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Twelve MAC prospects to watch during the 2020 NFL Draft

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Two NFL Combine invites headline the list of potential draft picks from the Mid-American Conference.

NCAA Football: First Responder Bowl-Western Kentucky vs Western Michigan Tim Flores-USA TODAY Sports

The greatest three days of the long NFL offseason are approaching. The 2020 NFL Draft will contrast greatly from its previous installments. Instead of draftees taking the stage in the originally scheduled site of the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, they’ll likely experience the unforgettable moment at home with their families.

There is an array of MAC players hoping to receive the phone call of a lifetime this weekend. The draft kicks off on Thursday, April 23 at 8 p.m. ET and continues through Saturday, April 25 on ESPN. A college football-centric broadcast featuring the iconic College GameDay crew will be televised on ABC this Thursday and Friday.

The MAC received two NFL Combine invites this year — Ball State offensive tackle Danny Pinter and Western Michigan running back LeVante Bellamy. The number of invites pales in comparison to recent years, but with increased uncertainty surrounding prospects due to the cancellation of many pro days, scouting events, and face-to-face pre-draft interviews, this draft is full of uncertainty.

In 2019, nine MAC players were selected in the three days of the NFL Draft. During the 2018 draft, five names were called, and the MAC was represented a decade-best 11 times in 2017. The number of MAC draftees will remain unknown through Saturday, but here are the top candidates the conference has to offer in 2020.

Danny Pinter, OT, Ball State

As far as 2020 MAC prospects go, Danny Pinter is the most certain to hear his name called in the three-day event. The First Team All-MAC selection started all 12 games at right tackle as a senior, paving the way for Ball State to finish 22nd in the country in rushing yards. Pinter, a former tight end, displayed his elite offensive tackle athleticism at the NFL Combine with the second fastest 40-yard dash time among linemen, only behind surefire top 15 pick Tristan Wirfs from Iowa. An agile run blocker with quick reaction time, Pinter most likely lands up as an early Day 3 prospect, or he’ll sneak into the third round on Friday night.

Ball State v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

LeVante Bellamy, RB, Western Michigan

LeVante Bellamy joined Pinter as one of two MAC prospects at the NFL Combine in late February. The 2019 MAC Offensive Player of the Year ranked among the top of the running back herd in several Combine drills, including vertical jump (39.5 inches) and broad jump (125 inches). While Bellamy’s 40 time clocked in at 4.50 in Indianapolis, he previously ran a 4.28 laser-timed 40 in June 2019. At Western Michigan, two season-ending injuries slowed him down in 2016 and 2017, but once returning to health, Bellamy was clearly one of the best running backs in the FBS. Bellamy rushed for 2,700 yards in two years as the feature back and ranked second nationally in rushing touchdowns with 23 in 2019. His nine touchdowns stemming from 35+ yards ranked first in the country, which shows how dangerous Bellamy can be upon finding an opening on the field.

Kevin McGill, CB, Eastern Michigan

Kevin McGill is a two-time All-MAC selection and a disruptor in the secondary. The Eastern Michigan product ranked second in the conference in interceptions during a stellar 2018 campaign and forced seven turnovers during his time as an Eagle. At 6’2”, 200 pounds, McGill has tremendous size for the position, and his hitting ability (86 tackles in 3.5 years as a starter) could incite a team to take a chance on him in the later rounds of the draft.

Jonathan Ward, RB, Central Michigan

Not many players in college football embodied the term ‘resiliency’ in the manner Jonathan Ward demonstrated in 2019. Ward was a massive hit at Central Michigan as a sophomore, blazing his way to 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns for an 8-win Chippewas team. Adversity struck Ward and his program in 2018, and the running back averaged 2.8 yards per carry for a 1-11 squad, but Ward’s maturity and work ethic triumphed in the end. He appeared better than ever in 2019, as he surpassed 1,100 rushing yards on over six yards per carry, all while leading Central Michigan to its first MAC West title of the decade. The reward for all of that? A possible Day 3 selection in a deep running back class.

Doug Costin, DT, Miami (OH)

Out of all defensive linemen in the MAC, none wreaked havoc on the line of scrimmage like Doug Costin. The heart of the conference champion RedHawks’ defensive line, Costin registered 12 tackles for loss during his senior campaign. The 6’2”, 295-pound tackle also recorded 15 sacks in his final three seasons at Miami. Before the nationwide shutdown in March, Costin completed his pro day, running a 5.30-second 40-yard dash and benching 24 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.

Evin Ksiezarczyk, OT, Buffalo

Buffalo’s offensive line was one of the most cohesive position groups in all of college football in 2019. The leader of the group, left tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk, spearheaded the Bulls into a top 10 rushing offense while allowing eight sacks in 13 games — good for second in the FBS. Ksiezarczyk has a strong left tackle build at 6’6” and 310, and he brings tremendous experience to the table as a 3-year starter. With the New York native manning the unit, the Buffalo offensive line allowed just one sack in its final eight games in 2019 — setting program-records for fewest sacks given up and most rushing yards produced in consecutive seasons. Also, look for Ksiezarczyk’s neighbor in the trenches, left guard Paul Nosworthy, for another potential late-round pick from Buffalo.

Giovanni Ricci, TE, Western Michigan

Giovanni Ricci enjoyed a breakout senior campaign where he emerged as one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award given to college football’s best tight end. In an age where pass-catching tight ends such as Travis Kelce and George Kittle play integral roles in offenses, Ricci presents that skill with a reliable set of hands. With 51 receptions in 2019, Ricci ranked seventh among all tight ends. Meanwhile, only two tight ends in the FBS caught more touchdown passes than Ricci did a year ago. He’s also solid at picking up tough yardage after catches, which could make him an interesting find for teams vying to incorporate more tight end usage into their aerial attack.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio

Nathan Rourke exemplified the role of the dual-threat quarterback in his three years as Ohio’s starter. The first MAC quarterback to win three-consecutive bowl games, Rourke accumulated 60 passing, 49 rushing, and even two receiving touchdowns with the Bobcats. The Ontario native finished third in the entire country — running backs included — in rushing touchdowns as a sophomore. His agility combined with his ability to shed tackles make him an interesting highlight reel watch. Rourke also improved as a passer each year at Ohio, culminating in a 20-touchdown, 5-interception senior season on a 61% completion rate. He stands 6’1”, but note that the top two MVP finishers from 2019, the reigning Rookie of the Year, and the newly crowned all-time passing touchdowns leader are all quarterbacks listed at 6’2” and under.

For more on Rourke, Hustle Belt caught up with him for an extensive draft profile.

Luke Juriga, C, Western Michigan

He’s played center, he’s played guard, and he’s consistently served as the best interior lineman in the MAC. Luke Juriga is a three-time All-MAC selection, securing First Team honors as a junior and senior before graduating and heading toward an opportunity in the NFL. He played three seasons at right guard before finishing up his time in Kalamazoo as a center. On the field, Juriga was an efficient run blocker, creating interior gaps for Bellamy and the backfield. Off the field, he’s quite skilled with woodworking and building. But this weekend, Juriga looks to join an impressive fraternity of recent Western Michigan linemen NFL Draft picks, including Willie Beavers (2016 Round 4), Taylor Moton (2017 Round 2), and Chukwuma Okorafor (2018 Round 3).

Javon Hagan, FS, Ohio

Javon Hagan racked up four All-MAC selections in four years at Ohio. The aggressive free safety broke up 19 passes, snatched six interceptions, forced seven fumbles, and stopped opponents behind the line of scrimmage 10 times while wearing the Bobcat uniform. He’s a do-it-all safety and an elite tackler for the position. He managed 102 tackles as a senior, skyrocketing his tackle total from an already-impressive 78 he collected in his junior season. As his stats suggest, he lines up all over in the field, whether it’s deep in the secondary for zone coverage looks or in the box for blitzes. Don’t be surprised if Hagan’s name is called on draft day. Remember, former Ohio safety Mike Mitchell was a projected late-round pick/free agent signing in 2009 and wound up going to the Raiders in the second round.

Ohio v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Reggie Gilliam, TE, Toledo

Reggie Gilliam only caught 18 passes and three touchdowns in three seasons with Toledo, but Gilliam presents an underrated skillset which makes him a viable pickup for an NFL franchise. An outstanding blocking tight end, Toledo’s running backs Bryant Koback and Shakif Seymour enjoyed plenty of assisted success when bouncing runs outside the tackles. Not only is Gilliam a talented blocker, he is a force on special teams. He blocked six kicks in two seasons, including four during the 2018 season. A former walk-on at Toledo, Gilliam potentially has the makings of a Matthew Slater or a Larry Izzo — a late-round/undrafted player with a lofty special teams career.

Sam Sloman, K, Miami (OH)

So many games in the NFL are decided by a kicker’s toe, and having an accurate kicker on the roster is crucial in any close game. When it comes to reliability, not too many college kickers matched Sam Sloman in 2019. The Georgia native sunk 26 of his 30 field goal attempts and nailed all 34 of his extra point attempts. From long range, he’s as lethal as any kicker in this draft class — 7/9 from 40-49 yards out and 4/5 from 50+ yards as a senior. Not too many kickers are typically drafted, but Sloman will certainly receive a shot battling for a starting kicker position in an NFL team’s camp this summer.