The Debate: Best MAC Draft Class Of All Time
By Jon Coffey
With the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs made history and selected T Eric Fisher from Central Michigan University.
Not only was Fisher the first player from the Mid-American Conference (MAC) to be taken No. 1 overall, but he was also the first player in the conference to be taken sooner than sixth and the first product of Central Michigan to be selected higher than the No. 28 slot in the first round.
But as Fisher took his place in history and the headlines, six other MAC players found their places in the NFL.
After two full rounds went by, G Brian Winters of Kent State was selected by the New York Jets, No. 72 overall.
From there, Buffalo’s DE Steven Means was drafted in the fifth round by Tampa Bay, and DT Chris Jones was taken out of Bowling Green by Houston in the sixth.
In round seven, three more MAC players were chosen. Ohio’s G Eric Herman was taken by the New York Giants, QB Zac Dysert, from Miami (OH), was selected by Denver, and finally Massachusetts RB Michael Cox joined Herman with the Giants at pick No. 253.
The seven MAC players drafted in 2013 enter into a three-way tie for 15th place – in number of draftees – as a class (with 2004 and 1975) in the Modern NFL Era that dates back to 1970.
But volume aside, any rankings of MAC draft classes ultimately begs one question: which individual class is the best?
Coincidentally, the top three classes all come from the 2000s. That’s in no way meant as disrespect to the stars of the 1990s drafts (i.e. Randy Moss and Jason Taylor), but Super Bowl rings seem to carry the most weight in this debate.
Here’s a look at the top three Modern Era MAC draft classes:
3.) Class of 2003
This class most notably included Byron Leftwich from Marshall, Asante Samuel from Central Florida, and Kevin Walter from Eastern Michigan. Combined they have won three Super Bowls – two from Samuel (both with the Patriots) and one from Leftwich (Steelers).
The only other MAC player from this draft who is still playing in the NFL is S Chris Crocker (Marshall), who is currently with the Cincinnati Bengals.
2.) Class of 2004
While this class only boasts two Super Bowl victories, both come from arguably the best player to ever transition from the MAC to the NFL – Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben has established himself as one of the NFL’s top tier quarterbacks every year since his rookie season and has set numerous records which include him becoming the youngest player to ever win a Super Bowl, and becoming the all-time Pittsburgh Steelers leader in passing yards.
But if Roethlisberger isn’t enough, there is always Michael Turner, drafted out of Northern Illinois by the San Diego Chargers. Despite his lack of Super Bowl rings, Turner has emerged as a standout running back during his professional career. He has made two Pro Bowls and has the potential to add more to that list before his career is done.
Jason Babin is the third most recognized name from this class. Currently with his seventh NFL team, he has been a consistent starter during his time as a professional.
I give 2004 the slight advantage over 2003 because of the impact of Roethlisberger in the two Super Bowl wins. If Roethlisberger doesn’t play, the Steelers don’t win. If Leftwich would have been ruled out for his Super Bowl, the Steelers would likely have still pulled off the win. Thus with the ring count made even, I’ll take Big Ben over Samuel.
1.) Class of 2006
Surprisingly, 2006 tops this list. With pass-catchers leading the way, this class possesses three legitimate Super Bowl rings, three every-game starters and one consistently decent backup quarterback.
Western Michigan’s Greg Jennings spent seven years with Packers before signing with the Vikings this offseason. After two Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl ring, Jennings has easily established himself as one of the best MAC receivers (behind Randy Moss) ever to play in the NFL.
The dark horse of this class had to have been Domenik Hixon. The wide receiver from Akron has collected two Super Bowl rings as a part of the New York Giants team and played a big part in the unexpected championship win over the Patriots in 2008. If you’ll remember, the previously-mentioned Samuel missed an interception opportunity on the play before the David Tyree catch. If that play would’ve have gone differently, this conversation might look very different.
Tight end Tony Scheffler has put up productive seasons with both the Broncos and Lions throughout his career. The former Western Michigan Bronco hasn’t amassed any championship rings or Pro Bowl selections, but he is one of the only players from any of the three classes to hold a regular starting job for an NFL team for an extended period of time.
Finally there is Bruce Gradkowski. You might be wondering why he is a debate point on this list at all, but the answer is simple. As a backup quarterback in the NFL, Gradkowski has managed to land a job on an NFL roster for each of the eight years that he has had the potential to do so. Even though he isn’t putting up flashy numbers or earning Super Bowl rings, he has done enough to serve as the tie-breaker in this conversation.
So although this class may lack in star-power what other MAC classes have, three starters with three championship rings and two Pro Bowls, and one backup quarterback makes the class of 2006 the best the MAC has produced to date.