The MAC shocked many when Central Michigan's Eric Fisher was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft and the conference did it again this past spring when Buffalo's Khalil Mack was drafted fifth overall by the Oakland Raiders. But looking at the current state of the conference, it's tough to find a NFL prospect that comes close to that type of caliber player.
Although the MAC will almost certainly have its two-year streak of first round picks snapped in the 2015 NFL Draft, the conference shouldn't be shut out of the draft altogether with a few players that should garner late round consideration.
NFL Draft-Eligible prospects from the MAC to watch in 2014:
LB Junior Sylvestre, Toledo, Senior (6-0 | 222 | 4.54 | #33)
According to recruiting websites, Sylvestre was a lowly two-star linebacker and didn't receive much attention out of high schools with Toledo being one of his only FBS offers. He was a part-time player on the depth chart as a freshman and sophomore, but had a breakout season in 2013, leading the Rockets and ranking second in the MAC in tackles (118). Sylvestre also finished among the team leaders in tackles for loss (9.5), sacks (5), fumble recoveries (3) and forced fumbles (3). He was only 205 pounds when he arrived at Toledo and has added nearly 20 pounds, but his size won't be considered a strength for him at the next level. He is a relentless player with the pursuit speed and competitive drive that can't be ignored on tape, displaying the range and effort to make stops all over the field. Although he won't be as high of a pick as Khalil Mack, Sylvestre has shown similar versatility rushing the passer, dropping in coverage and simply being an all-around force, recognizing what the offense wants to do and putting himself in position to make a stop.
WR Titus Davis, Central Michigan, Senior (6-1 | 190 | 4.49 | #84)
A player with a good chance of leaving Central Michigan as the school's all-time leading receiver, Davis is a three-time All-MAC performer and the active NCAA leader with a career average of 18.9 yards per catch. He led the Chippewas with 61 receptions for 1,109 yards and eight receiving scores last year and was voted the team MVP. Davis is second in school history in touchdown grabs (24) and needs 928 receiving yards to claim the top spot for career receiving yards. He isn't the biggest or fastest, but is more than adequate in both areas, shifting gears well in his routes to create separation and accelerate downfield. Davis can be overmatched too easily by defensive backs and needs to show more of a physical nature in tight coverage, but the production speaks for itself and a big reason he is viewed as a draftable player.
FS Dechane Durante, Northern Illinois, RS Senior (6-2 | 197 | 4.56 | #1)
When scouting Huskies safety Jimmie Ward last season, it was impossible not to notice Durante who was just as active and fast in the Northern Illinois secondary. He finished last season with 55 tackles and was second on the team (behind only Ward) in both interceptions (3) and passes defended (8). Like Ward, Durante has a tall, lanky frame for the position with average bulk, but the range, instincts and aggressive mentality are also comparable. Ward was drafted 30th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft and although the first round probably isn't in Durante's future, the stage is set for him to have a breakout season as a senior leader.
ILB D.J. Lynch, Bowling Green, RS Senior (5-11 | 244 | 4.69 | #7)
Bowling Green ranked top-10 in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense last season and a big reason for that is Lynch, who led the Falcons in total tackles (85) and tackles for loss (6.0) in 2013. He is known as a fierce, competitive player between the hashes, seeking the highlight reel hit, but he also needs to keep his emotions under control, playing with both smarts and aggressiveness. Lynch reads the quarterback well, but needs to show better overall awareness in all directions to feel the chess pieces around him. At a hair under 5-foot-11, Lynch doesn't have ideal height and length for the NFL, but players like London Fletcher and Chris Borland have shown that it isn't a requirement for the next level. He projects as a possible late round prospect at this point in the process.
TE Tyreese Russell, Eastern Michigan, Senior (6-3 | 242 | 4.78 | #88)
With only four wins the past two seasons, the Eastern Michigan football program is hoping for some positive momentum in 2014. With a new coaching staff and young roster, the Eagles are rebuilding right now and will probably have their share of struggles this season, but Russell is one of the few senior leaders worth watching. He led Eastern Michigan in receiving last season with 594 receiving yards on 44 catches, averaging 13.5 yards per reception as an All-MAC Second Teamer. Russell's lack of size caused him to fly under the radar as a high school recruit and will likely cause him to be underrated as a NFL prospect as well. He has usually-sure hands and does a nice job catching the ball in stride to be a factor after the reception as well. Russell appears on the Mackey Award watch list for 2014 and will give NFL scouts a reason to travel to Ypsilanti this fall.
Other MAC prospects worth watching:
FB Trayion Durham, Kent State, Senior (6-0 | 248 | 4.76 | #34)
While Dri Archer was the lightning in the Kent State backfield last season, Durham was the thunder, using his 250-pound frame and deceiving quicks to be a force between the tackles. He led the Golden Flashes in rushing in 2013 with 766 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
WR Chris Gallon, Bowling Green, RS Junior (6-3 | 223 | 4.62 | #6)
Gallon made a name for himself as a redshirt freshman in 2012 when he led the Falcons in every receiving category, but a knee injury forced him to the sidelines for most of last season. He returns in 2014 and has the size/athleticism mix that will attract the eyes of evaluators if he can stay healthy and productive.
WR Alonzo Russell, Toledo, RS Junior (6-3 | 190 | 4.58 | #9)
Toledo has had its share of productive receivers over the years, including Lance Moore and Eric Page, but Russell's is moving up the school record books. In two seasons for the Rockets, he has combined for 115 catches and 1,688 receiving yards and has become one of the top playmakers in the MAC.
OG Greg Mancz, Toledo, RS Senior (6-5 | 300 | 5.08 | #75)
After redshirting in 2010, Mancz earned a starting job as a freshman and has started all 38 games since 2011, 35 at right guard and three at right tackle. He is a smart, tough, grind-it-out type of blocker who displays the heady temperament needed for the next level and projects as a late rounder or priority free agent.
DT Antwan Crutcher, Ohio, Senior (6-1 | 302 | 5.18 | #91)
The Bobcats returning starter at nose guard, Crutcher starred for Ted Ginn Sr. at Glenville High School in Cleveland and has shown steady progression since arriving at Ohio. He became a full-time starter last season as a junior and finished with several career-bests, including 50 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.