It's nearly impossible for talented college football players to fly "under the radar" of the national media.
Every Saturday, there are dozens of games on a multitude of networks and we also have several college football shows, which discuss the top teams and players on a daily basis. However, if you polled college football fans last October, how many of them could tell you anything about Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher? I'm guessing that number would be very low. Fisher, of course, would go on to be the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The 2014 NFL Draft will feature plenty of big-name players from name-brand programs like Florida State, LSU and Oregon. However, there are also several outstanding prospects that play their ball outside of the BCS automatic qualifying conferences. With that in mind, I reached out to five NFL personnel executives and asked them the following question: Who is the best senior prospect that isn't playing in a major conference? Here are the results:
Executive 1: Khalil Mack
"Khalil Mack. He's the ideal 3-4 outside linebacker. He has a physical presence on the edge, and he can win with speed or power. He has the right temperament for the position, and he has long arms."
Executive 2: Khalil Mack
"Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Montana defensive end Jordan Tripp are both really good players, but the linebacker at Buffalo (Khalil Mack) is the best guy. He's the real deal. He has all the tools: he has length, athletic ability to cover, and he's a productive pass rusher."
Executive 3: Khalil Mack
"The Buffalo linebacker (Khalil Mack). He's an athletic playmaker with size and length. He was the best player on the field in the Ohio State game."
Executive 4: Khalil Mack
"Khalil Mack. He's very strong and explosive. He dominated against big-time competition (Ohio State). From what I've seen, he'll be the second-best edge rusher in the draft. He'll go in the top 10-15 picks."
Executive 5: Khalil Mack
"Khalil Mack. Just watch the Ohio State game. He's a physical freak, and he does everything well. He can run, hit, tackle, set the edge, rush the passer and catch the ball. He could play outside in a 3-4 or any of the three linebacker spots in a 4-3."
Verdict: All five votes for Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack.
Conclusion: This was an easy call for the executives. Khalil Mack is a dominant player on tape and his performance against Ohio State sealed the deal for NFL evaluators. He has a rare combination of explosiveness, versatility and instincts. We have a long wait before the 2014 NFL Draft arrives, but I would be very surprised if Mack doesn't hear his name called in the first round.