Michigan MAC stars eager for their NFL shot
Jarvion Franklin plans to hear his named called a couple of times Saturday, once during his graduation ceremony at Western Michigan University and hopefully another during the third and final day of the NFL Draft.
Franklin broke on the scene in Kalamazoo as the Mid-American Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year his freshman year, then continued his strong play to finish his career by owning multiple WMU records, including career rushing yards (4,867), total touchdowns (56) and rushing TDs (52).
Franklin was getting a haircut Tuesday afternoon, saying he planned to go home to the Chicago area to watch the first two days of the draft on television in Tinley Park before making his way back to Kalamazoo for graduation day.
“I’m a lot more excited than words can describe right now,” Franklin said. “I’m not only excited for the draft, but I’m about to graduate here on Saturday so I’m going to close up this whole entire collegiate book and open up the next one.”
Franklin is 6 feet and 230 pounds, runs between the tackles and has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Franklin was among four WMU players who participated in the NFL Combine last month in Indianapolis, joining offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (Southfield), cornerback/kick returner Darius Phillips (Detroit/Dearborn Heights Robichaud) and tight end Donnie Ernsberger (Battle Creek Lakeview).
Corey Davis was the highest-picked player in Broncos history, getting drafted No. 5 overall by the Titans last year.
“I think I did above average at the combine, gave it my all,” Franklin said. “I woke up early and just went all out. I’m 6 feet and 230 pounds, clocked at 4.6 at the combine, but for the Pro Day I got clocked at 4.45 and that’s usually my speed right there.”
Franklin plans to make the same type of impact Toledo running back Kareem Hunt did last year when he was picked in the third round by the Chiefs — No. 86 overall — then led the NFL in rushing (1,327 yards).
“I’m more of an all-purpose back, can definitely catch the ball out of the backfield, can run by splitting tackles and I’m a one-cut stretch zone runner,” Franklin said. “I can take tosses, sweep and you can even put me in the slot. I can pick up blitzes, I can read defense, just do whatever the coach needs me to do. I can hit, light somebody up on special teams, just want to make a 53-man roster.
“I’ve talked to a lot of teams over the last couple of weeks and that just adds to the excitement. We just have coaches and scouts call my agents, Robert Walker and Josh Adams from Unlimited Success Sports.”
Okorafor, affectionately nicknamed “Chukes,” won’t turn 21 until August. He is expected to be the third WMU offensive linemen picked in the past three years with Willie Beavers (Southfield Lathrup) going to Minnesota (fourth round, 2016) and Taylor Moton (Okemos) to Carolina (second round) last season.
Okorafor — 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds — will watch the draft with his parents and friends in Southfield. He feels he could hear his name on Friday as a possible second- or third-round pick.
“I worked out for the Lions in Allen Park and the Texans watched me in Kalamazoo,” Okorafor said. “I also went to Philadelphia and (Washington), too.”
Okorafor’s agent is Patrick Collins.
Ernsberger also worked out for the Lions in Allen Park, along with the Steelers and Buccaneers. He plans to watch the draft with his family at Old Burdick’s restaurant in downtown Kalamazoo. He feels he could be a Day 3 pick, possibly fifth, sixth or seventh round or priority free agent if he isn’t drafted.
“I feel my physicality is my strength, blocking and running with the ball after a catch,” the 6-3, 255-pound Ernsberger said. “It was amazing to be a part of the combine. I watched it on TV growing up and then just to be the one out there is a way different feeling. There was a lot of stress throughout that week, but it’s all worth it when it comes to the end.
“We had four guys at the combine, the most of any school in Michigan, more than Michigan and Michigan State. It says a lot about our program.”
WMU won the MAC championship in 2016, taking an unbeaten record into the Cotton Bowl where it lost to Wisconsin.
Phillips will grab some interest as a playmaking cornerback who also can return kicks and punts for TDs. He had one of the best games in college history last season at Michigan State when he scored on a 67-yard fumble return after stripping the ball away from receiver Hunter Rison, then scored on a 100-yard kickoff return while also intercepting a pass and breaking up three passes.
“I’m going to watch it in Kalamazoo,” Phillips said. “I don’t know what round I’ll be drafted, but hopefully I’ll hear my name called.”
Conklin makes successful move at CMU
Tyler Conklin dreamed of playing professional basketball in Europe while growing up in Macomb County (L’Anse Creuse North), but things changed when he saw the type of success he was making as tight end at Central Michigan during the past couple of years.
Now, Conklin is excited to see where he will be picked in the draft.
Conklin played basketball at Northwood before moving on to Central Michigan where he put himself on the map by catching a pair of TD passes in a 30-27 win at No. 22 Oklahoma State early in the 2016 season.
Conklin broke his foot early in camp last summer, had surgery and missed the first several games before returning to have 28 receptions for 406 yards and five TDs in seven games.
Conklin received an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, then took advantage of it by hauling in a 16-yard TD pass from Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, who is expected to be among the top picks in the opening round.
“I’m really excited, definitely going to enjoy it, having a draft party at home Friday and Saturday in Macomb,” Conklin said. “My goal was to play basketball, play overseas, but then when I started playing football, made the transition, I felt it was automatically the right move and I felt it was something I could do personally.
“I always believed I could be here, just needed to get the opportunity to show what I could do and once I got it I took advantage of it. My agent (Michael Perrett of Element Sports Group) feels I could go in the third or fourth round.”
Conklin’s performance against Oklahoma State put him on the radar, but his TD catch in the Senior Bowl also got attention.
“It was great to go out and play with the best, especially not being from a Power Five Conference school,” Conklin said. “It was important to compete against the best players and also be around NFL personnel. I’ve had private workouts since then with the Lions, the Jets, the Saints and Eagles and just got off the phone during a meeting with the Vikings and it seems like they like me a lot. Tight ends are a hot commodity right now.”
Former CMU receiver Jesse Kroll called Conklin, who is 6-4 and 250 pounds, a freak athlete after the Oklahoma State game. It seems like NFL scouts agree.
“I feel like I’m a mismatch nightmare,” said Conklin of his strength. “I have great hands, a great route runner and I’m a smart player. I feel I can do everything that that position needs to do in today’s game. I can play out wide, play in the slot, block, run routes like a receiver or a tight end.”
Roback glad draft day is here
Brogan Roback came to Eastern Michigan as the school’s first four-star quarterback. He leaves after leading the Eagles to their first winning season since 1995 in 2016, then to another competitive season this past fall where they were 5-7 and lost six straight games by seven or fewer points.
Now, Roback returns to Toledo to watch the draft.
“I’m excited that it’s finally here,” Roback said. “The evaluation process has been a long one, longer than everybody anticipates it to be. I know this is a nerve-wracking week, but I’m obviously blessed to be in this position regardless and excited to be back (Toledo) and be with some friends and family and enjoy the day together. I’m excited to know where the future lies and where I’ll be headed out to at the end of this week.”
Roback threw for 2,895 yards and 19 TDs during his senior season.
“My agent hears from teams, probably had 20 teams call me in the last four days to just kind of reassure things,” Roback said. “It’s kind of up in the air, hard to predict exactly where you’re going to go, but I hear anywhere from 4-to-7 and then there’s maybe two to three teams that aren’t going to draft a quarterback, but are talking about wanting to bring me in free agency if I’m available in top priority. I’m just excited to see what happens.”
Roback said he did a 30-man visit with the Steelers and had a work-out day with the Lions.