Friday, May 25, 2018
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NFL Draft drought expected to end tonight for Toledo, Bowling Green prospects

The four NFL drafts from 2009 through 2012 yielded 1,018 selections, with professional dreams coming into focus for players ranging from college blue bloods such as Notre Dame and Oklahoma to those hailing from humble upbringings at Presbyterian and Morehouse.

Bowling Green State University, which ranks somewhere in the middle, never was called.

Don’t laugh, University of Toledo. Neither were you.

Two of the most recognizable programs in the Mid-American Conference have been shut out of the April event, a skid expected to end this weekend for one team, and perhaps both.

BG defensive tackle Chris Jones, projected to be taken in the latter rounds, is a safe bet to be his school’s first draft choice since Kory Lichtensteiger in 2008. Toledo, which last had a player drafted that same year in John Greco and Jalen Parmele, is placing its chips on linebacker Dan Molls, who probably has coin-flip odds to be taken. The draft begins today with the first round and continues through Saturday with rounds four through seven.

UT coach Matt Campbell and BG counterpart Dave Clawson said they are not concerned about perception that players at their schools, relative to other MAC teams, are ill-prepared for the NFL. Clawson guessed no school in the conference since 2009 has produced draft picks in three straight years, and he’s right. Only Kent State, Ohio, Buffalo, and former MAC member Temple have had a player selected two years in a row. In total, the MAC produced 26 picks the last four drafts. All but three teams — BG, UT, and Akron — had at least one player taken.

"The guys we recruit that become NFL players are incredible development stories," said Clawson, who made the 300-pound Jones part of his first class in 2009. "You recruit that undersized offensive tackle that goes from being 6-3, 245 pounds and becomes a 6-5, 300-pound guy. For us to go into a home and say, come here and you’re going to go to the NFL, that’s not our sell."

Clawson did not say so, but he seemed to be describing Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher. Fisher, projected to be taken within the first 10 picks, put on 70 pounds since the start of college. A two-star prospect, he had just one other scholarship offer, from Eastern Michigan.

Negative recruiting among MAC coaches does not drift into a program’s shortcomings in the draft, Clawson and Campbell said, likely because there are few examples of teams enjoying consistent success. Central Michigan, which certainly will trumpet Fisher’s story to recruits, had zero selections the last two years. Two years passed between Northern Illinois defensive lineman Larry English going No. 16 overall in 2009 and the Huskies producing another pick.

"When it happens, you celebrate it," Clawson said. "And you may have to celebrate for four years."

Recruiting analyst Allen Trieu said the typical MAC recruit is concerned more with a program’s record of producing talent at the same position than its number of draft picks. Trieu of said current BG quarterback James Knapke was drawn to the Falcons because two quarterbacks who recently played at the school, Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs, were successful in college. That Harris and Jacobs were drafted was less important.

"It was never really something I looked into — who had more players drafted," said UT’s Molls. "That was probably the last thing on my mind."

Campbell said the draft is a weak measurement of a program’s ability to develop professional talent, noting only two of the 11 Rockets active in the NFL were draft choices.

"I think that piece of the puzzle is maybe equally as important as the draft piece," Campbell said.

Toledo’s 2014 draft class, headlined by first-team All-MAC selections David Fluellen, Zac Kerin, and Bernard Reedy, could stop the program’s skid if someone this weekend doesn’t do it first. BG’s pipeline is lubricated with underclass talent such as BooBoo Gates, Gabe Martin, and Brian Schmiedebusch.

Some projections have Molls being taken in the last round. His prodigious stats — Molls led the nation with 166 tackles — are countered by mediocre speed and size, not unlike UT’s Eric Page a year ago, and BG’s Freddie Barnes in 2010. Record-breaking receivers, Page and Barnes were saddled with physical limitations and went undrafted.

Molls, who has heard from as many as 12 NFL teams, will get away for the weekend and travel to southern Florida, where his girlfriend attends Florida Gulf Coast. He soon will be traveling somewhere to a rookie camp, either as a free agent, or as a slump-busting draft pick.

"If me or another guy at Toledo happens to get drafted, that will be an honor," Molls said. "I don’t think any of us are banking on that. The draft is a pretty crazy process, and you never know what’s going to happen. It would be a cool honor; that’s for sure."

Contact Ryan Autullo at: 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.

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