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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Previewing the 2024 NFL Draft prospects from the MAC

Courtesy of NIU Athletics
Senior defensive tackle James Ester eyes his opponent in an NIU football home game against the University of Tulsa on Sep. 23, 2023. Ester is one of the few NIU football players that have declared the 2024 NFL Draft. (Courtesy of NIU Athletics)

The 2024 NFL Draft is set for April 25 in Detroit, Michigan when 257 prospects will be drafted. Only two players from the MAC were invited to the NFL Combine – none from NIU – but one Huskie has the potential to make the pros. 

The NFL Combine is essentially a job interview for the NFL featuring physical tests such as the 40-yard dash and bench press test. 

For those not participating in the NFL Combine, each college offers a pro day. The pro day shares a similar format to the combine, but is held at each respective college in front of NFL scouts. 

A standout performance at either can boost a player’s draft stock. In 2017, the Cincinnati Bengals selected wide receiver John Ross with the ninth overall pick after setting the 40-yard dash record with a time of 4.22 seconds. Previously, Ross was projected as the 18th overall pick by CBS Sports

University of Toledo junior cornerback Quinyon Mitchell and Western Michigan University redshirt junior defensive lineman Marshawn Kneeland were the only players from the MAC invited to the NFL Combine.


Mitchell leads the pack of MAC-athletes, ranked as the 25th best draft prospect in the class by ESPN. In 2023 Mitchell logged 18 pass break-ups (PBUs) and one interception.  Against NIU this season, Mitchell had 2 total tackles and a PBU. 

In 2022,he had a career-high 19 PBUs and five interceptions.Mitchell is Toledo’s all-time leader in PBUs with 46. 

According to a recent NFL Network mock draft, Mitchell could get selected as high as 22nd overall to the Philadelphia Eagles. In the article by NFL content editor Dan Parr, Parr insinuated that Mitchell should be in the draft’s CB1 conversation.

A pro comparison for Mitchell is Green Bay Packers cornerback Corey Ballentine, according to Bleacher Report


Kneeland is ESPN’s 123rd best prospect and the second-highest rated  athlete from the MAC. Kneeland comes in at 6-foot-3-inches and is 275 pounds. Kneeland logged 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 7.5 tackles for loss this past season. 

Bleacher Report listed Kneeland as a future role player with a fourth-round draft projection. His strength and bull rush ability earned him a comparison to Cleveland Browns defensive end Za’Darius Smith. 


Although NIU senior defensive tackle James Ester missed an invitation to the NFL Combine, he could still get the chance to represent the Huskies in the NFL. Ester fits the frame of an NFL defensive lineman at 6-foot-3-inches and 298 pounds. 

Ester had career highs this season in tackles for loss with 6.5 and sacks with 4. Ester also garnered 23 total tackles, two passes defended and a fumble recovery. 

Ester is not projected to be drafted anywhere by any major sports networks. If he goes undrafted, Ester has a chance to sign with a team as a free agent.

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