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Thursday, October 02, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 4/25/2013

On draft day, MAC football rises to top

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

The greatest moment ever for Mid-American Conference football? There would be numerous candidates, from Toledo’s 35-0 run at the dawn of the 1970s to Ben Roethlisberger’s Super Bowls and everything in between. And then came Thursday night.

In an NFL draft most often dominated, at the top and throughout, by players from the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten, the Big 12, etc., those big boys took a backseat to the MAC when the No. 1 pick was announced.

The best players in this draft were offensive tackles and the best of those, said the Kansas City Chiefs, is Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and the MAC. What a great spotlight for a league that has most often lived in the shadows.

It stepped out of them in a big way — big as in 6-7, 306 pounds. Fisher will be counted on to help restructure a line that allowed the Chiefs’ quarterbacks to be badly victimized by pass rushes week in and week out en route to 37 turnovers.

The Chiefs have a new coach in Andy Reid, a new quarterback in ex-49er Alex Smith, and now they have a Big MAC at left tackle.

Fisher was one of three tackles to be selected among the first four picks. Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M went next to Jacksonville and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma was picked by Philadelphia.

And, of course, the big subject among the experts on the ESPN draft desk after Fisher’s selection was whether the Chiefs were ignoring the premise that CMU did not face elite competition.

Jon Gruden, who pours over film, pointed out that Fisher was at his best against Big Ten foes Iowa and Michigan State. Mel Kiper suggested Fisher snatched the first pick away from Joeckel with his eye-opening performance in the Senior Bowl.

Considering Johnson’s considerable athletic skills, ranking them was perhaps a three-way coin flip, but Fisher was declared the first among equals and all three disappeared off the board in a hurry.

That forced the Detroit Lions, who picked fifth, away from their primary need on the O-line to their secondary target, a pass rusher to help replace departed defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch.

They found their man in one of the most intriguing propects, Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, who before last season at BYU had compiled career totals of seven tackles and zero sacks. But the native of Ghana, with astounding athleticism, had a big 2012 season and was dominant on a Senior Bowl team headed by Lions coaches.

Ziggy was completely off the radar at this time a year ago, but Kiper said he produced the most meteoric rise of any player in his 35 years of analyzing the draft.

The Cleveland Browns also went with defense and stacked their new 3-4 defense with LSU’s Barkevious “KeKe” Mingo, who will transition from end to outside linebacker. A tremendous edge rusher, Cleveland will team him with free agent Paul Kruger and another returning linebacker, Jabaal Sheard, and hope to scare some opposing quarterbacks.

The Browns’ pick may or may not have cleared up exactly what new management thinks of its own quarterback, Brandon Weeden.

All the QBs in the draft, including a couple whose pass-run skill sets fit with new Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski, were there for the taking.

Perhaps the subject will be cleared up by what does or doesn’t happen in later rounds.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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