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Scouting Jets quarterback James Morgan

Miami v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

With the draft now complete, we’ll be providing in-depth breakdowns of each of the Jets’ draft picks and undrafted free agents. We continue today with the second of their three fourth round picks - quarterback James Morgan.

The 23-year old is listed at 6’4” and 229 pounds and finished up his college career as a two-year starter with Florida International, having earlier attended Bowling Green. Morgan passed for over 5,000 yards with 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 24 starts for FIU.

Background

Morgan was a three-star recruit coming out of high school and, having redshirted his freshman year, started 13 games over two seasons at Bowling Green.

He lost his first four starts, but looked set to break out when he threw for 335 yards and five touchdowns against Toledo and then passed for 389 yards and three touchdowns in the next game against Miami (Ohio). He ended the season by winning his last three starts, although his numbers dropped off.

In his sophomore season, Morgan lost his job early in the year and, although he started a few more games later in the season, he ended up completing just 45 percent of his passes and won just one of his six starts. He also only surpassed 200 passing yards twice.

At the end of his redshirt sophomore season, Morgan had already graduated so he was eligible to transfer immediately to another program. He eventually found his way to FIU and ended up starting every game over the next two seasons.

In 2018, Morgan was the conference newcomer of the year as he led the conference in passer efficiency and yards per attempt. However, he did not earn all-conference honors, although he was an honorable mention.

Morgan completed a career high 65 percent of his passes and threw for career-bests in yards (2,727) and touchdowns (26). He passed for 300 yards twice.

In 2019, he was an honorable mention again but his production was down slightly and his completion percentage dropped to 58 percent. He ended the year with 2,585 yards and 14 touchdowns but had a career-low with only five interceptions.

Early in the season, Morgan passed for a career-high 394 yards against Louisiana Tech, but he didn’t have another 300-yard game until the team’s bowl game loss to Arkansas State, which saw a late comeback bid fall short.

At the end of the 2019 season, Morgan participated in the East-West Shrine Game and the scouting combine. The Jets eventually selected him with the 125th overall pick on day three.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Morgan brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Measurables/Athleticism

Morgan has decent size and a strong frame. His hand size is also above average for the position.

He is not regarded as particularly athletic as he ran a 4.89 in the 40-yard dash and posted a 29-inch vertical and awful agility numbers at the combine. However, he did post an above average broad jump.

In high school, Morgan also lettered in basketball and won a state championship in the 4 x 400m relay.

Arm Strength

Morgan’s arm strength is regarded as one of his most important attributes as he can complete passes to all areas of the field, puts a lot of zip on the ball to fit it into tight windows and gets a lot of production on deep throws.

This can also be a curse at times, as he’ll often trust his arm too much. He’ll back himself to zip a throw into the tightest window or rush to get a throw out before he has his feet set and his shoulders square.

In such situations, he still has some success. There were a few examples on his film of slightly underthrown deep balls or passes thrown just behind a player coming across the middle, but it seems more of an issue that he’ll overcompensate for the fact he isn’t throwing from a solid platform and this can sometimes lead to him overcompensating too much so a throw might get away from him.

Morgan puts zip on his throws with consistency, which is good from a standpoint of his short-to-intermediate throws being on time and difficult for a defensive player to break on. He also makes anticipatory throws before the receiver has made his break or before he uncovers, which helps.

However, he often doesn’t put touch on the ball which can lead to drops and ricochets, even on short passes.

Accuracy

Morgan’s accuracy has been very inconsistent over his career, but did improve significantly when he moved to FIU. His completion percentage was over 65 in 2018 and he would have matched that in 2019 if not for an increase in dropped passes from 10 to 35 - the most in the nation on a per-attempt basis.

As noted above, part of that is probably because he may sometimes put too much zip on the ball on shorter passes, so he can’t put all of the blame on his receivers.

One of the main improvements he made at FIU was in terms of his accuracy on deep balls. He completed just over 20 percent of passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield at BGSU, whereas you’d normally expect this to be around 30 percent. He also threw more interceptions than touchdowns on such passes. In his first year at FIU, Morgan increased this to 38 percent with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions. It dropped back down under 30 percent in his senior year, though.

Morgan will usually put his throw on a receiver so it hits them in stride or allows them to turn upfield and he has plenty of great highlights of him putting difficult throws on the money, whether than be into tight coverage, finding a gap in a zone defense or putting a downfield throw where only the receiver can get it.

He does display some inconsistency in this area though. As noted, this tends to come from him rushing the throw or displaying inadequate technique, but pressure can affect him too.

Here’s an example of a throw that sailed on Morgan because he clearly put too much on it, leading to an interception.

Under pressure

Another of Morgan’s best attributes is his toughness. He’s not afraid to stand in and take a hit, which he will invariably get up from.

His sack rate has generally been low, as he will get rid of the ball whenever he can. This does lead to him throwing into some risky areas at times though.

He shows some ability to move around in and out of the pocket, but can lack poise and awareness at times and his mechanics can fall apart under duress.

In four years, Morgan fumbled 21 times, including a career-high of eight in 2019. Some of these were fumbled snaps or came on running plays though. That said, he can hold the ball down low at times and his tendency to stand in the pocket makes him susceptible to having the ball stripped if he doesn’t sense the pressure.

Despite the fact that Morgan has an above average hand size, he had one play where he was untouched but the ball slipped out of his hand.

Interestingly, only two of Morgan’s 12 interceptions in his two seasons with FIU came when he was blitzed.

Footwork/Technique

Based on his 2019 film, Morgan has a lot of things to clean up about his mechanics, both in terms of throwing the ball and his stance. However, he might not be as raw as he at times seemed to be because he was sporting a knee brace all year and it looked like this was limiting him from dropping back smoothly, planting his feet or stepping into his throws.

If that’s the case, then it provides a possible explanation for instances where Morgan has a narrow base, see his hips fly open, doesn’t set his feet correctly or elongates his release. These could all be evidence of a player who is, as noted before, overcompensating because a lot of his throws are “all arm”. This is more of a working theory than a definitive and proven hypothesis, mind you.

Here’s an example of Morgan making a great throw despite the fact he doesn’t really set his feet as they are closer to parallel to the line of scrimmage than perpendicular to his target. That’s great arm talent, but if he can get the mechanics right more easily once he’s healthy, this could improve his consistency.

Morgan grew up in Wisconsin and idolized Brett Favre as a child and while he definitely has some of that fearless gunslinger mentality, he hasn’t yet exhibited some of the open field creativity Favre always possessed. Nevertheless, he shows some ability to adjust his arm angle to find a passing lane on plays like this.

As noted earlier, scouting reports suggest Morgan doesn’t often throw with good touch, but on this play - which sees him move laterally to extend the play and then reset his feet - he drops a nice touch pass in at the back of the end zone.

Decision Making

Morgan dramatically improved his interception rate from almost two per start to one every two starts when he moved from BGSU to FIU. This is hopefully a sign that his ball security is improving.

Nevertheless, as implied earlier, he is not averse to risk. Far from it, in fact, as he’ll often attempt a tight window throw with confidence.

While his deep ball capabilities are important, Morgan is at his best when he drops back and makes a timing throw underneath or to the outside. This suggests much of his decision making process probably takes place before the snap.

He can, at times, be guilty of locking onto his first read, though. On this play, he fails to sense the linebacker dropping off into the passing lane.

He had 10 passes batted down at the line in his first season at BGSU but has only averaged three per season since then, so he’s got better at ensuring he has a cleaning passing lane.

Morgan didn’t get many chances to work through his progressions but he does anticipate well and can see opportunities and get rid of the ball quickly if a defensive player is out of position or if his man gets open down the field. Here’s a rare play where he drops back and looks at multiple options before an option comes open downfield.

Mobility

As noted, Morgan isn’t a great athlete and doesn’t like the vacate the pocket too often, preferring to hang in there or get rid of the ball early.

He’s not great at eluding pressure within the pocket and on most of the rare occasions where he did shrug off a potential sack over the past few years he immediately threw an ill-advised pass into traffic.

On this play, Morgan steps up to avoid pressure but he’s not looking to run as he keeps his head up so he can find an open man downfield.

Morgan is no kind of dual threat, with only five 10 yard runs in his career, although he did rush for three touchdowns, including two last year.

With his size, he can be useful on quarterback sneaks, although he lost a fumble on one last season.

Special teams

Morgan didn’t contribute on special teams at the college level and won’t be expected to with the Jets.

Scheme Fit

As noted, Morgan is at his best when he makes a quick read and gets rid of the ball on time. That would seem to make him a good fit for Adam Gase’s system.

Part of the reason Morgan left Bowling Green was because they got a new coach at the end of his true freshman season and had introduced an Air Raid offense which he didn’t feel as comfortable in.

He hasn’t played with any of his Jets teammates, other than his fellow undrafted rookie Shyheim Carter, who was on his team at the Shrine Bowl.

Injuries

As noted, Morgan wore a heavy knee brace throughout his final season with FIU. However, some sources separately reported that he had an ankle injury all year, possibly in addition to the knee issue. Whatever it was, Morgan toughed it out all year and seemed to be healthy again for the pre-draft process.

Intangibles

Like most quarterback prospects, Morgan has glowing reports about his leadership abilities and reportedly raised his stock at the combine by being really impressive during the interview process.

Despite his self-confidence in the way that he plays, Morgan is humble off the field and will always seek to give credit to his teammates when addressing the media.

He has reportedly been working hard at refining his mechanics and does a lot of film work during and in the lead up to the season.

Morgan’s football IQ is regarded as high and he completed a pre-law degree by the end of his sophomore year so he could transfer.

On the field, he seems to have command of the pocket and has only been responsible for eight penalties in his four seasons.

Conclusions

Drafting a young back-up with upside at some point on day three was an essential move for the Jets in their current situation. The Jets will eventually need a dependable back-up, even if it’s assumed that Sam Darnold will be the starter for the next few seasons at the absolute minimum.

As to whether Morgan will be ready to be the number two as a rookie or how much upside he might have, that remains to be seen. He obviously has a size profile and arm talent that make him a good developmental prospect and - like some of the other draft picks - a few technical improvements could theoretically have a dramatic effect on his consistency.

We’ve been down this road before though with developmental quarterbacks that worked hard to improve their technique but never could. Clearly this isn’t easy to achieve. The Jets will be hoping that Morgan has the attitude and character to buck that trend.