Jim Nagy, executive director of the Senior Bowl, knows all about exhaustive hours looking at college football film to find just the right player. After all, he was an NFL scout for nearly two decades and was associated with teams that reached six Super Bowls and was part of four winners.
Nagy, a Michigan alum, is part of a 10-person team that watches film all season allowing him to eventually whittle down a long list of prospects and issue invitations for the scouting bowl in Mobile, Alabama. The Senior Bowl kicks off Monday, weigh-ins are Tuesday and practices get serious mid-week, and the game is Saturday, Jan. 25.
Six former Michigan players are taking part — quarterback Shea Patterson, tight end Sean McKeon, safety Josh Metellus, linebacker Josh Uche, linebacker Khaleke Hudson and guard Ben Bredeson. This is an important audition for the players working their way toward professional football careers. They have an opportunity to interview with NFL teams and then put their play on display.
Nagy takes pride in the amount of work his staff puts in.
“We have to do our own homework,” he said. “We owe it to these players.”
it was that diligence doing his homework that made Patterson’s final month of the regular season catch Nagy’s attention. Patterson, who started the last two seasons at Michigan after transferring from Ole Miss, played for four offensive coordinators during his career, including Josh Gattis, in his first season calling plays, last season. An oblique injury was an issue early but he played on and finished with a final three-game stretch of 300-plus yard passing games, a first for a Michigan quarterback.
“Shea is a guy that really played his way into the game that final month,” Nagy said. “He’s a case study for why we exhaust the entire season and allow the players the opportunity to get better. Having the four coordinators in the four years, it’s not an excuse, it’s a reality. He really looked most comfortable late in the year.
“We invited him for a couple reasons — he’s got really good mobility, and he’s got a lot of natural arm talent. Those are things teams want to work with. That gives you something to build off. I think those two things alone are enough to get Shea drafted. He’s always been a playmaker, he’s always had ability, but that last month of the season it really looked like things were slowing down for him, and he just looked like a more comfortable player.”
The Senior Bowl is the best-kept secret for college and NFL fans, because it’s intensely fan-friendly. NFL head coaches are often spotted in local restaurants, and players are accessible. Fans can attend practices for free and can stand 10 feet from the on-field drills.
“Everyone knows about the game, but they don’t realize they can be part of this,” Nagy said.
Ultimately, this game is about the players who are setting the stage for themselves in terms of the NFL Draft this spring. Often this is the first time some NFL scouts have seen them in person.
“Josh Uche is one of the most intriguing guys coming to Mobile this year in my opinion,” Nagy said. “Extremely versatile. He can rush the passer, he showed this year he can drop in coverage and hold up that way, so you can really him use him as a chess piece in sub-packages. For off the edge, he’s really powerful, he’s got some shake to him as a rusher, too, so he can keep you off balance that way. I think Josh’s best football is clearly ahead of him. He’s a high-ceiling player.”
Uche had 11.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks last season.
Nagy believes Hudson is a “good football player” who is caught in between playing linebacker, although he may be undersized for the NFL, and safety. Hudson led the team with 102 tackles, and had 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and three pass breakups.
“There’s some questions about where he fits at the next level, but the bottom line is he flies around and makes plays and he’s done that for a long time at Michigan,” he said. “At a minimum, he’s going to be dressed on Sundays next year for somebody as a core special teams player. We really like Khaleke and we think our week can help teams figure out what he is in their system. This is a big week for him.”
Metellus, like Hudson, will start off as a strong special teams player at the next level, Nagy said, but he’s a true safety with versatility. Last season he had 74 tackles and two interceptions.
“Josh Metellus is a guy that has really grown on me over my time watching Michigan football,” he said. “He’s come a long way. You can play him deep. He’s got ball skills in the deep part of the field. He likes to run alleys, he’s physical, he’s aggressive.”
Tight end Sean McKeon, who finished with 235 yards on 13 catches and had two touchdowns while missing three games because of injury, is a strong prospect, according to Nagy. Zach Gentry left Michigan last year with a year of eligibility remaining and was drafted in the fifth round by the Steelers.
“We evaluated Gentry coming out of last year, and bottom line is we felt like McKeon was a better prospect,” Nagy said. “If Gentry went in the fifth, we think Sean is going to be drafted probably in the same area. He’s a good player. He’s one of the few guys in this class that has legitimate Y (blocking) tight end on-the-line-of-scrimmage-type measurables. He can block, he can do a lot of things. He does things in the pass game. He’s really a versatile big-body tight end, and those guys aren’t growing on trees anymore.”
While Nagy describes Uche as one of the more promising prospects at the Senior Bowl, he sees Bredeson as a sure starter for an NFL team this fall. Bredeson was a two-time captain and started his last three seasons at left guard in addition to making eight starts as a freshman.
“Bredeson is a guy I think projects to be a Year 1 starter for a team,” Nagy said. “Our offensive line crew isn’t quite as it was a year ago. We had five offensive linemen go in the first round of our game last year. Overall, our group’s not as strong this year, but Ben is a guy I think will step in right away next year and start for whoever drafts him.
“He’s polished, he has a really nice feel for the game, he’s mobile, he’s strong enough to hold up, so there’s no area of weakness where you think he couldn’t get on the field right away.”
Michigan will have more representatives at the Senior Bowl than any other team.
“They’ll have a great opportunity help themselves,” Nagy said.