When the Jets drafted QB James Morgan with the 19th pick in the 4th round of the 2020 Draft it raised a few eyebrows around Jets Nation. Morgan was not considered a top prospect at the position, but he did have supporters. He stands tall in the pocket, possesses a big arm, and was a team captain. He guided an undermanned FIU team to a win against crosstown rival Miami and also led his team to consecutive bowl appearances in his two years on the team.
The 4th round of the NFL Draft is not a place you usually find many top prospects. Top QB prospects are long gone by then, but a few undervalued signal callers sometimes slip through the cracks.
It was stated before the Draft that the Jets were interested in drafting a mid round, developmental type QB to groom behind Sam Darnold. This I considered a wise strategy for numerous reasons. First it gives you a cheap backup QB who has upside for the next 4 years It also gives you a hedge if the backup develops well, and Sam does not take that next step in development.
I think where the Jets erred was in drafting La’Mical Perine at pick #120 and not taking QB Jacob Eason who was drafted two picks later. I had Eason rated much higher than Morgan as did most if not all scouting services. The differences in those grades were at times a round or two, not just a few places. It was also foreseeable that the Colts would be looking for a developmental QB in that 4th round range. They have an aging placeholder in Philip Rivers as a starter for the next (probable) two years with Jacoby Brissett on the outside looking in and too expensive to keep on the roster.
The Colts GM Chris Ballard is one of my top five GMs in the NFL so he wasn’t letting a QB prospect who would have gone much higher in previous Drafts slip away from him. Joe Douglas either didn’t believe the Colts (or any other team) would draft Eason or had Morgan rated higher than Eason (which is not out of the question). Morgan is not without talent as you will soon see but his overall game does possess some holes, one in particular that can’t be fixed. It is interesting that NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein stated that “some teams view Morgan as the only true developmental quarterback talent in this Draft, and that could make him a middle-round pick.”
Let us take a look at Captain James Morgan (he was a team captain at FIU) to see what the Jets have and what they don’t.
James Morgan started his college career with two very forgettable years at Bowling Green st where he redshirted his freshman year then played in 18 games the following two years. His stats were near awful with 25 TDs, 22 INTs and a 51.9 completion percentage. Yet as always the stats don’t tell the real story. Morgan was recruited to Bowling Green by then head coach Dino Babers in 2015. After Babers brought Bowling Green to the MAC Championship Game that year he then left to become the coach at Syracuse. Bowling Green then hired Texas Tech assistant Mike Jinks to become head coach.
Some types of offenses fit a player better than others. Morgan was recruited to play a Baylor style spread offense that was popularized by Art Briles. Jinks brought in an “Air Raid” style of offense used by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. For a young QB the styles are quite different and the Air Raid takes a more seasoned QB to run, not a redshirt freshman who has never played in this type of offense before.
The Baylor offense is a run-pass offense with receivers reading coverage and finding the ways to get open. It has wide splits for better running and uses an up-tempo quick pass offense. It uses the theory that the run is a very strong option and that no defense can cover 4 quick/fast WRs. Someone is getting open fast during a pass play. The team sets up at the line of scrimmage quickly then the entire team looks to the sideline for instructions.
The Air Raid offense is mostly a passing offense, and the QB is the only player looking to the sideline for the play. The QB must then get everyone in position then run the play while reading the defense. The WR routes are rigid. You run the same route no matter the defense and it is up to the QB to determine where the ball is going on every play.
This means the QB must be able to distinguish which type of defense he is playing against, read that defense, and go through his progressions to find the right guy. That is quite a bit for a freshman to handle. Most QBs will come up in this system. They learn the nuances over years before they get their chance to run the offense. It is a huge chore for a redshirt freshman who has never even seen the offense to master it in a summer.
Many of the most talented players on the team had left after the 2015 season leaving the cupboard bare of playmakers. The defense was also bereft of talent as the team gave up an average of 38 points a game which was 123rd of 130 teams. Morgan was in a difficult position as he was surrounded by young players, many without great talent. When you don’t run the ball and have a lot of low percentage throws you will have many three-and-out series. You can’t sustain drives in that type of offense.
Morgan left the team after the 2017 season after playing in only 7 games and completing just 45.3% of his passes. He played in 18 games at Bowling Green and completed over 60% of his passes in only 3 games. He moved on to FIU to play for Butch Davis. Morgan was able to play right away as a graduate transfer. Morgan is a smart kid who finished his pre-law degree in three years at Bowling Green. He was also very well liked there as he applied to transfer but was allowed to use team facilities before transitioning to FIU.
At FIU he came in and easily beat out Christian Alexander for the starting job. James did everything he could come in and hit the ground running to pick up this offense,” said Davis.
I scouted Morgan quite a bit because he fit the profile of the QB that Joe Douglas likes. He has good size 6’ 4” 229 lbs and is a tough guy who will hang in there to make the throws while defenders race towards him. He has above average arm strength.
Some of the attributes I liked about Morgan were:
- He has a quick release when wants to get the ball out immediately.
- He can get great velocity on the ball which he can fit into small windows.
- He is smart, has a low sack total because he finds a receiver and throws the ball at the feet of a covered receiver.
- He plays injured, a gamer who fights to stay on the field.
- He has some throws he makes very well (info later) to make plays.
- He has leadership abilities that can be enhanced to become near elite.
- His stats have been held down his entire career by poor players around him. While FIU fielded a better team I have rarely seen more dropped passes by receivers in years.
Some of the things I dislike about Morgan are:
- He has poor movement skills. He will be a statue in the NFL.
- He makes poor throws on some routes (info later).
- He is slow getting throw progressions. As a result he will stare down receivers.
- He has poor pocket football security.
- He loses accuracy when taken off his spot.
- His footwork is atrocious, he doesn’t have the same fluid motion which kills accuracy.
- He doesn’t have repetitive correct hip rotation in his throwing motion, this kills his accuracy as well as speed on the ball, also makes it more difficult for touch throw accuracy.
James Morgan is a QB with a big arm who needs to refine his motion to increase accuracy, speed on throws and to save his arm from injury. A poor motion can lead to arm problems. Just ask Cam Newton.
As such Morgan is a big arm QB who doesn’t excel at the deep ball. He does have many deep ball TDs, but the vast majority of those throws are to wide open receivers on breakdowns by the defense. There is no need to show an example of this as it is easily imagined in the mind. Morgan does excel at corner fade routes both short and deep. He has the ability to place balls over the shoulders of receivers and away from defenders. He also excels at crossing routes and in breaking routes in the middle of the field.
This first clip Morgan finds a slot receiver that crosses the face of the defender, slicing away for a 14 yard gain and a first down.
This is a good throw as Morgan sees the receiver beat his man but has to wait until he clears the underneath defender (ILB) to open up the clean window. The good and bad of this play are that (bad) Morgan doesn’t rotate his hips when he throws. He throws across his body which hurts accuracy. You can see the receiver needs to jump to catch the pass that is behind him. Had the ball been on target the YAC yards would have been more substantial.
Morgan also holds the ball low which is not ideal, but he does keep two hands on it which is favorable. Watch as he readies to throw and how fast his release is (good). Once Morgan decides to throw the ball is out of his hands very quickly. His footwork is less than stellar, but at least he has a stable base to throw from. He is pushing forward on the throw which increases velocity and keeps the ball from sailing high. This is something you don’t ever want, especially with a ball across the middle.
On this next clip you can see another throw that Morgan does a good job of making on a regular basis. This corner fade route is something that is not easily learned, but you can tell Morgan has worked extensively on it.
The receiver makes a nice catch on the ball. He looks back to early on the play which slowed his route. Had he taken another few steps before turning his head he would have caught the ball in stride. Here Morgan throws a nice catchable ball with perfect arc over the defender and to the spot on the field he intended. This is a play worked on in practice, and Morgan is counting on his receiver to be at a certain spot on the field at a certain time.
Now Morgan’s footwork is shoddy at best, and he doesn’t rotate his hips as his hips are already wide open before he throws the ball. This is something that a QB coach can work with him on to improve his technique which will improve his accuracy. I will show you another QB from a few years back that I had scouted and thought similar to what I thought about as Morgan at the time. That QB worked incredibly hard on his technique to become a quality NFL QB.
This next play shows some of the problems Morgan will have in the NFL. He has little to no movement skills to avoid a rush which will only be exacerbated with the speed in the NFL.
You can see there are 5 receivers out on the play yet none get open in the first couple of seconds. Morgan is not really hurried by the rush, and in fact he can step up to allow his receivers more time to come free. Instead Morgan throws the ball to a receiver that is well covered under and over top. The good news is the ball is thrown away, but there are possibilities for a big play if a receiver to the right were to move across the middle behind the defense. The lack of mobility by Morgan prevented that from happening.
This next pass is an area that Morgan does well at, an in breaking rout at the hash inside a short zone. The ball needs mustard which Morgan provides.
This is a harder throw than it seems. It is being thrown across the field from one hash to the next with 4 defenders in the area. Morgan gives himself a little more room with a slight nod to the receiver in the flat which holds the outside defender from collapsing on the play too quickly. Still the footwork is lousy, and he looks left the entire time. Morgan has much to learn about moving defenders with his eyes .
Two plays later Morgan runs the exact same play with the exact same result for a huge first down on a 3rd and 7 play.
This play was put in as a way to beat this exact defense. You need a QB who can get the ball into a small window with heat to be successful. This is similar to a 20 yard out breaking sideline pattern against a Tampa 2 defense. You need a QB with enough arm to make the throw into that window. Like here the receiver is going to get unloaded on because defenders are converging from all sides, but it’s a big first down.
This next play again shows the lack of mobility and the effect it has on the play. Morgan’s lack of speed along with his poor footwork doom this play that other QBs would have easily made a big play on.
This play gets FIU the exact look it wants with the defense scrambling to find receivers. All Morgan has to do is avoid the defensive lineman, and he has the edge to himself. Yet Morgan has no elusiveness, and his footwork is a mess. With this being the case he misses a wide open TE who is a huge target on a 3rd and 2 play. This was an easy play that was destroyed by feeble agility. Imagine Russell Wilson on the play. This would be a TD 80% of the time and a first down 99% of the time. These are huge plays in a game thwarted by a defensive lineman who probably runs a 5.40/40.
Yet there are things Morgan can do that Russell Wilson can’t do. Morgan has the ability to make some incredible throws against very good coverage deep downfield. This next throw is probably a 55 yard toss from the left hash to the goal line at the sideline on the opposite side of the field. Russell Wilson has a strong arm but can’t make this throw.
Morgan does a lot of good things here. The technique is not perfect, but he gets his hips opened some with his momentum moving forward. He is very accurate on these type throws which is a good sign for the future. If you can make this throw then with hard work and dedication you can make the lesser throws with a much higher degree of accuracy if you adjust the throwing motion slightly. On this play I am sure the corner was thinking there is no way he can make this throw, but he did.
Here is another throw from a player who worked on his throwing motion after college to make himself a very rich man in the near future.
This is a very similar throw by Dak Prescott to some of the throws that Morgan was making. You can see that Dak doesn’t rotate his hips like he does now, but he has that great arm strength that you can’t teach. Now Dak is far ahead of Morgan even at this point in his career, and Dak has much more mobility. Still Morgan can work on that as well.
Here is one more clip of Dak with a similar throwing motion to Morgan with the same type throws and dropping the ball in a teacup 40 yards downfield.
When I watched Morgan this year and last I saw a lot of similarities in the throwing motions of Dak Prescott. I wrote it in my notes the first time I watched Morgan yet Dak Prescott is now light years ahead of where Morgan is now. Prescott worked on his technique and leadership abilities. Those leadership abilities cannot be understated. It is something I want to see Sam Darnold improve on this year.
Morgan also doesn’t throw the ball well down the center of the field to a covered receiver. He loses his technique as he winds up so much which takes time. The receiver is streaking down the field. Every second wasted is extra yards he has to throw.
This ball is underthrown, if even by a slight bit. His receiver does have a step on the defender so the ball at worst must be overthrown. Now the defender makes a nice play, but he is allowed to catch up when the receiver has to wait for the ball. I have seen other plays where the ball is overthrown by 10 yards. It just seems as the distance is tough for Morgan to judge straight down the field as opposed to laterally across the field where he can be spot on.
I was not enamored with the James Morgan selection, but it is not a lost selection yet There is talent in Morgan’s game that can be worked with to create a better player. No one is expecting him to compete this year so he has time. He is a smart kid with superior arm strength but also other abilities. If he can work on what he does poorly he can become at least a good backup. He would need serious playing time to become more than that. Hopefully he doesn’t get that chance, since that would mean that Sam would be out.
That is what I think.
What do you think?