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NFL Draft History Lesson: Central Michigan Chippewas (2017-2021)

CMU remains one of the MAC’s better pro prospect factories, with three starters selected over the last five drafts.

NFL: Super Bowl LV-Kansas City Chiefs vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Central Michigan’s first draft selection was all the way back in the good ol’ days of 1946, when back Ben Wall went 167th overall to the Detroit Lions. The Lions and the Chippewas had a great early relationship, with four of the first seven former CMU footballers to enter the league wearing Honolulu blue.

Curiously, no Chippewa has been drafted by Detroit since the 1958 season, when tackle Gordon Ringquist was selected in the 16th round the year after Detroit lifted the NFL title trophy.

Today, seven former Chippewas grace NFL fields, with five of them having been selected in the Draft since 2016. (Tony Poljan and Mike Danna transferred in their senior seasons, but played the majority of their careers in Mt. Pleasant.)

The current five-year stretch of draft selections is the best for CMU prospects since 2004-2008, when five Chippewas heard their names called, including Antonio Brown, Joe Staley and Dan LeFevour (who would later find success in the CFL.)

We check in with the three prospects who were drafted within the last five seasons:

TE Tyler Conklin

NFL: JAN 02 Vikings at Packers Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Drafted: 2018, fifth round, 157th overall, Minnesota Vikings

Tyler Conklin was a revelation in his three seasons at CMU after transferring in as a walk-on from Division II Northwood University, located in nearby Midland. Wanting a different challenge from playing basketball at the NCAA level, Conklin gave playing tight end a shot and it worked out well, finishing his CMU career with 83 receptions for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Conklin landed in Minnesota as a back-up tight end prospect behind Kyle Rudolph, coming in primarily as a blocking end for the majority of his career. 2021 turned out to be his breakout season, with Rudolph departing for the Giants, Irv Smith Jr. getting injured early in the season and mid-season acquisition Christopher Herndon IV struggling to get acclimated.

Conklin had his best season as a professional after winning the TE job, posting 61 receptions for 531 yards and six touchdowns in 2021. Conklin signed with the New York Jets this offseason, and is expected to compete with fellow free-agent signee CJ Uzomah for a starting role.

CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Los Angeles Rams v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Drafted: 2019, second round, 39th overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sean Murphy-Bunting was a shutdown corner’s shutdown corner in his time in Maroon and Gold, with nine interceptions, 15 passes defensed, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one fumble return touchdown in his four seasons. Murphy-Bunting was also a sure tackler, with 72 of his 104 career tackles all solo stops.

After securing first-team all-MAC honors in 2018, Murphy-Bunting was drafted 39th overall by Tampa Bay and immediately established himself as a key cog, nabbing three interceptions— including one returned for a touchdown in his hometown of Detroit.

2020 saw him hold down his starting position on a championship-level defense, with 70 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception in the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl title run.

2021 was more of a struggle for Murphy-Bunting, who suffered a severe arm injury which cost him much of the season— and forced him into a full-arm brace and harness when he did return to the field.

He’ll look to retain his starting role in 2022 for a Tampa defense which should once again be extremely deep in the secondary.

CB/SAF Xavier Crawford

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Drafted: 2019, sixth round, 195th overall, Houston Texans

Crawford was a grad transfer for the ill-fated 2018 Chippewas, coming to Mt. Pleasant from Oregon State. By the time he played his last game for the Maroon and Gold, Crawford left with his battery mate Murphy-Bunting as a first-team all-MAC defensive back, with 24 tackles, two fumble recoveries, an interception and 12 passes defensed.

Crawford opted to turn professional instead of wait out a coaching change, eventually being drafted by the Houston Texans in the sixth round. Waived in October after initially making the 53-man roster, Crawford was picked up by Miami, stashed on the practice squad and summarily released in December.

Chicago saw the potential in Crawford, securing him via waivers and signing him to a future/reserve contract to hold him on the roster in the 2019-20 offseason. Their due diligence was rewarded, as Crawford landed on the practice squad in 2020 and would become a key contributor for a battered Bears secondary in 2021, playing in 13 games with two starts.

Crawford starts the 2022 season rostered on the Jacksonville Jaguars after signing there as a free agent this offseason.