GROUP OF FIVE NFL DRAFT PROPSECTS: MAC
By Rebecca Rennie
Continuing our look at under-the-radar draft prospects, this time the focus moves to the Group of Five and the Mid-American Conference. Who are some of the names to know for the 2020 NFL Draft? Get a head start on some of the standout players from the MAC!
Since the inception of a MAC championship game in 1997, the Ohio Bobcats have played in four conference title games, losing each time. With senior quarterback Nathan Rourke at the helm, long-serving coach Frank Solich might have his best opportunity yet to finally claim a conference championship for the pre-season MAC favorites.
Despite coming off back-to-back losses against Pitt of the ACC and Marshall of CUSA, the Bobcats still have their full in-conference schedule ahead of them. After a difficult outing against the Panthers, Rourke looked back to his best versus the Thundering Herd in throwing for three touchdowns and over 100 rushing yards for the dynamic duel-threat QB.
While not of prototypical stature, Rourke is stoutly built and an exceptional playmaker with mobility and dangerous running ability. His instincts and timing on his cuts and his physicality to finish runs combines with a knack for slipping out of the grasp of would-be tacklers when extending plays in the passing game.
The latter traits feel like they will garner some references to Baker Mayfield’s film at Oklahoma; not an unreasonable comparison in terms of his ability to create off-script.
To only discuss Rourke’s running and escape abilities would do a disservice to his improvements as a passer, however. There are still inconsistencies in his ball placement that has contributed to averaging below 60% completions over his first two seasons starting for Ohio. His arm strength is more than enough for the pro level yet won’t break any speed gun records either.
Rourke is capable of some outstanding touch throws, however, from fairly compact and replicable throwing mechanics. That arm technique holds up while releasing from varied throwing platforms, including while on the run and when unable to fully step up in the pocket into his throws.
Equally impressive, and unlike many frustrating QB prospects, Rourke is generally calm from a congested pocket and a sound decision maker under pressure. The Canadian-born quarterback is an exciting mid-to-late round draft prospect who looks to have legitimate starter potential at the next level with further development.
As examples of some of the entertainment Rourke can bring, check out the two plays in the video below from his 2018 game versus Cincinnati.
There are a few surprising omissions of MAC-based draft prospects from the Senior Bowl watch list, arguably none more so than the Redhawks’ exemplary standard of consistency and disruption at defensive tackle.
Miami University has had a tough non-conference schedule to open their 2019 season with road losses to Iowa and Cincinnati, but Costin has emerged from those contests with two impressive performances that ought to have improved his standing with NFL scouts.
The Cincinnati game in particular saw him far outplay even the stat sheet totals of 5 tackles and 1 TFL, with Costin drawing multiple holding penalties from Bearkat offensive linemen due to his pressure on the pocket.
Having played outside at defensive end early in his Redhawks career, Costin has bulked up to play the interior. While not the biggest at 6’2″, 295lbs, the senior shows more than enough core strength at the point of attack, even in spite of at times playing with high pad level. His impressive second-phase work sees him fight to disengage from blocks with active, fast hands.
There may not be the highest of ceilings with Costin, but his value could be helped by his ability to play different spots in multiple fronts. The development he has made over the years in terms of his frame, strength, and technique with his hands is encouraging for him to continue to improve.
You can bet that Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III will have some competition for the fastest dash time at the Combine. Bellamy is unquestionably one of the fastest players in all of college football with legit 4.2 speed.
After the bad luck of contracting E. coli prior to his senior season, he is back to full health. Despite his diminutive frame, Bellamy has surprising strength in his frame and plays big between the tackles.
The track speed translates well to his play on the football field, with homerun-hitting big plays a feature of his highlights, regularly beating the angles of closing defenders to maximize carries.
Tricky to corral in traffic, his elusive lateral jump cuts and his instinctive timing to turn north and hit the hole are combined with his ability to slip through tackle attempts and burst through onto the second level.
His threat in space is well utilized in the passing game to get the ball in his hands in multiple ways. With some kick returner experience in college, he could be in line for a role on special teams also as a pro.
Staying healthy in his final year will be crucial after his share of injury issues during college, but after destroying Georgia State recently for 192 rush yards and 3 TDs, he looks in top form.
ARTHUR JACKSON III
While not quite the same level of NFL draft prospect, much of the superlatives written about former Memphis receiver and now Chicago Bear Anthony Miller can be re-purposed and applied to Jackson. Of similar size to Miller, Jackson is another who plays bigger than he is, and excels in contested catch situations.
Outstanding at tracking the ball in the air, his concentration, timing and body control at the catch point sees him regularly come down with tricky receptions, often under tight pressure and on deeper targets down the field.
Able to affect the game on multiple levels, he’s also a factor on short completions and gaining yards after the catch with shifty running ability in space.
Eastern Michigan has made an impressive 2-1 start to the 2019 season, including a win over Power Five school Illinois in Week 3. While the Eagles offense spreads the ball around to many targets, Jackson has come up with big-time crucial plays against SEC competition in Kentucky and with a couple touchdown grabs versus Illinois.
Consider Jackson an early sleeper draft crush of this particular writer.
After three seasons playing at tight end, including starting every game in 2017 on offense, the conversion to linebacker has been a successful and potentially profitable one for Fisher. The Toledo Rockets have been one of the more notable MAC teams for producing NFL talent in recent seasons, with Fisher perhaps the best chance of a draft selection in 2020.
The measurables all appear to be there with an athletic yet muscular frame with length, combined with quickness and fluidity of movement. His energetic and active game has him around the ball consistently on each level of the defence. While he’s yet to record a sack in his brief time at linebacker, it feels as if there’s unexploited potential with Fisher as a blitzer.
He does have a history on defense from high school, but even so, his anticipation, reads and decision making are encouraging at this more competitive level. Fisher flows well downhill, picking his way through traffic, and flashes the ability to work off contact with decent hand use.
He plays with a positive balance of patience versus aggression; disciplined in his positioning yet decisive in taking off toward the action. The upside may be worth a Day 3 pick in the draft.
While unfortunately unable to do much in an opportunity against Wisconsin in Week 2, Adesanya exploded against Akron for 4.5 TFLs, 2 sacks and an interception in one of the most disruptive defensive performances of Week 3.
The Zips are nowhere near as talented as the Badgers, but the senior edge defender still flashed abilities that could translate to earning an NFL roster spot.
The transfer from Illinois may not have elite physical traits but is lean and athletic. The first step isn’t overly explosive, but his game has good quickness and intriguing flexibility to bend, dip, rip and turn the corner on offensive tackles. He may not have a great deal of power and strength but is tricky to lock down even with contact established.
If his outside rush is unsuccessful, Adesanya continues to work and counter inside, with his strong motor evident to hustle and win through second effort and pursuit plays. He will punish quarterbacks who hesitate and hold on to the ball too long.
Not just a one-trick player, Adesanya will occasionally drop back into shallow zones and doesn’t look lost in space. If his quickness and motor can lend itself to special teams contributions, he could earn a backup role with a team.
NOTES ON OTHER PROSPECTS:
Western Michigan’s Luke Juriga and Bowling Green’s Jack Kramer are two strong pro prospects at Center. The former has the bigger upside, with Juriga featuring a strong anchor and balance to hold his ground consistently well.
Kramer lacks the ideal measurables and movement but will never be outfought in the trenches and compensates for size with his technique and leverage. Emulating the Patriots’ David Andrews is not out of the question for either of the interior offensive linemen.
A pair of tight ends who could have hybrid HB/TE roles at the next level, Daniel Crawford of Northern Illinois and Giovanni Ricci of Western Michigan are going to get looks from NFL teams. While Cincinnati TE Josiah Deguara is garnering lots of early season draft hype, these two have similar skill sets despite flying under-the-radar.
Akron’s Alvin Davis Jr. is an undersized but versatile defensive back. The 5’8″, 175lb defender plays with great field vision, energy and aggression. Ohio safety Javon Hagan may have to prove his athleticism in post-season testing, but is another who flows downhill with menace and intensity.
Eastern Michigan’s Kevin McGill has his draft fans in part due to his length and ball skills, but has questionable speed and stiffness in his transitions that concern.
Central Michigan running back Jonathan Ward hasn’t filled the stat sheet in the last couple years after a fast start to his college career, but the explosive athlete has a dynamic skill set that can translate. Another intriguing back is Ball State’s Walter Fletcher. A transfer from Division 2 Edinboro, the 5’9, 192lb back has short-area quickness and hands befitting a wide receiver.
Not forgetting special teams, the MAC provides a couple worthy of a look. Ohio punter Michael Farkas has an ideal combination of consistent technique, a strong leg and touch on his kicks. Central Michigan kicker Ryan Tice might also get looks, with a career long 53-yarder in 2018 and is yet to miss in 2019, including a season-long of 50 yards.