical redshirt for that season. In 2016, he garnered first-team All-MAC honors as a 13-game starter, credited with 67 tackles, 6.5 for loss, four interceptions, and team-best 11 pass breakups. Harding was not challenged as often in his senior year, so he wound up a third-team All-MAC pick with 63 stops, 2.5 for loss, one interception, nine pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. (Graded 5.03 - Better than average chance to make NFL roster)
Northern Illinois Huskies
No players listed
Ohio University Bobcats
NFL.com Breakdown: Poling’s production, athletic testing and ability to potentially handle some coverage duties could make him a late Day 3 selection. He unleashes his true speed when he’s chasing down tackles from behind, but needs to play to that same speed when he’s attacking near the line of scrimmage. Poling has some holes in his game, but he has the ability to become a special teams player with backup linebacker potential. (Graded 5.15 - Better than average chance to make NFL roster)
NFL.com Breakdown: Good combination of length (34-inch arms) and broadness of torso. Carries functional mass to absorb power and fight back. Powerful upper body allows for strong punch, push, and turn of defenders. Generally accurate and confident with his hands. Grinds into down-blocks with aggressive fits to create movement and widen the lane. Has experience as both left and right tackle. Adequate foot quickness to challenge edge rushers up to the arc. Edge strength to lock arms out and ride rushers around the pocket. (Graded at 5.13 - Better than average chance to make NFL roster)
NFL.com Breakdown: Adeniyi is a try-hard, aggressive rusher who has been able to give blockers all they could handle inside his conference. While he clearly possesses good power and toughness, he lacks the agility and athleticism teams look for from a rush linebacker and the overall length they want from a defensive end. Adeniyi won’t check many of the physical boxes teams want, but the production, aggression, and grit should give him a shot to make a team. (Graded 5.12 - Better than average chance to make NFL roster)
NFL.com Breakdown: Woodside is an undersized quarterback with a very average arm who overcomes his deficiencies with good football intelligence and above average accuracy. His lack of size will be an immediate turn-off for most teams, but his competitive nature and ability to throw it where he wants to could give him an outside shot of finding work for a West Coast offense that values his accuracy and decision-making. (Graded 4.94 - should be in an NFL training camp. Expected draft position of priority free agent)
Western Michigan Broncos
NFL.com Breakdown: Okorafor’s size and potential will likely get him drafted earlier than where the tape says he should go. While he has plus physical traits, inconsistencies with balance and instincts could be a challenge to correct. He has the feet to handle speed rushers, but multi-move rushers could eat his lunch early on. Okorafor will need to play with much better consistency and toughness on the next level to become an average NFL starter. (Graded 5.60 - Chance to become NFL starter; Projected draft in rounds 3/4)
NFL.com Breakdown: Ball-hawking cornerback with athletic ability and short area quickness to handle man coverage from slot and the instincts to play zone effectively. Phillips will have to move inside due to his lack of size so his issues in run support could be exploited by offensive coordinators. He should test well at the Combine so his draft value will depend directly on how teams prioritize toughness versus ball skills. (Graded 5.27 - NFL backup or special teams potential; Projected draft in rounds 6/7)
NFL.com Breakdown: Ernsberger’s size will likely make him an H-back or fullback candidate. As a pass catcher, he will need to improve his route-running in order to free himself against NFL man coverage. As a blocker, he’s a willing hitter, but very inconsistent with his technique. Ernsberger could offer special teams value, but he plays a position that may not have many openings so he’ll need to find something in his game to stand out in order to become an NFL player. (Graded 4.98 - Should be in an NFL training camp; Projected priority free agent)
NFL.com Breakdown: Franklin has tremendous size and splashed on the scene with one of the better freshman campaigns you will ever see, but his lack of functional burst is extremely limiting both as an inside and outside runner. Franklin spends too much time attempting to elude tacklers rather than just trying to accelerate and run them over which is what he will need to do in order to become a short-yardage specialist in the NFL. (Graded 4.88 - should be in an NFL training camp; Projected priority free agent)
Now, keep in mind, that list above is formulated by the NFL and not by people in the power to make a decision. The top of the draft may be filled with consensus talent and unanimous decisions, but the latter rounds don’t require all 32 teams to fall in love with you. It only takes one willing to take a flier.
The Belt will be around for the entirety of Draft Weekend and when a MAC alum gets drafted we’ll be the place to check for the details, the destination, and the breakdown. Get yourself ready for a football-tastic weekend.