A conference that rarely has juniors declare for the NFL Draft, the MAC still have some junior talent worth watching because they both COULD declare (as in they’ll get drafted) and will be under the radar rising seniors in the 2014 Draft.
Buffalo, Toledo, and Bowling Green dominate the list, despite all three likely underdogs to win the conference as a whole. And in a MAC conference known for its quarterbacks, three of them end up on this list.
MDD Lead Editor: Eric Galko
1. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
An explosive, upper body powerful outside rusher, Mack consistently separates himself from a blocker and shifts his eyes to the quarterback or ball carrier with good full-body balance. He has the ability to get low, drive and bend outside, and use his lower body strength to drive underneath and close down to the inside. He has fantastic change of direction and balance as he repositions his rushes, but could better utilize that for counter rush moves or to set himself up against upfield blockers that attack him.
2. Roosevelt Nix, DT, Kent State
An aggressive, consistently penetrating inside rusher, Roosevelt has been over-matching MAC offensive linemen for years now, and will finally be on the national scene (hopefully) this year as a legit NFL prospect. Undersized at just 6’0, 244 (listed), he’ll need to prove he can add weight, stay nimble and powerful upfield, and hold the point of attack more consistently in the run game when he can’t get initial penetration.
3. Marlon Pollard, CB, Eastern Michigan
The former UCLA transfer, Pollard is both a physical cornerback and a solid punter returner. With more focus and NFL potential as a cornerback, Pollard does a great job of staying physical in both press and as he turns and runs downfield, staying tight and using his hands well to feel the receiver. He can be a little slow or overaggressive as the route breaks, especially downfield, but has solid catch-up speed to make up for it when the throw doesn’t have ample velocity.
4. Nick Harwell, WR, Miami (OH)
With NFL prospect Zac Dysert at quarterback, I’d expect another big year for Nick Harwell and for him to emerge as the feature playmaker in the MAC with Eric Page of Toledo and Jordan White of Western Michigan gone. He’ll thrive with Dysert again this year thanks to his explosive change of direction with the ball in his hands and the ability to run great downfield routes, whether they be double moves or just driving off his inside foot and getting vertical. He catches away from his body very well, and has great balance in the open field and along the sidelines. He’ll need to bulk up and become a more consistent inside route runner to be a legit NFL prospect in the future.
5. Matt Schilz, QB, Bowling Green
Now in his fourth year with the team in the same offense, Schilz looks confident and poised as a passer in this system. The quickest release of any quarterback in the MAC, Schilz gets the ball out with good velocity, especially on the move, but he could use better mechanics consistently to generate more force downfield. Still, he does a fantastic job trusting his arm and vision in the middle of the field and shows touch between levels.
6. Brandon Oliver, RB, Buffalo
Oliver’s powerful build, and lower body force and balance allow him to drive defenders consistently and shed through arm tackles well. He also keeps great bad leve, adding to the benefit of his 5’8 height in the defense’s lack of vision to find him. He shows patience up and through the hole, and gets to his top speed (albiet not that fast) quickly after his burst. He flashes some one-cut and power moves in the open field, but lacks great change of direction or shiftiness to make him an every down back in the NFL.
7. Terrence Owens, QB, Toledo
Battling for a starting job with Austin Dantin (another junior), Owens seems to me like the more pure pocket passer and the best option for the team. With a composed, effortless release that’s tight and compact (though could get a little higher at release point), he has the vision in how a defense attacks each play to make multiple progressions easily and feel his check-downs on time. He utilizes play fakes and subtle movements in the pocket to alter the defense’s position, and steps into and drives throws well downfield. A complete passer, Owens needs to bulk up a little more, use his body more effectively to gain velocity on his short routes, and overall get more accuracy on 15+ passes, especially on the outside.
8. Alex Bayer, TE, Bowling Green
Not the most flashy name on the list (at least statistically), but Bayer flashes the balance and smooth downfield running ability to be an intriguing H-Back at the next level with more development. He has very reliable hands and uses his body to shield in traffic well. I wish he shows a bit more pop as both a blocker and when separating from linebackers, but his smooth nature and athleticism showcase lots of potentially untapped talent.
9. Zac Kerin, OC, Toledo
Kerin will need to assume leadership of an offensive line losing three fringe NFL prospect offensive linemen around him, but he has the talent to lead by example. He keeps his feet well upfield and doesn’t get knocked off balance as a 2nd level blocker easily. He isn’t overly explosive off the snap to drive defenders back consistently, but he keeps his hands firm and inside, redirecting well through rushes.
10. Naija Johnson, CB, Buffalo
Johnson has solid size for a cornerback to go with his explosive change of direction and quick twitch reaction ability. He gets inside of receivers on press and in the transition downfield, but struggles to consistently get off blocks to be a force in run support. He wasn’t often targeting on key situation plays last year, something that’s likely again in 2012.
Austin Dantin, QB, Toledo
Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio
Lewis Toler, CB, Western Michigan
Dayone Nunley, CB, Miami (OH)
Johnnie Simon, SS, Western Michigan