One season of professional football is in the books for a handful of former MAC standouts. In the final days of April a year ago, 11 prospects earned draft selections, while dozens of other MAC alums put their gridiron future on the line as a free agent or a mini-camp invite. A little more than two months away, here is the status of each of the 10 draft picks’ NFL careers, ranging from top-five selection Corey Davis to 250th overall Mason Schreck.
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan — Tennessee Titans
Back in April 2017, every draft expert penciled Davis in as a first-round selection. But very few expected college football’s all-time receiving yards leader to land in the top five. The Titans wasted no time in landing a target for franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota, but Davis’ rookie season featured plenty of injury roadblocks. The 6’3” wideout started just nine regular season games and sat out of five, recording 375 receiving yards in his initial campaign — 14th among rookies.
Some of Davis’ best performances came when it mattered most in the Titans two-game postseason run. The former Bronco hauled in nine receptions for 98 yards and the first two touchdowns of his promising NFL career, including this highlight grab to go up 7-0 on the eventual AFC champion New England Patriots.
Entering Year No. 2, Davis’ roster spot is fully secure, and he will likely line up on the opposite side of veteran wide receiver Rishard Matthews. The Titans, although led by an inexperienced head coach in Mike Vrabel, are primed for a second-straight playoff push with an explosive offensive and plenty of talent on the defensive side. A Corey Davis breakout season could be a determining factor in Tennessee making the leap from a sound defeat in the Divisional Round to a Super Bowl contender.
Taylor Moton, OG/OT, Western Michigan — Carolina Panthers
Moton was the second MAC player and the second Western Michigan product taken off the board in April 2017. The 6’5” offensive lineman saw action in each of the Panthers’ 16 games in the 2017 season despite never getting the call to start. According to SB Nation’s Cat Scratch Reader, the rookie was inserted into the offense for just 64 snaps and played 75 on special teams. Moton’s role for 2018 isn’t exactly defined at the moment, as he fits the role as the Panthers “sixth man” on the offensive line, able to play guard and tackle in case of an injury.
With Panthers First Team All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell bolting to Jacksonville in free agency, Moton should be competing for the starting left guard spot with several other candidates. The sophomore’s competition will consist of Amini Silatolu and Jeremiah Sirles, who both signed deals with Carolina in March. Moton is entering the second year of a 4-year, $4.15 million deal and the second round pick’s NFL career seems secure even if he doesn’t land a starting job come August.
Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio — Indianapolis Colts
Basham exited Athens, OH with a MAC Defensive Player of the Year trophy, an accolade which helped him land in the middle of the third round back in 2017. However, the Colts put the pass rushing defensive end in a difficult role last year. Basham primarily lined up as an outside linebacker in the Colts 3-4 defense, but luckily for the former Bobcat, the Colts’ new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is set on implementing a 4-3 in Indianapolis.
Basham played a down in 15 contests last year, earning two sacks and five tackles in very limited playing time. But the disappointing rookie season will be put behind him as he earns a fresh start with a completely overhauled coaching staff. Basham will fight with a litany of other defensive ends for a starting role. The Colts emphasized the position this offseason by signing Denico Autry from Oakland and drafting Big Ten standouts Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay. Basham has plenty to prove in 2018, and he must make the most of the Colts’ defensive transition in order to prove his third round talent.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo — Kansas City Chiefs
NFL’s 2017 rushing yards leader. Not just for rookies, but overall.
That’s all that really has to be said about Kareem Hunt, who dazzled and impressed all year long in a storybook rookie campaign. It started out rocky with a fumble on his first carry against the defending champions in New England. But approximately three hours later, Hunt shattered a rookie record with 256 yards from scrimmage, scoring three times in a 42-27 Chiefs upset.
Hunt’s success prolonged for much of the season, checking out with 1,327 rushing yards at nearly five yards per carry. After a legendary September and early October, Hunt’s stats suffered a bit as he failed to earn 100 yards for a seven week stretch. But his rejuvenation at the end of the season was instrumental in delivering four straight Chiefs victories to lock up the AFC West. Hunt recorded a rushing touchdown in the Chiefs playoff loss to Tennessee, capping off a Pro Bowl year for the third round selection.
For those who watched Hunt at Toledo, the most surprising element he’s perfected in his game is pass catching. He was a solid route runner and effectively used in the passing attack in 2017, recording 455 yards (555 receiving yards in four years at Toledo). Hunt’s quarterback will change from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes and running back Spencer Ware will return from the torn PCL that sidelined him a year ago. Therefore, the environment in Kansas City will be very different for the former Rocket as he attempts to replicate 2017 next fall.
Kenny Golladay, WR, Northern Illinois — Detroit Lions
Spectators at Ford Field on September 9 wondered if they were witnessing a star in the making. After Calvin Johnson’s premature retirement from Detroit, the Lions have been looking for a new Megatron for franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford.
In the season opener, Kenny Golladay looked like the next star in the Motor City, corralling four passes for 69 yards and two crucial scores in a win over the Arizona Cardinals. Then, injuries happened. A recurring hamstring injury in September sidelined the Northern Illinois alum the entirety of October and prevented him from returning to the field until November 12. Golladay’s production remained stagnant at a lower level upon return. He did not record another outing of 65 yards or a touchdown until the season finale when he finished with 80 and a score in a win over Green Bay.
Golladay’s teammates Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. both excelled in 2017 with 1,000-yard performances, so he’ll likely continue to thrive in the Lions offense as their third option — a talented slot receiver. Even sans Calvin Johnson, this is one of the most talented receiving corps Stafford has lined up with and the strong-armed Golladay could easily be primed for a breakout season in 2018 under new head coach Matt Patricia.
Michael Roberts, TE, Toledo — Detroit Lions
Roberts was the first MAC prospect off the board on day three of the 2017 draft. The rookie played 15 games (missed final game due to suspension) and received the opportunity to start in three. When on the gridiron, he was primarily used as a blocker and was targeted just seven times in a Lions uniform.
Under Patricia, Roberts could see expanded playing time in his second year. Former first round pick Eric Ebron departed to Indianapolis after an underwhelming four years in Detroit and tight end Darren Fells signed with the Browns this offseason. Roberts probably won’t start Week 1 over new acquisition Luke Willson, who won Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seahawks, but he’ll probably see increased on-field action as a blocker in two tight end packages. Barring an injury, Toledo grad’s first career touchdown will almost definitely be this fall.
Blair Brown, ILB, Ohio — Jacksonville Jaguars
Out of all MAC draft picks in 2017, Brown came the closest to hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy in his rookie season. His Jaguars were within striking distance of the Patriots and had not Myles Jack been ruled down on a fumble recovery in the AFC title game, Brown could have seen playing time in Super Bowl LII.
Brown saw plenty of playing time on special teams last season, appearing in 13 games for the AFC South champions. But after the retirement of longtime veteran Paul Posluszny, Brown is expected to take on the role of the Jaguars starting middle or strong-side linebacker (if Jack switches to MLB) in Todd Wash’s 4-3 defensive scheme. At Ohio, he was a tackling machine, earning 128 tackles and 15 TFLs in his senior year in Athens. With just seven tackles attributed to him in his brief NFL career, Brown is perfectly poised for a strong sophomore year after spending 2017 learning the ropes on special teams.
Treyvon Hester, DT, Toledo — Oakland Raiders
Hester’s selection in 2017 set off a barrage of MAC picks. Four of the final nine draftees that year were from the Mid-American Conference.
Seventh round picks are never roster guarantees, but Hester’s name is still etched in a locker at the Oakland Coliseum. In very limited playing time last season, Hester recorded nine tackles and a forced fumble. But unlike Brown and Basham, it’s uncertain if the former Rocket’s production will increase in year two. The Raiders added a pair of defensive tackles in the draft — P.J. Hall from Sam Houston State (Round 2) and Maurice Hurst from Michigan (Round 5).
Hester’s 2017 ended with an unfortunate ankle injury on December 17 in a loss to the Panthers. The Pittsburgh native should be fully recovered by training camp, and this will be a critical couple months of battling with a myriad of defensive tackles to retain a roster spot.
Keion Adams, OLB, Western Michigan — Pittsburgh Steelers
Adams may have a dream job in the National Football League, but just about a week ago, the former Bronco completed his criminal justice degree in Kalamazoo.
Adams has completed his work in the classroom, but has yet to start his work on the field. A shoulder injury in training camp derailed Adams’ rookie season and prevented him from ever taking the field. Surgery took place on the shoulder in August and the former Western Michigan defensive end has spent plenty of time rehabilitating and recovering in preparation for 2018.
After releasing recently retired outside linebacker James Harrison in December and letting Arthur Moats walk, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree appear to be the Steelers starters on the outside. But Pittsburgh didn’t spend a single draft pick on a linebacker this year, paving way for Adams to check in at second-string. It appears destined for Adams to make the 53-man roster come August, but he must prove he’s still the same athletic pass rusher he was in college after the shoulder surgery.
Pat O’Connor, DE, Eastern Michigan — Tampa Bay Buccaneers
O’Connor’s locker room transported from Ypsilanti, MI to Detroit last April when the Lions took him 250th overall. Despite signing a four-year contract upon arrival, the Eastern Michigan pass rusher didn’t last long as a Lion.
He was immediately waived, signed to the practice squad, and released after Week 1 of the 2017 season. About one month later, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him to their practice squad and eventually promoted him to the 53-man roster on November 29. The 24-year old defensive end appeared in the final three games of the regular season for the Bucs, earning a few special teams reps.
O’Connor appears to be hidden deep in the depth chart now, so proving himself in training camp is of prime importance to the Eastern Michigan great. Even if he doesn’t earn a spot on Tampa Bay’s roster, he could be a sought-after pickup for a team’s practice squad or active roster, given his talented pass rushing abilities.
Mason Schreck, TE, Buffalo — Cincinnati Bengals
Schreck was swamped with injuries before his rookie season even began. The antepenultimate selection in the 2017 was drafted to add depth behind the injury-riddled Tyler Eifert, who has played just 10 games in the last seasons. But Schreck suffered an MCL injury in the Bengals’ third preseason game before he could launch his NFL career.
The receiving-oriented tight end was fortunate enough to maintain a roster spot, but he still needs to work his way to the forefront of the depth chart. Eifert remains the Bengals’ No. 1 guy after signing a one-year deal with the team in March. Then, Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah — both more experienced than Schreck — will likely be slotted in the second and third tight ends slots. Bengals’ director of player personnel Duke Tobin labeled the former Buffalo Bull an “ascending player”, yet claimed “he’s going to be a guy that’s pushing for a spot,” according to SB Nation’s Cincy Jungle.
He remains with the Bengals to the present moment but like the other late seventh rounders, he’s required to impress plenty of members on the coaching staff this summer in order to lock up an NFL job.