One in a series previewing the 2018 NFL Draft on April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington
Nic Shimonek had less than 60 in his high school graduating class at Mildred.
The small-town school near Corsicana, as he’s been told, had never produced a Division I football player.
Shimonek changed that.
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He started his college career at Iowa and ended it at Texas Tech. Now Shimonek is on the verge of becoming an NFL player, something almost unheard of for someone from the town of about 350.
Shimonek played well in his lone season starting for the Red Raiders, leading them to a bowl game, and is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and friend Patrick Mahomes.
Most thought Mahomes would be a Day 2 prospect at this time a year ago, and he ended up going 10th overall to the Kansas City Chiefs.
So it's no surprise that Shimonek is mimicking everything Mahomes did a year ago. As Shimonek said, “It’d be stupid if I didn’t do everything Pat did. He went from second- or third-round to 10th overall. He set a blueprint for me and I’m using that to my advantage as much as I can.
“Me and Pat are best friends. I talk to him all the time, just about every day. I’m a very curious person and I was picking his brain and seeing what he was doing. So I knew what to expect going into it.”
Shimonek did everything Mahomes did going into the draft. He hired the same agent, Leigh Steinberg. He’s training at EXOS in Carlsbad, California, and working with the same quarterbacks coach, Mike Sheppard, to prepare for next week’s NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day next month.
Shimonek is in a group of quarterbacks pegged for the middle rounds at this point and is expected to be a fifth- or sixth-round prospect. He might not be able to make the leap Mahomes did, but he could certainly boost his stock enough to get into the Day 2 mix instead of Day 3.
Shimonek is coming off a solid season for the Red Raiders. He threw for 3,963 yards and 33 touchdowns, completing 66.5 percent of his passes. He ranked ninth nationally in passing touchdowns and 11th in passing yards. Shimonek’s best game might have been the one he didn’t start – at Texas on Nov. 24.
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury opted to start sophomore McLane Carter, who provides more of a running threat than Shimonek, after Tech scored just three points at TCU the previous week.
But Carter didn’t provide the necessary spark for the Red Raiders, and Shimonek entered with 14:23 left in the game. Shimonek rallied Tech to a win by throwing two touchdowns, including the game-winning score. It earned Tech a berth in the Birmingham Bowl and served as a memorable moment for Shimonek.
“At 5-6 and coach Kingsbury’s job on the line … that was definitely the most memorable as far as getting us to a bowl game and the experience I got with it,” Shimonek said.
Shimonek is trying to build off that momentum as he embarks on his professional career. He had a solid showing at the East-West Shrine Game last month, completing 12 of 18 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. And he’s continuing to refine his craft in California to turn heads at the Combine and pro day.
Shimonek has to show teams he can transition from the air raid/ spread offense into a pro style. It helps that he spent a year in a pro style offense at Iowa in 2013, and the fact that several NFL starters (Mahomes, LA Rams’ Jared Goff, Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott) have made a seamless transition from the spread.
Shimonek also believes he is well prepared for the transition because Kingsbury implements different concepts he learned when playing for the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.
“It isn’t as big of a learning curve for me as you might think,” Shimonek said. “When I went to the East-West Shrine Game, getting in the huddle and commanding the huddle and getting the verbiage was more of a refresher. I think people will be surprised when they get me out to their rookie minicamp to see how well I pick it up. I’m looking forward to that.”
The other knock on Shimonek is his experience. He started just one season in the college ranks. But Shimonek prides himself in being a student of the game and is knowledgeable on the nuances of each and every play. When he breaks down a play, he understands the jobs of all 22 guys on the field.
“I would’ve loved to play more games, too, but I got behind a freak talent like Pat,” Shimonek said. “I could’ve went to a SMU or Tulsa and played all four years, but I took the hard route. I don’t regret it. It’s just how it is. It still got me to this point where I want to be, so I can’t complain.
“I’ve got the size, arm strength, IQ. I talked to a lot of scouts at the East-West Shrine Game, so I’m on a lot of people’s radars. It’s just a matter of capitalizing in Indianapolis.”
To capitalize at the Combine, Shimonek has to get at least a couple teams interested in him. That’s what Mahomes managed to do a year ago. If a couple teams see potential in Shimonek, his draft stock will rise, as his agent knows.
“The key to getting drafted fairly high is to have a couple teams totally fall in love with the player,” Steinberg said. “That’s how you get drafted. It’s not Mel Kiper’s projection or any of the draft prognosticators. It’s not the first-round projection in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“Last year with Patrick, there were four or five teams that desperately wanted him, so it just set up a trade scenario. It was just a function of how high would Kansas City go above Arizona and the New York Giants and different teams who were interested to get him. So Nic’s job is to impress an individual team in this process.”
Shimonek will get plenty of opportunities, beginning next week. He’s confident he can boost his stock much like Mahomes did a year ago. So is his agent, who has represented a number of quarterbacks in his career, including Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Warren Moon.
“I think Nic is going to rise in the draft. You’ve got the bloodlines and heritage of Mahomes, who at this point last year was a second or third rounder,” Steinberg said. “Nic is big and strong and can throw. The only impediment he has is the fact that he’s only started for one year, but the draft is always a projection as to how someone is going to do in the next 10-12 years. It’s not really a merit badge for great college performance.
“What are you going to do for us over your pro career? I think you can project, based on how proficient he was this year, that he can make a difference. He’s smart. He’s got great size. He has a great arm. He has all those elements that you look for in a franchise-type quarterback.”