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Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and athletic director Warde Manuel shoot down NFL rumors on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, at Crisler Center.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep

These decisions are rarely as easy as they seem, they’re always personal and no one is truly qualified to make a life-changing choice for someone else. 

Still, Michigan junior quarterback Shea Patterson is among a contingent of Wolverine underclassmen considering taking a shot at the NFL draft instead of returning to Michigan for his senior season. 

Patterson’s situation is an interesting one. Perhaps more interesting than you might think. 

More: Michigan football’s Shea Patterson unsure on going to NFL or returning

The case for leaving

The lack of depth at the quarterback position in this class is real. Oregon’s Justin Herbert has long been considered a first-round talent. Reports had him leaning toward playing his senior year back in October.

More: Michigan football’s pass offense finds efficiency with Shea Patterson

Ohio State junior Dwayne Haskins would be a first-round pick by most standards if he declares. Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray appears to be locked into a baseball contract. Next year’s class — perhaps led by Tua Tagovailoa and Jake Fromm, and maybe Herbert — is much deeper.

Based on Patterson’s 2018 season alone, and career in general, it’s doubtful the draft advisory board would grade him as a first-rounder. That said, there’s no promise he’ll ever be that.

“I think, from an evaluation standpoint, he has enough tools and he’s a smart enough quarterback and that could really help him. He could push up through the (draft) process,” says noted NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller, who has scouted drafts for more than a decade. “You’re going to test well, you’re going to interview well. You could probably push yourself up throughout. I think he’s a Day 2 type quarterback (if he goes) right now, I’m not sure he’s getting into that first round grade. 

“And he might never get one. I’ve advised a lot of quarterbacks over the years and that’s the thing. It’s ‘you’re probably not a No. 1 next year either, so look at the group you’re in.’ That’s one reason why he could jump. But he won’t get taller, probably not much faster. … He’ll be 22 in about a month, that can play into it. He kind of is who he is and that’s not a bad thing.” 

Patterson (6-2, 205) would have to compete with backup Dylan McCaffrey again. And unless Michigan drastically changes its offensive approach, his number of pass attempts isn’t likely to rise much. Patterson attempted just 24.1 passes per game this season, 10th in the Big Ten. His completion rate (65.1 percent) and passer rating (154.3) numbers were exceptional. But will his usage jump next year?

If Patterson declares, he’ll more than likely get an NFL Combine invite. He won’t get the Senior Bowl, but he’s an impressive interview who knows football. He’ll also have the word of Jim Harbaugh at his back — which is far from irrelevant. 

He can operate in run-pass option, he can throw on the run, he can stand in the pocket off play-action, he can extend plays with his legs and he can read all concepts. He has proof of all this on film.

If he declares, his odds of getting picked are better than his odds of being undrafted.

The case for staying

Patterson’s betting on himself either way. He’ll need a Heisman-type season to push himself into first-round consideration and overcome some of the physical limitations. If Michigan cuts loose and allows him to sling the ball all over the field to players like Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black next season, maybe he gets there.

The NFL loves winners and players who can perform on the big stage. Patterson didn’t play his best on the biggest stage this season at Ohio State, Michigan didn’t win a title. If he comes back and pulls all that off, he’d clearly be in better shape.

Yes, he can improve his game. Patterson’s footwork in the pocket this season was a constant work in progress. He showed a tendency of being too bouncy, at times, which led to too many throws off his back foot. He was solid with the deep ball this year, but he could be better.

“Getting a year smarter in a pro-style offense who knows a little bit about quarterback play, right? There’s a benefit to that. Showing yourself in that scheme again,” Miller adds. “That’ll only make him better.”

Reps are the No. 1 reason to stay. A case can be made that the more film scouts have on you the worse things get, but the more time on task for quarterbacks the better they are long-term. Harbaugh often talks about how most quarterbacks really don’t find the best ball of their careers until their mid-to-late 20s. That happens due to added reps and work.

Patterson comes from the Baker Mayfield mold physically, but Mayfield went as high as he did for two reasons: He shredded everyone with his pinpoint accuracy in a passer-friendly system and he carried himself as the most confident football player in the country. If Patterson thinks he has first-round potential, he’ll need another year of work to prove it.

“It wasn’t that long ago people were like ‘Baker Mayfield’s not getting any taller,’ but then he comes back and just dominates as a senior,” Miller said. “He’d have been a day three pick had he come out as a junior. But he comes back, ends up being No. 1. So there is some of that thought process, I think, out there.

“Another year of coaching can’t hurt. From a tools perspective, (Patterson) is who he is. But getting smarter, more efficient and growing as a player — those are the reasons you’d point to for coming back.” 

The impact on Michigan

If Patterson comes back, he’ll have to compete for the job. That’s the reality under Harbaugh. McCaffrey (shoulder) should be healthy by spring ball as a redshirt sophomore and Milton will be entering his redshirt freshman campaign with some experience under his belt and more than a full year on campus. Brandon Peters? We’ll see.

He’ll have the inside track, even if there are no promises. And there’s only one football, which can complicate things. McCaffrey and Milton might be asked to wait another year. That’s not always easy.

A returning starter with Patterson’s locker room presence should lift all offensive boats. Michigan will lose Karan Higdon next year, but four of Patterson’s offensive linemen are back and that entire talented receiver trio should give Michigan’s quarterback one of the best pass-catching outfits in the Big Ten, perhaps the country.

Either way, Michigan’s been in worse quarterback situations. 

Contact Nick Baumgardner: nbaumgardn@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.