MAC will make draft history Thursday

April 23, 2013

In what's regarded by longtime observers as a strange NFL Draft, this not-so-little tidbit might sound strangest of all.
There's a chance that no Big Ten Conference player will be drafted in the first round. There's a chance the first player drafted will be from the Mid-American Conference.
No typo. Do not adjust your screen.
2012 was a banner season for the MAC and not such a great one for the Big Ten, so if this was ever going to happen, this seems the year. Don't count on it becoming a trend or a permanent thing, though Central Michigan and its MAC brethren should both celebrate and try to capitalize on offensive tackle Eric Fisher's fast rise. All this attention is a pretty good recruiting tool. 
Fisher is no guarantee to go to the Kansas City Chiefs with the No. 1 overall pick when the 2013 NFL Draft starts Thursday night, but he's thought to be in the mix. He's not expected to fall out of the top five, and maybe not out of the top two. 
He's poised to become the highest MAC player ever drafted, ahead of Marshall's Byron Leftwich (No. 7, 2003), Bowling Green's Bernie Casey (No. 9, 1961), Toledo's Dan Williams (No. 11, 1993) and Miami-Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger (No. 11, 2004). 
The last time a Big Ten player wasn't selected in the first round was 1953. 
Fisher entered high school in Rochester Hills, Mich., as a quarterback, punter and linebacker. He'd grown to 6-foot-6 by the time he was a senior, and it's around that time he told his high school coach, Calvin Gross, that he wanted to play college football. Gross told him his football future, if there was one, would be as a lineman. 
Fisher started putting in the requisite work and adding weight. He attended five one-day exposure camps in the summer before his senior year.
"I didn't get a sniff from any Big Ten school," he said. 
By the time National Signing Day rolled around, he was a 230-pound tackle in training who had two Div. I offers, from Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan. and other scouting services pegged him a two-star recruit.
"I loved the program and atmosphere at Central when I was being recruited, loved the coaching staff at the time and I never looked back," Fisher said.
Seventy-some pounds and five years later, Fisher is an athletic — and still developing — player at one of the NFL's big-money positions. He's been in New York City for the draft since the beginning of the week, and he's confident he won't wait long Thursday night to hear his name called.  
"This whole thing is just a dream," Fisher said. "(Going in the top five) would be a huge honor, obviously a dream complete."

As for the Big Ten, Ohio State early-entry defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins and Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short are first-round possibilities but certainly not locks. Even 48 hours from the start of the draft, no one seems to know for sure which direction this first round is headed. 
Hankins announced back in December he was giving up his senior season to head to the NFL, and the decision made sense. There's been little buzz about him in the months since — which sometimes is a good thing and sometimes is a bad thing.
Even if he's not a first-round pick, it's hard to imagine Hankins falling out of the draft's top 50 selections. He can play multiple positions in multiple defenses and though he wasn't always a consistent producer, he shed weight (nearly 50 pounds since enrolling at Ohio State) and seems to have the athleticism and upside NFL teams love in their defensive line prospects.
Speaking last week at an informal media session, Luke Fickell — Ohio State's head coach in 2011 and co-defensive coordinator last season — addressed what he's told NFL teams about Hankins and the notion that Hankins may be slipping in this draft. 
"I think John did everything we asked him to do, and everything that we would've expected him to do," Fickell said. "I think the reality is that when they test you, and they do those things, and they start to dig, they start to say, 'Well is this guy a four-down guy? Is he a three-down guy? Is he a two-down guy? And what is he?' And I think that's what they still have some questions about. Does he wear down? Does he this? Is he that strong? When they really start to dive in, I mean, no one knows.
"To me, that kid's got all the intangibles. He's not scratched the surface on how good he can be, because physically, he's still a young kid."