Weekend watching: MAC draft prospects

The Mid-American Conference championship this weekend will feature a free safety and linebacker with NFL draft aspirations. NFL scout Dave-Te’ Thomas takes a look at the talents of safety Decane Durante and linebacker D.J. Lynch.

Below, I take a look at this week’s conference championship matchups from a draft perspective, examining the talent on those teams that are being analyzed by NFL teams, along with their current status on The NFL Draft 2015 Value Board.

Bowling Green (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois (10-2)

The Huskies return to the MAC title game for the fifth consecutive year. Having won at least 10 games in each season since 2010, they captured the league crown in 2011 and ’12. This will be a rematch for both schools, as Bowling Green beat NIU in last year’s title clash (47-27).
Northern Illinois has steamrolled over league competition, winning their last six games this year, while Bowling Green limps into the postseason as losers in three of their final five games on the 2014 calendar.

Northern Illinois Featured Prospect

DECANE DURANTE: Free Safety, 6:02.0-192-4.56
The Huskies have several candidates for 2015 NFL training camp, but none of their eligible players are expected to be selected in the 2015 draft. The best of their prospects is free safety Durante, who has been a member of the Huskies first unit since the third game of his freshman season. He earned All-MAC Freshman Team honors in 2011 after he posted 57 tackles and intercepted three passes.

Injuries would limit him to 38 tackles through nine appearances as a sophomore, followed by a bounce-back season in 2013, as the third-team All-MAC choice delivered 55 tackles and was named the league’s Player of the Week after picking off two passes vs. Purdue.

This season, he ranks third on the team with a career-high 73 tackles, adding two more pass thefts to his résumé.

Durante Positives…Has an even-proportioned frame with lean muscle tone, large, soft hands and room to add at least another 10 pounds of bulk…Runs with a normal stride and shows steady acceleration…Will flash a big hit as well as make good effort in the passing game to make a play on the ball...Exhibits good vision and mental alertness and demonstrates no problems adjusting to game situations…Presents satisfactory playing strength and quickness, but is not a striker...Quick to diagnose the run/pass and react, making good adjustments while taking proper angles on the move...Playing vs. the slot, tight end and backs, he shows foot quickness and body control adjusting and maintaining mirror in pass coverage...In the zone, he shows his major strength, playing alert and adjusting to routes and receivers, anticipating throws, and covering and maintaining short to medium coverage well...Flashes the ability to make a hit from the side and make cut tackles...Covers kicks well and shows a good motor covering on special teams.

Durante Negatives…Doesn’t play with a physical, step-up-and-take-you-on attitude…Shows ball awareness and will make plays on the ball, but lacks a quick burst to close…Gets caught in traffic, at times, while supporting the run, showing questionable courage in one-on-one situations with the ball carrier…Lacks explosion on contact and needs to do a better job of powering through the ball carrier...His open-field tackling technique needs improvement, as he does not wrap up, but tackles high, lunges at the ball carriers’ legs and will often get dragged behind the runner.

Bowling Green Featured Prospect

D.J LYNCH, JR.: Inside Linebacker, 6:00.1-252-4.71
It hasn’t quite been the senior season that Lynch had envisioned, as the preseason All-MAC performer suffered a knee injury in the Week 2 contest vs. Virginia Military Institute and missed the next four contests before he returned for the Western Michigan clash. He enters the title clash with 29 tackles, a sack and 4.5 stops-for-loss this season, giving him 220 hits, eight sacks and 23.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage through 47 games with the Falcons.

The two-year starter posted 45 tackles that included three sacks during his red-shirt freshman campaign, followed by 63 tackles and six stops-for-loss despite starting just one of 13 contests in 2012. He was a second-team All-MAC choice in 2013, recording a team-high 85 tackles with eight more coming for losses in the backfield during his first season as a full-time starter.
Bowling Green compiled a 3-1 record with the weak-side outside linebacker on the sidelines, but have struggled since his return, dropping three of their last five games, including their last two appearances, heading into the title clash.

Lynch Positives…Lacks ideal height and has just adequate muscle tone in his upper body, but shows good lower-body thickness to anchor and has the large hands to grab and drag down ball carriers when making arm tackles…Plays with good leverage and anticipation inside the box, where he shows above-average balance slipping under blocks to give chase in the backfield…Needs to improve his timing on the blitz, but does a good job of avoiding low blocks working through trash…Has enough hand strength to reroute tight ends and backs in the short-area passing game…Quick to read keys and shows good gap leverage when he keeps his hands inside his frame (when they get too wide, lineman have had success stone-walling him)…Good downhill player who will throw his body around at the point of attack to neutralize blockers…When he plays low to the ground, he does a good job of pushing blockers back with his hand punch…Gives up a lot because of his size, but will not hesitate to sacrifice himself to fill the gaps.

Lynch Negatives…Shorter than ideal, and is a little too tight in his hips to flow to the ball smoothly and needs to open his hips quicker in his pass drops…Loses gap integrity when he gets too reckless and out-runs the play…Needs to be more consistent squaring his shoulders before tackling (will dip them on occasion)…Does not use his arm extension or hand punch to disengage when larger blockers latch onto him…Struggles to reach the edge on the blitz and when he gets his hands outside the framework, linemen can ride him away from the play…Very effective tackler in tight areas, but will get sloppy when playing in space…Bit of a liability in intermediate and deep pass coverage due to hip stiffness (takes false steps in transition)…Needs to refine his backpedal technique (will shuffle his feet and come out of his turns too early).

DURANTE, Dechane (CB) Northern Illinois Sr06:02.0 1924.56 5.16
#LYNCH, Darryl “D.J.” Bowling Green ILB06:00.1 2494.71 4.6FA
MARTIN, Gabriel Bowling Green OLB06:02.2 2394.77 4.6FA
COLVIN, Zachary Bowling Green DT06:03.0 2925.08 4.4CMP
LOOS, Tyler  Northern Illinois OT06:05.0 2825.42 4.4CMP
BROWN, Da'Ron Northern Illinois WR05:11.5 1944.65 4.4CMP
MONTGOMERY, Kendall Bowling Green DE06:06.1 2584.95 4.2CMP
ADJEI-BARIMAH, Jude  Bowling Green FS05:10.0 2044.64   
BASS, Jamaal  Northern Illinois OLB5:010.0 2254.58   
BROWN, Ryan Northern Illinois OT06:06.0 2925.38   
DELANEY, Darion  Bowling Green OG06:03.0 2775.08   
EAKES, Luke  Northern Illinois TE06:03.0 2504.88   
GEGNER, Michael  Northern Illinois OC06:03.0 2835.33   
GORDON, Donovan  Northern Illinois DE06:00.0 2755.16   
HAYES, Marckie Northern Illinois CB05:08.0 1764.55   
HUNTER II, Darrell Bowling Green CB05:08.0 1744.65   
LEWIS, Tommylee  Northern Illinois WR05:06.5 1554.49   
MEEHAN, Jason Northern Illinois DE06:01.0 2414.76   
OSBORNE, Victor Bowling Green CB05:10.0 1824.56   
PITT, Tyler  Northern Illinois OG06:05.0 2925.33   
POHLMAN, Chris  Bowling Green FB06:01.0 2574.87   
ROLF, Clay  Bowling Green OG06:05.0 2855.22   
SANTACATERINA, Mike Northern Illinois OLB05:10.0 2104.62   
STINGILY, Cameron (FB) Northern Illinois FB06:00.5 2144.76   
THOMAS, Bryan “B.T.” Bowling Green DE06:02.0 2574.88   
WALKER, Charlie Bowling Green DE06:02.0 2454.98   

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