UM football | NFL Draft

Mike James, Brandon McGee tied together by more than NFL Draft

 

sdegnan@MiamiHerald.com

The lives of Mike James and Brandon McGee will be intertwined for at least another week.

Both played football together at the University of Miami, waited until after they graduated to pursue an NFL career and are mid- to late-round prospects in the NFL Draft that begins Thursday and runs through Saturday.

And both will be thinking of their departed moms when their dreams are realized, if, indeed they are realized, this weekend.

“Draft day is coming, and everybody asks me ‘Where are you going to be this weekend? Who are you going to be with?’ ” said James, 22, the running back whose mother died in a car accident in December 2010.

“It’s hard to give anyone a definitive answer because for 19 years I thought I was going to be with my mom, no matter what, on draft day.

“Brandon and I share a lot when it comes to that.”

McGee, the 22-year-old cornerback whose mother died of cancer when he was 13, said his mom “will be the first thing that comes to my mind” when he’s drafted. “Before she passed I promised I’d make her proud and get to the pros.

“That day is coming soon.”

Except for McGee and James — and even they are not shoo-ins to be picked — this is expected to be a meager weekend for the Canes, who were spoiled from 1995 to 2008 with at least one player chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Each humble, respectful and well-respected, and each thankful for what they do have — as opposed to bitter about what they don’t — McGee and James, in separate interviews, said they might not turn on the TV for the majority of the three days.

“I talked to some older guys — D.J. Williams, Antrel Rolle,” James said. “D.J. went in the first round and he told me it still felt like forever. He said, ‘Whatever you do, take your mind off it. It can be stressful sitting there watching people and thinking, ‘They’re going and I was better than him!’

“The best thing to do is try to take a step back from it.”

Said McGee: “I’ll be at home [in Plantation] with my immediate family. I thought about having a little party, but I might not even do that. I might not even watch it, which would be the first year I don’t.

“I’ll record it, but I don’t want to know until it happens.”

McGee, 5-11 and 193 pounds, had one of the fastest 40-yard times at the combine in February, a 4.40 — good for 13th overall. During his UM career, he was clocked as fast as 4.29.

High expectations

He came into his senior season still waiting to fulfill the expectations he created with an outstanding high school career at Plantation, where he was a dominant quarterback and considered the nation’s 10th-best corner by Rivals.com.

In 2012 he started all 12 games and tied for sixth on the team with 54 tackles, had two interceptions and seven pass breakups.

His strong performance during practice week for the East-West Shrine Game (including two interceptions) was noted across the nation.

The teams for which he worked out included the Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears.

“I work hard, I’m coachable, I can learn just about any scheme in any defense,” McGee said.

“Regardless of what round you go in, what counts is how you perform once you’re in an NFL uniform. I tend not to focus on the negative. It’s a blessing to be in this position.”

UM coach Al Golden said McGee improved tremendously in 2012.

‘An excellent pro’

“He’s going to be an excellent pro,” Golden said. “If you look at his body of work, everything is trending so positively. His size, his strength, he’s always had length and long speed and now he’s married that with a tool box.

“He showed the ability to tackle and be physical on the edge. I see his peak coming as he enters the draft.”

James, whose career was held back by having former star Lamar Miller ahead of him, and then, this past season, sharing reps with Duke Johnson, more than doubled his output in 2012 from the previous season.

He rushed for a career-best 621 yards and six touchdowns on 147 carries for a 4.2-yard-per-carry average, and was UM’s third-leading receiver with 30 catches for 344 yards and three touchdowns.

Though some projections have McGee going sooner than the 5-11, 222-pound James, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. believes James is the better value as a Day 3 pick.

“I like Mike James,’’ Kiper said. “He was one of the guys you can get probably a little later in the draft. It’s a kid over 220 pounds [who] has better quickness than he does 40 time. He runs inside very effectively” but “can bounce it to the perimeter. He’s got some skills.

“You saw what Alfred Morris [of FAU] did last year as a sixth-round pick.”

‘At peace’

James played fullback as a freshman and is regarded as the ultimate team player who is smart, loyal, has great hands and wears defenses down with considerable strength.

“Everybody wants 30 carries a game,” said James, who was timed at 4.53 in the 40 and did 28 reps in the 225-pound bench press. “But I trusted the judgment of my coaches. We did the best we could to try to make the team go as a team, not just to make Mike James go as an individual.

“I’m at peace.”

Golden said he’s confident James will flourish.

“Wherever you put him on your board, that’s what he’s worth,” Golden said. “There’s not much you don’t know about Mike James. He’s as pure as any draft pick you’ll ever get. I think he’s a mid-round player, and he’ll make somebody’s team and have a great career.”

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