Appearance in East-West Shrine Game turned heads, especially those at ESPN which will air highlights on Monday (Feb. 15)
NFL Draft Lab ESPN: Mel Kiper Jr. &
Todd McShay discuss how Matt Nichols is the best under the radar QB
of the 2010 class.
Record-breaking Eastern Washington University quarterback Matt Nichols still has his work cut out for him, but at least he's getting noticed.
An appearance at last month's East-West Shrine Game in Orlando, Fla., has opened the eyes of NFL scouts and draft analysts. In fact, ESPN will air highlights and discuss Nichols in the segment "NFL Draft Lab" on Monday (Feb. 15) on the 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Pacific time) SportsCenter broadcasts.
Most notably, Todd McShay from ESPN saw Nichols at the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 23 and made several positive comments during the game broadcast. Nichols completed 3-of-6 passes for 42 yards with a long completion of 30 yards, and also rushed three times for a net eight yards with a 15-yard gain. His Eastern teammate, Nathan Overbay, had one catch for 41 yards.
"We've been impressed with him all week," said McShay. "He was the best quarterback out of the six here (in practice) on Wednesday (Jan. 20) and Thursday (Jan. 21). He was a little nervous coming in, but he settled down and had a good week of practice. Scouts want to see how he performs under pressure when the lights are on."
The head coach for the west, veteran NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer, had this to say during an in-game interview: "I like him very much -- he has a lot of skill."
"It was an experience I was fortunate to get," said Nichols the week after on the Dennis Patchin Radio Show in Spokane. "The scouts were watching everything you do all day long. It was a long week and pretty stressful.
"It's like playing games four or five days in a row. It was a pretty intense situation where everybody is trying to prove they are good enough to play. We went at game speed all day long."
Despite having his stock rise in recent weeks, he still has not received an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine which takes place Feb. 24 to March 2 in Indianapolis, Ind. That event helps evaluate about 300 players for the 2010 NFL Draft which takes place on April 22-24 in New York. Both Nichols and Overbay, who also has not received an invitation, are possible late-round choices or free agent prospects.
"That would be a big deal for me to be able to go and prove myself," said Nichols. "I'm training as if I am going to the combine, and if I don't, we have our pro day on March 12 to aim for."
"They may be the best pro prospects of these six quarterbacks (at the Shrine Game)," said McShay, referring to Nichols and Northwestern's Mike Kafka. "After watching (Nichols) throughout the week, you would think he would get the invite."
"These kinds of guys will really benefit from an opportunity to go up and compete in the combine," former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Brian Griese added during the Shrine Game broadcast. "The combine is a competition. You are throwing the ball right next to the Colt McCoy's and Sam Bradford's. To see them right next to those other quarterbacks will be huge."
"Right now I'm training in combine-specific drills," Nichols said of his current training emphasis. "Growing up I was a track athlete in junior high and played different sports, so I feel like I'm pretty athletic and able to do the drills with some good times. I looked at last year's results, and I pretty much would have been in the top five in all the combine tests for quarterbacks. I feel like I can prove myself even more."
Thus far, his experience at the Shrine Game has been the best eye-opener to show scouts and analysts that he is capable of playing at the next level. As a four-year starter at Eastern, he won Big Sky Offensive MVP honors in both 2007 and 2009.
"I tried to do what I've always done and not try to do too much," he explained. "I thought I got the chance to turn a lot of heads and let them know what kind of player I am. A lot of people like to question that I'm from a small school and wonder if I can play at that level. I think I showed than I can. There were plenty of people saying great things about what I was doing."
"It's a business and they'll tell you if you are aren't doing the right things," he added. "You get a good feel of what they thought of you. I at least put my name out there and showed I can play at that level. I hope it continues."
Nichols is a 2005 graduate of West Valley High School in Cottonwood, Calif., and broke 14 school records and six Big Sky Conference marks in his 47-game career (45 as a starter). He passed for 3,830 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior, giving him a total of 12,616 yards and 96 touchdowns in his career. His career yardage total ranks sixth in FCS history and his touchdown total is 10th.
But none of those statistics matter very much until the players are watched against the NFL-caliber type of players Nichols and Overbay went against in Orlando. Nichols said he was grateful for what he learned in five years at EWU, especially under Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin.
"They can watch film, but it's better to get next to players at the NFL level," Nichols said. "I think they can judge me a lot better that way. Coach Baldwin did a great job to prepare me for that. I think a lot of scouts were impressed by my ability to take drops and read defenses from under center.
"The speed of the game is a little bit faster, but I didn't see too much difference in it," he added. "The defensive backs might be a little faster and the windows are smaller (to complete passes). You get in that situation and all of the sudden your own game elevates and you get better."
Both Nichols and Overbay earned NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-America honors in 2009 and were first team All-Big Sky Conference selections.
Overbay is a 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior who graduated in 2005 from W.F. West High School in Chehalis, Wash. He caught 51 passes for 588 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior, and in his 43-game career (22 as a starter) he caught 93 passes for 1,189 yards and a school-record for a tight end with 19 touchdown receptions. He is the nephew of Toronto Blue Jays major league baseball player Lyle Overbay, and is currently in Arizona training for his professional career.
Nichols was very grateful to have Overbay at the East-West game with him.
"It took a lot of the stress out of it and it was nice having him there to lean on," he said. "I know how he runs routes and we have really good timing together, so it made us both better when we can be on the same page. He had a great week of practice and a lot of people love him. He's the real deal."
What was ironic is that Nichols had a 30-yard completion to BYU tight end Dennis Pitta, and Overbay's catch came from Pitta's BYU teammate Max Hall.
"We all had our favorite hook-ups, but they tried to keep us away from each other a little bit to prove we could be productive with other guys," Nichols added.
The next few months will be important for Nichols as he continues to be analyzed and scrutinized. He is being represented by Seattle-based Cameron Foster, who has been the agent for several former Eagles, including Michael Roos of the Tennessee Titans.
"I loved my time at Eastern and had an amazing four years," Nichols added. "I'm just looking forward to the next chapter and hope that somebody gives me that shot."