The last time Texas State Bobcats saw one of their own get their name called in the NFL Draft, the year was 2006, and the Bobcats had just finished off a run to the Division 1-AA Playoff semifinals. Fred Evans, a defensive tackle out of Chicago and standout during the 2005 playoff run, was picked 212th overall in the 7th round by the Miami Dolphins.
A couple of Bobcats have made their way onto NFL rosters since then (LB Joplo Bartu and CB Darryl Morris are with the Falcons and Texans, respectively), but Texas State finally has a good chance to break the draft drought with four potential entries in 2015. One of them is Will Johnson, the dynamic punter/placekicker (more on him later). Mike Orakpo and David Mayo also have a shot at a late round draft pick. But the most sure commodity is Craig Mager, the four year starter and cornerback who grew up 20 minutes from San Marcos.
One of the first characteristics that stands out about Mager is his excellent closing speed in coverage. Once the ball's in the air on a shallow or mid-range route, he can get to his man quickly and is excellent at using his hands to break up passes. He rarely, if ever, mistimes his jumps, and can often match a receiver's leaping ability (he had a 38 inch vertical jump at the Combine). He's also an incredibly physical player who will plow through receivers and do his best to jar the ball loose.
However, his coverage skills are far from the only advantages he can offer NFL teams.
"I wanted to make him a safety because of how physical he is"
Mager's a relatively rare CB species in that not only will he more than adequately control the edge and shut down running plays on his side of the field, but he's absolutely fearless and will obliterate opposing running backs and quarterbacks on run defense and on blitzes. His hits on blind side blitzes are absolutely bone-shattering. He can also play in all sorts of coverage schemes as a result of his exposure to different packages in four years of starting.
His instincts, at times, could be better. Mager's been known to get caught looking in the backfield and lose his man and give up some huge plays over the top. Although he plays well in short bursts, his ability to keep up with burner receivers on long routes could come into question at the next level. His aggressive nature can backfire if he commits to his initial strategy when the situation calls for flexibility, such as needing to switch on which receiver to cover.
Although he returned punts at Texas State, his hands were occasionally questionable and his ability to snag interceptions in contested situations could use some work. He also doesn't have the raw athleticism some of his competitors in the Draft possess.
Mager's explosiveness and experience should give teams needing depth at CB a solid prospect to work with, although he still has to work on his instincts more before becoming an every down starter rather than a situational player. Although some projections have him going as high as the 4th round, the general consensus is that he should go to a team around the 6th round to a team that fits well with his set of skills, possibly Pittsburgh or Chicago.
The good news for Mager and Bobcat fans is that just about everyone sees him as being a sure draft pick. For a program that needs as much exposure as it can get in the NFL, Mager represents a great opportunity to represent Texas State and south central Texas in a very positive way.