NFL draft: Top MAC prospects for the 2021 NFL draft

Eric Edholm
·9 min read

The 2020 college football season clearly has been missing something. Is it possible we just need a little more #MACtion in our lives?

We’re about to find out. The conference kicks off play Wednesday night and will be invading your weekdays for the following six-plus weeks, and a return to normalcy in the conference … likely means a dose of chaos that will vibe quite nicely with what 2020 has offered us to this point.

The current group of schools for the conference has been in place since the start of the 2016 MAC season. In the four NFL drafts since then, those schools have produced an average of seven selections per year.

You’ll likely recognize many of the names, including Kareem Hunt, Kenny Golladay, Diontae Johnson, Maxx Crosby and Corey Davis. Prior to that, the conference produced respectable first-round prospects (Khalil Mack, Jimmie Ward and Muhammad Wilkerson, among others) and several other Day 2 selections.

The 2020 NFL draft was a down year for the conference, producing its lowest output since the mid-1990s, with only two picks: Indianapolis Colts fifth-round OL Danny Pinter (Ball State) and Los Angeles Rams seventh-round PK Sam Sloman (Miami-Ohio).

This year could see an uptick toward a typical MAC draft haul, even if it might lack some of the future Pro Bowl talent that the conference has produced. Here are the conference’s NFL prospects whom we’re most interested in, including two underclassmen, as the MAC gets underway.

Miami (Ohio) OT Tommy Doyle

The highest-graded MAC senior this year, according to sources we’ve spoken with this year, is Doyle.

The 6-foot-7, 316-pound left tackle opted out of the season (along with RedHawks C Danny Godlevske, a UDFA-type talent) when the MAC originally canceled the fall season. But when the MAC reopened for business, boom, Doyle came back.

Miami (Ohio) OT Tommy Doyle is our highest-rated 2021 NFL draft prospect from the MAC. (AP Photo/Tony Tribble)
Miami (Ohio) OT Tommy Doyle is our highest-rated 2021 NFL draft prospect from the MAC. (AP Photo/Tony Tribble)

We’re happy. He has the length and pass-blocking chops to be a Day 2 pick after earning some second-round grades over the summer. We watched his tape against Buffalo Bills second-round EDGE A.J. Epenesa and were very impressed.

The MAC has a nice history of producing OL talent (Eric Fisher, Joe Staley), and Doyle appears next in that line. With a strong final season, he will end up somewhere in my top 60 or 80 overall prospects for 2021.

Kent State QB Dustin Crum

Crum is a junior with a year of eligibility left. He’s by no means close to a final product, and Crum certainly could end up back in school and in the 2022 class.

But if this dual-threat QB takes a step forward from the high level he achieved in a breakout 2019 season (20 TD passes, six rush TDs, two interceptions), despite facing constant pressure behind a horrid pass-blocking line, Crum might be a dark-horse candidate to declare early for 2021.

Buffalo OT-OG Kayode Awosika

He’s not a name we’ve seen much in national media circles, but NFL scouts absolutely are hip to Awosika as a prospect.

The 6-3, 301-pound right tackle is a beast as a run blocker, helping spring the Bulls to a school-record 3,256 rush yards last season, and he was part of a unit that allowed a mere eight sacks all season. (PFF graded Awosika as allowing three sacks on 271 pass plays in 2019.)

Perhaps a move inside to guard is in the offing for Awosika, who appears to lack great length. But we believe the team captain and all-MAC selection has a chance to be a top-100 overall pick after earning some third-round grades this summer.

Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson

Patterson certainly benefited from Awosika and the Bulls’ great offensive line a year ago. But we are not going to take anything away from Patterson, a very slippery and quick back who always seems to churn out more yards than the play was designed for.

Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson is one of the most productive runners in college football. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano, File)
Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson is one of the most productive runners in college football. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano, File)

We envision the 5-8, 185-pound Patterson eventually as being part of a RB tandem — the lightning to a power back’s thunder — especially for an NFL team that runs a zone-heavy running game.

Patterson is a junior with a year of eligibility remaining after this season. But after averaging 5.7 yards a carry and scoring 34 TDs in 26 college games, he’s a candidate to jump to the NFL with another productive season. In his final six games last season, Patterson ran for an absurd 1,119 yards and 15 scores.

Ball State CB Antonio Phillips

Earning some mid-Day 3 grades this summer, Phillips is an interesting corner who shouldn’t go overlooked. Although he’s a bit on the smaller side at 5-11 and 187 pounds (scouts’ measurements), Phillips’ 32-inch arms are something NFL scouts are very interested in.

As the Cardinals’ best cornerback the past two seasons, he’s picked off a combined six passes and registered 11 passes defended. Phillips also is a solid blitzer and tackler, and his game tape against an Indiana team with multiple NFL receiver prospects was an eye-opener.

Buffalo EDGE Malcolm Koonce

The 2019 Bahamas Bowl Defensive MVP last year, Koonce made one of our favorite sacks of last season. Lined up on the defensive right side, look how far Koonce had to go — now that’s running the arc! — to make the strip sack:

Malcolm Koonce earned Bahamas Bowl Defensive MVP honors thanks to plays like this.
Malcolm Koonce earned Bahamas Bowl Defensive MVP honors thanks to plays like this.

At 6-2 and 246 pounds and lacking elite physical traits, Koonce earned mostly Day 3 grades coming into this season. But he has his share of fans among area scouts who know what kind of disruption Koonce seems to create on a weekly basis.

Koonce reminds me a bit of 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers third-rounder Alex Highsmith, although perhaps a little less athletic version of him. Still, some NFL team will appreciate Koonce’s high-energy style and pass-rush talent.

Miami (Ohio) CB-S Emmanuel Rugamba

Another RedHawks player who opted out and then opted back in, Rugamba is a do-it-all defender who is on track to be drafted in the spring with another strong final season. A former Iowa transfer (who called out Kirk Ferentz this summer for how he was treated), Rugamba made third-team all-MAC with eight pass breakups and one pick.

Finding the right spot for the 5-10, 186-pound DB might be the key to his NFL projection, as he’s not a phenomenal athlete, lacks great arm length, can be grabby in coverage and endured some tackling issues early last season (see the Iowa and Cincinnati games).

But Rugamba has a knack for making plays on the ball, and at the very least, he profiles as a special-teams standout.

Northern Illinois LB Kyle Pugh

If you’re looking for a MAC prospect to root for, Pugh might be your man.

He’s been the Huskies’ best NFL draft prospect for more than a year now, but injuries have been a major deterrent to his development. Now a redshirt senior, Pugh suffered a ruptured biceps tendon in 2017 and had surgery on his right shoulder in both 2018 and 2019. He was limited to four games in 2017 and just two last season.

Northern Illinois LB Kyle Pugh has NFL talent if he can stay healthy. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
Northern Illinois LB Kyle Pugh has NFL talent if he can stay healthy. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

But in between injuries, Pugh caught scouts’ eyes by — incredibly — leading the team in tackles in 2017 despite playing only four games and breaking out as one of the MAC’s best all-around defenders the following season.

The undersized Pugh is a shade under 6-foot, weighs 222 pounds and has short arms. But his heart is immense. Let’s hope he makes it through this final season healthy.

Buffalo WR Antonio Nunn

The 5-10, 191-pound Nunn displayed some nice vertical speed last season, even burning Penn State for 113 yards receiving, and he reportedly has put on about 10-12 pounds this offseason while trying to maintain that burst.

Nunn received mostly late draftable/UDFA grades this summer but could vault into the Quez Watkins range (200th overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles this spring) with a productive final season.

Western Michigan WR-CB D’Wayne Eskridge

It feels like the two-way star has been in college football for the better part of the past decade, but we double checked and this is indeed his redshirt senior season after he returned to school.

Nicknamed “Dee,” the former Indiana “Mr. Track and Field” won three state track titles as a prep (two in the 200 meters and one in the 100 meters) and reportedly has been tested as low as a 4.33-second 40-yard dash back in 2018.

But what position is he?

Western Michigan's two-way star, D'Wayne Eskridge, has game-changing speed. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Western Michigan's two-way star, D'Wayne Eskridge, has game-changing speed. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Eskridge played mostly cornerback last season after scouts told him he might have a more promising future there, before struggling early on and suffering a broken clavicle after only four games. Now, it appears he’s moving back to receiver this season, although it’s expected he’ll get some work on defense, likely as a nickel corner.

Scouts are intrigued by Eskridge’s physical traits (he’s benched 350, vertical-jumped 37.5 inches and has clocked a short-shuttle time of 4.08 seconds) and versatility. But to ensure a draftable grade, Eskridge must return to his explosive form of 2018.

Toledo CB Samuel Womack

The 5-9, 181-pound Womack played everywhere last season for Jason Candle’s team, lining up at left and right corner, in the slot, as a box defender and even sparingly at free safety. In addition, Womack was a core member of the Rockets’ special-teams units.

We first watched Womack this summer against BYU QB Zach Wilson — a possible top-10 pick in 2021 — in their 2019 meeting. Womack turned in a terrific performance in that one, allowing four catches (on 11 targets), with three tackles, three passes defended and a hurry on Wilson on a blitz.

Keep an eye on Womack.

Two interesting tight ends

Buffalo TE Zac Lefebvre — a Jimmy Garoppolo lookalike, we must point out — earned some late draftable grades this summer for his potential as a big receiving target at nearly 6-5 and 231 pounds. But to date, he’s had limited production, isn’t a plus blocker and must stay healthy his final season.

Another intriguing MAC tight end, Bowling Green’s Quintin Morris, has a more NFL-type body for the position at 6-3 and 250 pounds and is a more well-rounded player right now, even if his summer grades were only so-so.

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