ESPN analyst: Shea Patterson would excel at Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Shea Patterson

The prospects of quarterback Shea Patterson transferring to Michigan have sent Wolverines fans on message boards, social media and sports-talk radio into a frenzy.

Patterson, a quarterback at Mississippi who might transfer because of the NCAA hitting the school with a second postseason ban on top of this year’s self-imposed ban, is expected, per multiple reports, to visit Michigan this weekend along with Ole Miss teammates Deontay Anderson, a safety, and receiver Van Jefferson.

It is anticipated the three will attend the Michigan-UCLA basketball game Saturday at the Crisler Center.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was in Oxford, Mississippi, this week to meet with the players. While the NCAA is allowing rising Ole Miss seniors to transfer without sitting a year, it is unclear how Patterson and Michigan would circumvent that rule for the 2018 season.

If Patterson, a sophomore who made seven starts this season before suffering a torn posterior cruciate ligament, is cleared to immediately play, Greg McElroy, the former Alabama quarterback and current ESPN college football analyst, thinks he will flourish with Harbaugh.

“This kid is extremely special when it comes to being able to improvise,” McElroy said in a telephone interview Thursday with The Detroit News. “One thing I think that has held Michigan back, in today’s game it’s hard to expect quarterbacks to operate solely in the offense. Shea’s best qualities are creating on his own. Sometimes that gets him in trouble, but for the most part he’s an electric player.

“With Jim Harbaugh’s leadership and tutelage, he could be a real a star.”

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Patterson was born in Toledo, and his grandfather, George Patterson, played for the Pistons in the 1960s. His family moved to Texas when he was in fifth grade, and then to Louisiana. He completed his high school career playing his final season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. That should sound familiar to Michigan fans for many reasons — that’s where Harbaugh took the team for the final week of spring practice in 2016, and freshman offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz, the No. 1 center out of high school, was Patterson’s center at IMG.

He was the game MVP in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, then enrolled early at Ole Miss.

From all accounts, Patterson was the biggest quarterback to come through Oxford since Eli Manning. He made 10 starts at Ole Miss, including three as a freshman in 2016 when his redshirt was burned. He replaced injured starter Chad Kelly and in his first start led the Rebels from a nine-point deficit with 23 points in the fourth quarter for a 29-28 win over then-No. 8 Texas A&M.

This season before his knee injury, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Patterson completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,259 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

“It was unfortunate he got hurt,” McElroy said. “With the offense he was running, that group could have gotten better and better and better. He has some things you can’t teach. Just being able to feel the rush. He has some (Johnny) Manziel qualities. He’s extremely confident. He’s not hurting in that category.”

To illustrate an example of Patterson’s confidence, at one point after the 2016 season, McElroy posted to Twitter his top five returning quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. Patterson was not one of them.

“He tweeted at me, because I didn’t have him in there,” McElroy said, laughing. “And I said, ‘Dude, you started three games,’ and he said, ‘OK. Noted.’”

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Patterson, a sophomore this year, would join a young quarterback room at Michigan. Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters started three of the last four games and missed the season finale against Ohio State because of a concussion suffered in the Wisconsin game. Dylan McCaffrey is a freshman who ran the scout team this fall.

Michigan’s quarterback situation lost experience and depth when Wilton Speight, who won the starting job the last two seasons, announced he will transfer. He started four games this season before suffering three fractured vertebrae in the Big Ten opener at Purdue. John O’Korn, who took over from Speight, is a fifth-year senior, and backup Alex Malzone also has announced he will transfer. Joe Milton will be an early enrollee freshman.

The Wolverines have a tough schedule next season that kicks off at Notre Dame in a night game on Sept. 1, and features rivalry games on the road at Michigan State and Ohio State.

McElroy said, however, that if Patterson does join Michigan, it’s not like he can just plug right into the offense. Michigan’s offense, he said, will have to be shaped to adapt to him.

“He’s not your prototypical drop-back guy,” McElroy said. “They would need to adjust some things, use (run-pass options), use him in the run game and be creative with the way they choose to attack defenses with him. I’m excited to see this if it comes to fruition. I think Shea would be electric in that offense.

“If Shea went up there, it would be fun to see him operating with other guys coming up and seeing what they have offensively. It wouldn’t be what we’ve come to know of Jim Harbaugh. He’d be the first guy he’s had who creates like this. As good as Andrew (Luck) was, and other guys, this guy is tough to corral. He’ll take some shots because of it, but he’s a big-time competitor. Hard core.”

Patterson hasn’t had to deal with Big Ten weather, but McElroy doesn’t think that will be an issue.

“That’s something they would have to figure out,” he said. “There are different conditions there. I do think he has enough arm to not allow the wind and snow and elements to be an issue. His game would translate up there.”

McElroy admires how Harbaugh helped shape Jake Rudock, who transferred from Iowa and started for the Wolverines in 2015. Rudock is now a backup quarterback with the Lions.

“Anyone critical of Harbaugh developing quarterbacks doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” said McElroy, who led Alabama to the 2010 national championship. “It takes years to develop quarterbacks. I didn’t start until my junior year. Harbaugh wants guys who are tough, guys who are grinders.”

Still, even if Patterson comes to Michigan, McElroy said he would not close the door on Peters in the competition.

“I wouldn’t hand the job to (Patterson) today,” McElroy said. “A lot can happen in a seven-month period. Brandon Peters has been on campus endearing himself for 18 months. He’s not going to go down without a fight.”