Jim Nagy is the executive director of the Senior Bowl and was an NFL scout for 18 years. He joined Glenn Clark Radio April 9 to discuss the Ravens’ needs at receiver and along the offensive line. Questions were edited for clarity and content.
PressBox: Recent conversation has Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk as almost certainly going in the first round and as a guy who’s going to be in that territory for the Ravens. Why do you think all of a sudden we’re hearing more and more about him from scouts and various media leaks?
Jim Nagy: I don’t know what this late push and buzz is about. I’ve always thought Brandon is a borderline first-round guy even going back to the summer when we started watching the tape. In 2018, Arizona State really force-fed the ball to N’Keal Harry, who was the Patriots’ first-round pick last year. When we looked at [Aiyuk] over the summer, I think he only had like 33, 34 catches, somewhere in that range, and we really thought he’d be the breakout star of the college football season. And he was; he had a great year. He’s a really unique guy from a body type perspective. He’s only like 5-[foot]-11, 6-foot, but he’s got crazy long arms. He’s got an 80-inch wingspan. He’s got the wingspan of a guy who’s 6-[foot]-9, so catch radius wise, he’s not your typical 5-[foot]-11, 6-foot guy. Really, really unique body type. Explosive playmaker; would’ve run faster at the Combine. I want to say he was like high 4.4, low 4.5 for most scouts I talked to.
But he missed the Senior Bowl. He came down here and spent the week in Mobile, [Ala.], but he couldn’t get on the field. He had an abdominal injury going back to the end of the season. He was kind of misdiagnosed there at Arizona State. They misdiagnosed it, so he wasn’t even rehabbing properly. That’s why he had to sit out here, and I think he would’ve run faster had he been fully healthy. I think he just had a surgery on that recently, I read. He’s a playmaker. He’s very much like Deebo Samuel. He’s a guy that you get the ball in his hands and great things happen. With the league trending to everyone wanting to find that guy, it makes sense that Brandon’s right there in that late-first-round range.
PB: Who are the receivers in this draft class who have the strongest hands, the best pass catchers at the position in that first-, second-round discussion?
JN: The best hands that I saw this year were James Proche. He’s a slot receiver from SMU. We had him here at the Senior Bowl. If you try to find his highlights, the guy can catch anything. He’s more of a slot, so he’s not the biggest target. He’s not the most generous guy in terms of reach or anything, but you put the ball anywhere around him, if he can get a finger on it he’s coming down with it. K.J. Hill, another slot receiver from Ohio State, had a great week here in Mobile and had some ridiculous one-handed catches. Those guys really stand out. Those two guys really stand out in terms of hands. And then at the top of the draft, I think Henry Ruggs is the best one in this draft and he’s a guy who didn’t drop a ball this year. He obviously has pretty good hands, too.
PB: One of the questions we’re struggling with is the right wide receiver fit for the Ravens’ offense. We’ve been talking about the more physical wide receivers, and you had a couple of them at the Senior Bowl, such as Denzel Mims, Chase Claypool and Antonio Gandy-Golden. Do you think it’s necessary for the Ravens to be looking for someone who’s capable of that demanding physicality? Or do you feel like just putting another playmaker on the field is still probably a bigger priority for the Ravens right now?
JN: I haven’t talked to those guys up there about this in particular, but it makes sense that that’s the kind of guy they would want. If they want to continue to be a run-heavy offense that’s really reliant on Lamar [Jackson], his ability in the run game and go with heavy tight-end sets and bigger wideouts, it just makes a lot of sense. The names that you brought up would’ve been the names that popped off the top of my head — Denzel Mims, Chase Claypool. These guys are big, physical guys that like to mix it up and can tie people up on the perimeter. So those guys make sense, but again, to me you have to find playmakers, too. There has to be a little bit of a balance. I think Hollywood Brown is a really good vertical stretch guy, but finding a guy that’s just really good with the ball in his hands and a guy that can consistently get open, a consistent separator, a guy that Lamar knows is going to have space I think is a key thing too.
The guy that I think everyone is sleeping on in this draft is Van Jefferson from Florida. Everyone knows he’s a polished guy. When I talked to guys in the league over the summer, talking about Van, they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s such a polished route runner and we all know his dad Shawn played in the league forever and is one of the league’s best receiver coaches. But what he showed down here in Mobile is he’s got legitimate juice. You see this guy up close and you’re field level with him, Van can really run. He was our fastest guy at the Senior Bowl this year with the tracking system that we put on those guys, the Zebra technology. If I were the Ravens I’d really be looking strongly at Van Jefferson from Florida.
PB: Have you spent any time looking at Cesar Ruiz from Michigan? He was a center. I don’t know if that’s what the Ravens are looking for, but he seems to be about the only interior O-lineman that would fit around the 28th pick that would even be an option. Is he a guy who would be able to step in and play guard? And do you have any other names that are worthy of consideration as a guard who would be in that neighborhood of the late first round or perhaps if the Ravens were to move back and select early in the second round?
JN: I did. I looked at Cesar quite a bit. The guys up at Michigan, that’s where I went to school so I’ve got really good relationships with that program. They had me look at Cesar and actually talk to Cesar while he was trying to make his decision to come out or not. So I’ve done a lot of work on him. He’s a really good player, guys. He’s going to start for 10 years for whoever drafts him. I think he’s strong enough to play guard. I don’t see him as a center only. I think he’s a guy who could play both spots. If you wanted to wait, I don’t think it’s clear cut. I don’t think he’s clear-cut the No. 1 center. I like Lloyd Cushenberry from LSU and Matt Hennessey from Temple a lot. They were both juniors as well. Those guys really bolstered this draft, the juniors in the interior line class because the senior class wasn’t great this year. If you wanted to wait, I really think you’re going to be able to get starting guards into the fourth round, so a guy like John Simpson at Clemson. There’s going to be some really good value on late Day Two, early Day Three. I don’t think you need to go first round or early second round to get a starting-level interior guy this year.
To hear more from Nagy, including his thoughts on the tight end class, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Vladimir Cherry/SMU Athletics