Former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray proved he was healthy and ready to get his football career back on track at his pro day on Wednesday afternoon, but plenty of questions still surround the once-top passer.
Rewind to late 2008/early 2009. Murray was at the top of the football landscape as one of the hottest names around. A Parade All-American, finalist for Florida's Mr. Football and a participant in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Murray put together such a stellar football career at Plant High School near Tampa, Fla., that the accolades rolled in regardless of the fact that he missed significant time due to injury.
Injuries, however, have become a common refrain for Murray. That injury (to his knee) sidelined him for a few months. The next season, at Georgia, he suffered a shoulder injury that forced him into a redshirt and moved Joe Cox back into the starting quarterback position. Now, just a few months removed from a surgery on his ACL, Murray spent his pro day proving he is at 100 percent.
That refrain—though it is oft-repeated—may not be fully accurate.
Aaron Murray is done throwing. He completed 48 of 54 passes in script. A few drops in there.— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) April 16, 2014
Bleacher Report college football columnist Sanjay Kirpalani was at Murray's pro day, and although he's a self-proclaimed rider of the Murray bandwagon, he provided a levelheaded assessment when asked how the quarterback looked:
If he wasn't at 100 percent, he looked awfully close to it. You couldn’t tell that he had just had ACL surgery a few months ago. The first thing he did was some plyometric drills, focusing on running and cutting. He did a lot of bootlegs and throwing on the run.
I thought he looked really good—victimized by a lot of drops. Deep-ball accuracy was great. Only one or two throws fluttered, and that was toward the end...was very solid. Scout walked by and said: “He looked really mobile” with a shocked look on his face.
According to Kirpalani, this performance was in front of 35-45 scouts (a conservative estimate and admittedly nowhere near the South Carolina pro day that Kirpalani attended, which was a zoo). Notably, coaches from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts assisted with the throwing session, and a couple of Oakland Raiders coaches were very intent throughout the process.
Got to speak with Murray moments ago. confirmed that the focus of his workout was on eliminating any fears about his knee/health— Sanjay Kirpalani (@skirp1) April 16, 2014
Another thing Kirpalani pointed out, however—apart from the pro day—was that Murray started 52 games as a Georgia Bulldog and actually tied David Greene's school record for most consecutive starts by a non-kicker. Although the double knee injuries and shoulder injury is a lot for a team to take in, Murray showed not only incredible durability and toughness as a starter, but also crazy work ethic in his return from his latest injury.
Murray hinted at that work ethic and his determination to make a full comeback prior to his pro day, per Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald:
The one thing is just that I'm healthy. That I look good, that I feel good. Right now I have no limitations at all. I'm running, jumping, cutting, doing full drops, rollouts to the right, left, throwing on the run. It looks natural, it feels natural, there's no hitch in my step. I feel awesome. That's the one thing I want them to see that, 'He’s ready to go, he looks great.'
Question answered? Maybe, maybe not. Still, even the most strident of critics have to realize that Murray is not as cut-and-dried an injury risk as he looked like only a month ago. In fact, his accelerated timetable of recovery is incredible. B/R's Dr. Dave Siebert covered Murray's recovery earlier this year:
Fortunately, Murray sustained no other ligament or knee damage—as is often the case with non-contact injuries—and his prognosis is almost surely excellent.
Recently, thanks to improvements in surgical technique and rehabilitation science, isolated ACL tears are requiring less and less post-operative rehabilitation time compared to the past. A very unscientific, cursory survey of cases in the past year throughout college and professional football comes up with a very rough estimate of about nine to 10 months.
This doesn't mean, of course, that Murray is going to be ready to take NFL hits in Week 1, but it does show a ridiculous amount of progress and (like Zach Mettenberger's similar pro day last week) that his first year in the NFL doesn't need to be a "medical redshirt" season.
The difference between Mettenberger and Murray is that a healthy Mettenberger has a chance to be one of the best quarterbacks in this draft class, while Murray has a much steeper hill to climb. My grade on Murray is that of what scouts call a "dirty starter," someone who could potentially start at the next level but isn't winning matchups consistently.
Dirty starters at the quarterback position get coaches and general managers fired in a hurry.
Note that my scouting grade doesn't really take into consideration or attempt to predict where a player gets drafted in terms of round. For the most part, though teams do that as well, grades are about projection two or three years down the road, not for one day in May.
Ironically, dirty starters at quarterback go in the first round all the time. However, the difference between Murray and guys like Tennessee Titans QB Jake Locker and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert—both of whom had similar, albeit slightly higher grades than Murray in my system—is that those guys lacked acquired (coachable, teachable) talent and had plenty of physical tools.
In many ways, Murray is the polar opposite of former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford (now with the Detroit Lions), who was a scout's dream in the physical-tools department but scared plenty of teams (and still does) with his loose mechanics, decision-making and lack of consistency.
Put Murray's craftsmanship with Stafford's tools, and Canton would have to start carving out a space in the Hall of Fame for all the hardware that mythical player would win. Without those elite physical tools, however, Murray remains a good passer that leaves a lot of scouts wanting more.
Kirpalani said it best: "If he were 6'4", we'd be talking about him as a top quarterback prospect in this class." He also noted the aforementioned starts and the fact that SEC defenders often list Murray as one of the players who gave them the most trouble.
While I'm not quite as much on the Murray bandwagon as Kirpalani, it's notable that he does have a stellar career to look back on in the country's toughest football conference. He also has a live arm that (while certainly not a cannon) can make all of the throws, and those 52 starts definitely speak to some toughness, durability, leadership and poise.
Ryan Lownes compiled the scouting report on Murray for Bleacher Report and came away with a fourth- or fifth-round projection, saying:
A four-year starter that went on to set conference records in passing yards and touchdowns, he will go down as one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football history. But while he is an accurate passer with good mechanics and enough athleticism, his lack of size and arm strength are concerns. At the next level, he projects as a good backup with low-end starter potential in a West Coast offense.
I wouldn't completely pigeonhole Murray, because just about every offense is going to have West Coast principles as well as Air Raid and spread principles that smart quarterbacks like Murray can also excel at.
Yet, the point is valid that Murray will not only need the right sort of situation, but also the right offense to succeed at the next level.
In many ways, he fits on the "low-end starter" somewhere between the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton and Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn. Like both of those quarterbacks, Murray is a facilitator who can make an offense hum if he has the right components around him. However, he's not the physical talent that Dalton was at TCU, nor is he as pedestrian an athlete as Flynn was at LSU.
Let's not put the cart before the horse, though.
Being healthy, as Murray clearly is, gives him the chance to start working toward answering some of the more important questions about his NFL future. No pro day will answer all of those (even if you blare Drake music and have former presidents in your entourage), but Murray took a step forward.
It is unlikely that any team will hand the proverbial keys to the franchise over to Murray next month in the draft, but teams that find themselves without a quarterback on the first or second day could look to Murray as a potential backup plan or as competition.
What Murray does with his NFL career from there depends on him, and if the past is any indication whatsoever, one has to like his odds.
Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Thanks to B/R Featured Columnist Sanjay Kirpalani for contributing to this report.