Eph QB Keenan invited to participate in NFL combine

Sean Keenan, who helped lead the Ephs to a 15-1 record over the past two seasons, was one of only 20 quarterbacks in the entire nation selected to attend the National Football League scouting combine in Indianapolis. The combine, which brings together around 300 of the best NFL prospects for scouts to evaluate, will take place February 24-28 in the RCA Dome. Keenan is the first Eph football player ever invited to the event, which began in 1982 and rarely features NCAA Division III players.

The senior quarterback holds nearly every passing record in Williams history, including those for most career completions, touchdown passes and passing yards. Hailed as the “Bledsoe of the Berkshires” in a November Sports Illustrated feature, Keenan said he was quite surprised to be chosen to participate.

“It was very unexpected, and it hasn’t really set in,” Keenan said. “It’s kind of overwhelming, but it’s a great honor and it’s very exciting. It’s a large credit to the College and the teams I’ve played on.”

Though he only began starting in his junior season in the fall of 1998, Keenan has attracted interest from close to half of the teams in the NFL. At the end of last season, Williams head coach Dick Farley submitted Sean’s name to NFL scouting services as a potential pro prospect. Ever since, scouts have been driving up to Williamstown to check out Keenan in person.

Pro teams are most impressed by Keenan’s physical abilities as a quarterback. His arm strength allows him to make accurate deep throws, yet he still has the touch to connect with underneath receivers running crossing patterns.

“Sean’s got good arm strength and a natural fluid throwing motion,” said Williams offensive coordinator Dave Caputi. “There’s nothing mechanical about his technique, and his good footwork and balance make him a good drop-back passer. He also does a nice job checking off to secondary and tertiary receivers.”

What impresses and intrigues NFL teams even more about Keenan is that he’s become the passer that he is playing competitive football only three months out of the year. If he played on a D-I team, he would be doing something football-related 12 months out of the year and would get much more coaching and game experience.

“For Sean, the downside and the upside are the same, and that is he hasn’t focused as much on the game and he doesn’t have as much football experience,” Farley said. “The downside is that he isn’t as polished as some of the D-I quarterbacks, but the upside is that he has great potential to learn and grow. He’s really opened [the scouts’] eyes with a relatively amateur approach.”

Personnel from all 31 NFL teams will evaluate Keenan for all five days at the combine. Most prospects only participate for two days, but since Keenan has received little exposure compared to other quarterbacks, the scouts believe it is to his advantage to stay for all five days. Over the five days he will have a thorough medical examination and then do athletic testing and on the field drills. Keenan will also engage in unofficial interviews with coaches of interested NFL teams. The entire process is open exclusively to NFL coaches and officials.

Player selection for the combine is done by a committee of seven comprised of scouting officials representing NFL teams. Teams nominate the players who interest them and who they believe have the best chance to play at the next level, and from there they generate a list of between 320 and 330 players to invite. According to Duke Babb, a director with National Football Scouting, the scouts have been extremely accurate in picking out potential NFL players in the past.

“Our decisions are solely made on pro evaluations, and in the last few years, close to 90 percent of the invited players go on to be drafted or to sign as NFL free agents,” Babb said.

Farley believes that the success of quarterbacks such as Seattle’s Jon Kitna and St. Louis’ Kurt Warner who came out of lesser-known programs bodes well for Keenan’s chances.

“Warner and Kitna have helped a lot of guys without much exposure from going untapped,” Farley said. “There aren’t as many pure passers in college these days, but NFL teams are still looking for drop-back passers who can really throw the ball.”

Whether Keenan will actually be drafted or catch on with the NFL will depend heavily on how he performs at the combine. Caputi said he considers it most likely for Keenan either to get picked up by a team with an established starter and backup at quarterback or to play in a developmental league, such as NFL Europe.

While Keenan is unsure of his potential to play professionally, he said that regardless of the field he eventually chooses to go into, it will likely involve sports in some form.

“College athletics have been great for me and have really opened up a lot of doors,” Keenan said. “Based on what happens at the combine, I’ll be able to better evaluate my situation. Whatever I do, I want to do something that I enjoy. Playing sports has been a great experience and I’d like to stay involved with that.”