Five MAC UFAs With Best NFL Shot
By Clyde Hughes
It is always tough to make a name for yourself and stick as an undrafted free agent in the National Football League. It's even more difficult when you did not spend the last four years at one of the power conference schools.
The Mid-American Conference players have found success through the free agent route in the past, finishing with some pretty good pro careers. NFL teams signed 25 MAC players to free agent contracts after the NFL draft. Who are the players most likely to find a home in the NFL through free agency? Here are five players to keep an eye on:
DE Alan Baxter, Northern Illinois (Pittsburgh Steelers): Baxter was part of the Huskies' potent one-two punch on the defensive line along with Sean Progar. Baxter finished his collegiate career with 142 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in 52 games. He is ranked seventh on the Huskies' all-time sack list. He grabbed first-team All-MAC honors after leading the team in sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (11.5) as a senior. His sack total ranked him fourth in the MAC and 32nd in the country. Baxter was big when it counted, too, posting four tackles, including an assisted sack, in the MAC Championship game against Kent State, including a team-best five hurried passes.
OL Austin Holtz, Ball State (Detroit Lions): Holtz, a first-team All-MAC selection, led an offensive line that surrendered just 0.83 sacks per game last season, eighth-best in the nation. Standing 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, Ball State's quarterback Keith Wenning threw for nearly 3,000 yards and running back Jahwan Edwards gained more than 1,400 behind his offensive line. The rushing total was the third-best in school history. He was selected to compete in the Casino Del Sol College All-Star game on Jan. 11 in Tucson, Ariz. He started 32 games in his four years with the Cardinals.
ILB Dan Molls, Toledo (San Diego Chargers): Molls was the undisputed leader of the Rockets' defense last season, and arguably the entire team. At 6-foot, 238, he will have to bulk up, but according to CBSSports.com scouts loved Molls' consistency. He ranked 10th in the country in total stops as a true sophomore (143 tackles). His junior year, he averaged 10 tackles per game and 12 during his last five contests despite injuries. CBSSports.com said Molls' instincts and penchant for the big play have also resulted in interceptions. He made seven in college, including three as a senior as a first-team All-MAC selection.
Martel Moore, Northern Illinois (Atlanta Falcons): Moore finished second on the NIU all-time receiving yards list with 2,544 yards to go along with his 24 touchdowns, including a scoring catch in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. The first-team All-MAC selection ranked fourth in school history in catches with 178 and had nine career 100-yard-plus receiving games. According to the Huskie Wire, Moore was "'the man' at receiver for the NIU Huskies for each of the past few years. He's the perfect combination of size and speed that you want to see in a pro football player and steps up when the pressure is on." He can also gain a little insight from cousin Wayne McGarity, who played at the University of Texas and the Dallas Cowboys.
OL Dann O'Neill, Western Michigan (Houston Texans): O'Neill was a three-year starter for the Broncos. His size, 6-foot-8, 325 pounds, will catch the attention of any NFL scout. He was first-team All-MAC this past season and third-team in 2011. He told Mark Opferman of MLive.com before the NFL draft that he ran a 5.4 in the 40-yard dash and did well in his agility drills during Western Michigan's Pro Day. O’Neill impressed recruiters at Grand Haven enough to make the Under Armour High School All-American game in 2008. He is no stranger to big-time arenas, initially signing with Michigan. He later changed his mind and transferred to the Kalamazoo school where he became a fixture on the offensive line.
Other MAC free agents to watch: DB Jahleel Addae, Central Michigan (San Diego Chargers); WR Andy Cruse, Miami (Houston Texans); TE Garrett Hoskins, Eastern Michigan (Cleveland Browns); DL Neal Huynh, Ohio (Atlanta Falcons); OL Josh Kline, Kent State (New England Patriots); DL Andy Mulumba, Eastern Michigan (Green Bay Packers); OL Jordan Roussos, Bowling Green (Seattle Seahawks); and WR Cody Wilson, Central Michigan (Detroit Lions).
Do you think another MAC free agent has a better shot than these guys? Comment and let us know.