The Mid-American conference has produced surprisingly-solid NFL talent in the last decade. Of those prospects, many have been very good NFL quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Chad Pennington, and others have been decent signal callers like Byron Leftwich or Bruce Gradkowski.
It’s not that the conference hasn’t had its fair share of legendary athletes, notably Pittsburgh Steelers icon Jack Lambert and former New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson. However, it seemed like for a few decades in between, the MAC was known not for those making plays on the field, but for the guys in charge of leading those programs.
Beyond a recent stretch of quarterbacks making successful transitions, the MAC was probably best-known for serving as a launching pad for some of the best coaches in NCAA football.
Sometimes referred to as the “Cradle of Coaches”, prominent figures in their profession include larger-than-life guys like Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, and Ara Parseghian. More recently, the list also features Urban Meyer, Jim Grob, and the late Terry Hoeppner. Recently hired Notre Dame coach, Brian Kelly, also cut his teeth at Central Michigan.
In recent years, defensive players from the MAC have shifted the spotlight away from the offense. A couple players come to mind who have taken little time to explode onto the NFL scene, like Louis Delmas (Detroit Lions) and Jason Jones (Tennessee Titans), a pair of second round picks in 2008 and 2009.
But the top 2010 NFL draft prospects from the MAC are either wide receivers or quarterbacks — except for one Toledo Rockets defender. Here are the top six players in the MAC conference in the 2010 NFL draft.
The keys to the former MAC Freshman of the Years are ideal size, above-average arm strength, toughness, and smarts. He was expected to challenge LeFevour, division foe and in-state rival, as one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. Hiller didn’t come close, but he’s a possible developmental prospect who could develop into a decent NFL backup.
Round – Late Sixth
His four-year career was a statistical yo-yo, but he absolutely saved his best for last. In fact, Barnes led the nation in 2009 with receiving touchdowns (19) and receptions (155), while finishing second overall in yards (1,770). You would think even one, let alone all three, of these records is reason enough to extend an invite to the NFL combine. However, Barnes has not yet received an invitation to the February 24th event.
Tough, sure-handed receiver may lack ideal speed, but you can bet he’s going to have a serious chip on his shoulder for the next few years. He’s likely to go sometime in the fifth round, but any team grabbing him earlier is going to have a pretty good receiver with something to prove.
Round – Fifth to Sixth
Underrated Rockets defensive back has the toughness and passion some prospects lack. He’s a gym-rat type of athlete and is one of the more dependable tacklers in this safety class. He isn't blessed with elite speed, but he’s a gamer with proven durability, as he started every game in his four-year career.
Round – Fifth
Brown was one of Dan LeFevour’s favorite targets and served double-duty for the 23rd-ranked Chippewas. An early-entry prospect and possible mid-to-late round pick, he would have probably fared much higher if he returned for his final year.
He’s been clocked in the low 4.4 range and was an outstanding return-specialist for the Chippewas. He will definitely provide value to any team with an opening at kick or punt returner. Brown projects to line up primarily in the slot.
Round – Fifth
After a remarkable career in Mount Pleasant, LeFevour finds himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2010 NFL draft.
The Downers Grove, Illinois native is the only player in NCAA history to pass for 12,000 yards and rush for 2,500 more in his career. He was voted the Vern Smith Leadership award (conference player of the year). A host of other records and awards, including All-Academic, decorates his illustrious reign over the Mid-American conference.
Skeptics will point out LeFevours’ success is more of an anomaly instead of the result of an elite talent, even though he finished his career with a stat line that reads more like a video-game (Passing: 102 TDs to 36 INTs & Rushing: 2,948 YDs, 47 TDs) and possesses sought-after intangibles like toughness and intelligence, with a strong command of the huddle and locker-room.
Watching him play so many games, I question many of the scouting reports that cite average arm-strength and accuracy. He puts enough zip on his passes to make all the throws in the NFL and has very good, if not great, touch and precision. The dual-threat presence, attitude, and inconsistent opinions make LeFevour one of the true-value picks in the entire class.
Round – Second to Third
The Bobcat receiver is one of the fastest-rising players in this class due in large part to his showing at the Senior Bowl. Price has been timed in the 4.3 range and catches everything in sight.
He’s strong enough to absorb NFL hits and is willing to fearlessly go over the middle. The only thing holding him back will be teams questioning whether his performance in Mobile was a fluke. If Price shows up at the combine and confirms his 40-yard dash time and impresses in positional workouts, he will live up to current third-round projections, if not much earlier.
Round – Second