Aaron Murray, University of Georgia
Aaron Murray played the part of his team mascot, the Georgia Bulldog, in every game that he participated in.
He was a four year starter for Georgia, and played 52 games, setting SEC records for yardage (13,166) and completions (921). He finished his playing career with an unfortunate injury, tearing his ACL while running.
Murray has been wildly productive in every year that he played, but was on his way to a new level when he was injured. Despite losing most of his skill players over the course of the 2013 season, Murray still managed to throw for over 3000 yards and 26 TD’s (against 9 INT) even though he played without the vast majority of his best skill players. (He lost two starting wide receivers and, two starting running backs, and two starting tight ends before going down to injury himself. His career (starting) numbers at Georgia:
Quarterbacking a remarkably effective offense, Murray was unquestionably the star of the show. He held his own against the heavyweights of the SEC, throwing for 300+ yards and multiple touchdowns against LSU, South Carolina, Auburn, and Clemson. (He also ran for 4 more rushing TD’s in just those games) Murray called the plays at the line in his Senior year, and won praise for doing so in a modern pro-style offense. The myths surrounding his inability to win the big game was relegated to a whisper, and there's every indication that if his team had been luckier and healthier, they would have been battling Alabama again for SEC supremacy in 2013. (Ed note: The 2012 showdown between Alabama and Georgia was better than the National Championship game, and it wasn’t close. You can appreciate the huge amount of grit and tenacity Murray possesses watching him engineer that final drive that comes just short)
In 2013, Murray overcame the odds and put his team in a position to win against some serious competition. Here’s the proverbial icing on the South Carolina cake. (On a day where he throw for 300+ yards and 4 TD’s)
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College accolades aside, Murray’s NFL prospects are a topic that has been argued fervently on SB Nation and across the draft community. There are elements of risk in Murray’s game that create warnings when combined with his marginal athleticism, and we’ll dissect them below.
First, the things Murray does well.:
Murray is an incredibly accurate quarterback, throwing to all points on the field with velocity and purpose. He shows a very delicate and smooth touch on soft throws in the end zone and for hitting players coming out of the backfield, but he can still wind it up and fire it down field. Murray does not possess the cannon arm of some of the other 2013 draft prospects, like Carr or Mettenburger, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that he can make all of the throws required at the next level without having to “hump up” or excessively wind up. Murray will be able to run any scheme at the NFL level, but will benefit from those that can help him establish throwing lanes. He gets the ball out of his hands with a fast release, and goes through his progressions with an aggression that comes from knowing the offense exceptionally well.
Here's an example of some incredible touch displayed as Murray throws to the receivers back shoulder, outside of the numbers, in a situation where everyone in the stadium knew he was throwing.
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From the same drive, see how he understands the nature of the defense, and decisively throws his receiver open to the back shoulder right off the snap.
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Murray makes throws in tight windows in the middle of the field, and does so without leaving his receivers in precarious positions where they can get hit. His ball placement on throws to the sideline is excellent, and is even more impressive given the lack of rapport with his new receivers. He seems to prefer throwing the ball between the hashes from about 5-20 yards, but will not hesitate to throw outside when the defensive scheme demands it.
After completing a lot of precision underneath stuff, Murray finally strikes for what should be the winning score in the two minute drill. Note how he reads the safety, holds coverage, and then hits the outside receiver.
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Murray also completes a good percentage of his deep balls, which he throws with regularity. Draftbreakdown.com broke down 7 games and found that he was still around 65% on deep balls despite throwing them around 40% of the time. Comparing those numbers with the “top four” QB’s in the class paints Murray in a very favorable light. In he was engineering an offense that featured NFL caliber wide receivers….
This touchdown strike (30 yards) is a perfect pass, on the numbers, with zip. It is a textbook NFL throw.
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Murray appears to have exceptional footwork, hitting the back step of his drop and immediately stepping up and into his throws. Analysts have complained about his release being inconsistent, but I saw very little remiss in his 2013 game film. He has a tight/compact release, right by his ear, and does not adjust his mechanics greatly when throwing on the run. I’ve used the terms “in rhythm” and “on time” to describe Brian Hoyer’s starts in 2013, but there are some parallels to the way Murray and Hoyer keep the offense moving and within the constructs of the play.
You can see how quickly he scans the field, gets the ball out quickly, and throws with great accuracy to the middle of the field.
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Watch Murray (vs Missouri) step up into a muddled pocket and throw a down field strike without getting a chance to set his feet and drive the throw; he doesn’t have a chance to set cleanly, but still gets the ball on target.
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Murray’s leadership “intangibles” are promising. He was the absolute focal point of the offense in 2013, and made the correct read at the line the vast majority of the time, according to his coaches. His football IQ has been remarkable in interviews with NFL teams, and it’s a shame that he couldn't work with coaches at the Senior Bowl to show off his acumen. His off the field record has been sterling, and he was selected for awards by the coaching staff for his dedication and elected a team captain by his peers. (He was also awarded a leadership and service award by the Georgia House and Senate, which is a bonus)
Murray ran a decent amount of zone read plays at Georgia, and while he doesn't have the size or the breakaway speed to run it consistently in the pros, he is fast enough to take a soft defensive look or broken play and turn it into positive yards. Here’s an option keeper vs. Florida:
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And another, for good measure
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The downside to Aaron Murray can be found in two major areas: decision making and his ability to get things off the top shelf of the kitchen.
Murray progressed and improved as a field general over the years at Georgia, but he would still (even as a Senior) have moments where it appeared that he was trying to force the action too much or make his mind up before the play would develop. Some truly awful throws would accompany "wow" plays and will leave film review junkies trying to figure out who the “real” Murray is. His propensity to get the ball out of his hands quickly can lead to throwing into double and triple coverage, a problem exacerbated by his height and inability to see the play around the LOS.
Height is also a cause for serious concern. Despite seeing more successful (two) short quarterbacks in the league than is typical, Murray is barely over 6’0” and has a penchant for getting his passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
Murray consistently gets his throws batted down, even when he has open throwing lanes. Some of this comes from his propensity to “lock onto” a receiver, and some of it is that he’s just undersized.
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Things will occasionally snowball for Murray as the game gets close and the defense is clamping down. Here he forces a throw deep into quadruple coverage and then fails to complete a short easy pass over the middle, in crunch time. This sequence nearly lost him the game.
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Generally, Aaron’s quick release and ability to scan the defense keeps him from getting sacked, but he also shows an alarming lack of feel for the blind side rush. In an NFL offense where he may not be able to get the ball out immediately, this could lead to some problems for him that he should be able to roll away from or climb the pocket to avoid. Against Florida in 2013, he took a sack in the end zone that could have endangered a critical win, if Florida was capable of playing offense at an even average level. Here’s an example of Murray taking a key sack and fumble because he does not see or feel the pass rush.
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Game on the line vs. Missouri, Murray throws an awful pick downfield where he just doesn’t see the coverage.
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Murray has been sacked a LOT in college. He’s clearly capable of making quick decisions, so the fact that he’s still being knocked down frequently reflects a poor ability to sense and avoid pass rushers.
Despite being the model of durability for four years at Georgia, the lack of typical NFL size combined with his recent knee injury is going to give pause for NFL talent evaluators. At the next level, Murray’s athleticism and ability to run will be marginalized, as he does not have track speed and NFL linebackers will catch up to him and tear him limb from limb, if he’s not careful. His game film to this point leaves many questions about how well he’ll be able to avoid the big hits.
Having less than optimal height and a problem feeling the rush is going to be a big hurdle at the next level for Murray, and will represent the reason that he’s likely to be available in the 3rd round.
The decision making aspects of his game are also troubling at times. It appears occasionally that when the ball gets rifled into triple coverage, Murray has already made up his mind at the snap that he was going to a specific receiver. He will occasionally lock on and stare the receiver down, allowing the defense to tilt the field. At the next level, Murray will need to show better discipline as he goes through his reads.
4. System Fit
Despite having the arm and pro-style experience to operate in any NFL offense, Murray will be best served in a scheme that emphasizes quick strikes and horizontal offense above a vertical oriented game. Bootlegs, misdirection, and a strong screen game will help maximize Murray’s ability.
4. NFL comps
Analysts love to make two comparisons for Aaron Murray at the next level, and both of them are dreadful. The first is Colt McCoy, who spent 4 years throwing balls to wide open receivers in a spread offense while playing a poor level of competition that allowed him to hide a mediocre arm. The other comparison, Drew Brees, never struggled to operate at the college level despite being outclassed and outgunned by most of the college teams he faced.
Ideally, Murray will develop some of the tips and tricks that Brees learned that allow him to play at a high level (pun intended) and throw over NFL lineman despite not having the best arm or ideal height. Another high side evaluation for Murray could be found in Tony Romo, who is creative around the pocket and has enough zip to make throws in tight windows.
5. Likely scenarios
Murray should be one of a number of middle round quarterbacks, where he will be picked up by a team looking for an NFL ready backup quarterback. I expect him to go to a team with an established starter who has yet to deliver on promise, such as Cincinnati or Buffalo, versus a team that will have an open competition for its starting role, like Cleveland.
That said, I love the capability Aaron Murray represents. Watching game tape from his 2013 season was a reminder of how tremendous that Georgia offense was despite losing so many players and having such strong competition, and Murray was central to that. I think that he’ll have a solid if unspectactular NFL career, rounding out in capability at the next level as a Ryan Fitzpatrick or John Kitna level of reliable backup. I would not be surprised to see Murray produce at a higher level than that, if he can develop a better sense for pressure.
Late 3rd round, early 4th round.