Four student-athletes who played in the Bahamas Bowl will get their opportunity to make NFL rosters after being selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, held April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas.
Three of the universities that participated in the Bahamas Bowl – Middle Tennessee (2015), Ohio (2017) and Western Michigan (2015) – had at least one player selected during the NFL’s seven-round draft. The bowl’s 2015 champion Western Michigan led the way with two selections, while 2017 champion Ohio and 2015 runner-up Middle Tennessee each had one player selected.
In the third round (No. 92 overall), Western Michigan offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Okorafor started the 2015 bowl at right tackle for the Broncos, and he was part of an offense that put up 613 total yards in a 45-31 victory over Middle Tennessee. He was a first-team FWAA All-American, a first-team All-Mid-American Conference selection and one of six semifinalists for the Outland Trophy (most outstanding interior lineman) as a senior in 2017.
In the fifth round, Western Michigan cornerback Darius Phillips was selected at No. 170 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals. Phillips started the 2015 game for the Broncos and had two unassisted tackles, a forced fumble which he recovered and a pass breakup. He also returned four kickoffs for 88 yards. He finished his career as the all-time FBS leader in touchdowns on returns with 12, including a FBS record-tying five interception returns for TDs. He was the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017.
In the seventh round, two more bowl alumni had their names called by NFL teams as Ohio linebacker Quentin Poling was selected at No. 227 by the Miami Dolphins and Middle Tennessee wide receiver Richie James was taken at No. 240 by the San Francisco 49ers.
Poling started the 2017 bowl for the Bobcats and had five total tackles, including two unassisted stops, and a quarterback hurry as Ohio beat UAB 41-6. He was a first-team All-MAC selection in 2017 and led the team in total tackles, solo tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles. He is Ohio’s career leader in solo tackles (221) and tackles for loss (44).
James had a huge day in the 2015 game for the Blue Raiders against Western Michigan as he caught a bowl record-tying eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns and added a pair of carries for 61 yards and another score. He accounted for both of Middle Tennessee’s points in the first quarter with a 46-yard TD rush and a 44-yard scoring reception. He also had a 29-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter. He completed his time at Middle Tennessee as the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns.
The four selections give the Bahamas Bowl a total of 18 total alumni chosen in the last four NFL Drafts, including a bowl-record seven in the 2016 Draft and six in the 2017 Draft. A bowl alumnus has been selected in each of the seven rounds of the draft.
A total of 11 bowl alumni have played in at least one NFL regular-season game, including nine who were drafted. Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard (Middle Tennessee, 2015 Bahamas Bowl) was a 2017 PFWA All-AFC selection, and Titans wide receiver Corey Davis (Western Michigan, 2015 Bahamas Bowl) was the No. 5 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Bahamas Bowl’s two participating conferences, Conference USA (10 players) and the Mid-American Conference (5 players), combined for 15 total selections in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The NFL Draft is not the end of the process for players not selected as each NFL team will sign undrafted free agents to rosters in the next few weeks in anticipation of the 2018 season. Two Bahamas Bowl alumni who were not drafted have played in at least one NFL regular-season game in the previous three seasons.
2018 NFL Draft Selections of Bahamas Bowl Alumni
Round 3, No. 92 overall: Western Michigan T Chukwuma Okorafor (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Round 5, No. 170 overall: Western Michigan CB Darius Phillips (Cincinnati Bengals)
Round 7, No. 227 overall: Ohio LB Quentin Poling (Miami Dolphins)
Round 7, No. 240 overall: Middle Tennessee WR Richie James (San Francisco 49ers)