Tony Romo isn’t getting any younger—period. That fact alone makes quarterback a need for the Dallas Cowboys. That being said, the Cowboys have a plethora of needs they must fill in the 2014 NFL draft. Those needs will likely keep the team from drafting a quarterback early and far away from top quarterback prospects like Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr.
Don’t fret, though, Cowboys fans, in every draft there is an underrated prospect, and this year's might just be Aaron Murray from the University of Georgia.
Murray was a hot name amongst draftniks before experiencing an unfortunate leg injury. A likely second-round prospect pre-injury, Murray is now more likely to be a fourth- or fifth-round prospect and has potential to be a true draft-day steal.
Let’s take a look at Murray and see why the Cowboys should make it a priority to draft him this year.
The Scouting Report
Murray is a hard player to figure out. It seems that many “experts” have a different opinion of him and what he will become at the next level.
On the surface, Murray is an accurate quarterback who can make all the throws with good ball placement and particularly thrives on “timing” routes. He possesses a nice release and makes extremely quick decisions.
Murray may not be as fast or athletic as Manziel, but he’s capable of extending plays with his feet. One thing you really notice with Murray is that he has great pocket awareness, and unlike Manziel, Murray continues to look for a receiver downfield instead of bailing out as soon as pressure comes.
Of all the quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, I would say that Murray has the highest football IQ. In a conversation with Luke Easterling, Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and Editor for TheDraftReport.com, Luke confirmed what I saw in Murray:
Overall, Murray doesn’t possess any elite skills. He has a plus arm that can make all the throws but certainly isn’t a rocket. He also has solid mobility and above-average accuracy. Despite the lack of elite attributes, he still does everything pretty well. Murray will beat defenses by working hard and using his brain.
He should thrive in the right situation.
Murray has experienced a very productive five-year career at the University of Georgia. The below table displays his career stats:
|Aaron Murray Career Stats - University of Georgia|
At the end of his collegiate career, Murray held school records for the following: pass attempts, career (1478); pass completions, career (921); passing yards, season (3,893); passing yards, career (13,166); completion percentage, career (62.31 percent); passing efficiency rating, season (174.80); passing efficiency, career (158.60); average gain per pass attempt, career (8.91); and most touchdown passes in a game (five), season (36) and career (121).
Additionally, Murray set the Southeastern Conference record for most pass completions and most passing yards.
One thing that stats say about Murray is that over five seasons he’s been extremely consistent. Whether playing ranked or unranked opponents, he’s always been the same, efficient player.
The below graphs represent Murray’s consistency as a passer over all four years and a comparative look at how Murray has performed against both ranked and unranked opponents.
While Murray is a player who puts up gaudy stats, you don’t really appreciate just how good he is until you’ve spent time studying him on tape.
Murray receives a lot of criticism as a prospect—Scouting reports everywhere say that he lacks ideal arm strength and that he struggles when plays break down.
While that is a popular opinion that I respect—it’s not one that I believe.
Let me show you why:
In this particular play, you’ll see Murray lined up in the shotgun formation with two receivers to his left.
As the ball is snapped, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney speed rushes the left tackle and closes in immediately on Murray.
Despite feeling the pressure, Murray stands tall in the pocket. Clowney wraps his left arm around Murray’s waist and begins to pull him backward. Murray has already identified the gap in the zone where Michael Bennett is running his post route. With Clowney draped all over him, Murray drives the ball toward Bennett.
Bennett makes the reception as Murray delivers the ball perfectly for a 32-yard reception.
In this second play, you’ll see Murray on the 10-yard line. On the right side of the formation, Murray instantly senses pressure.
In an effort to escape the pressure, Murray rolls out to the right. With four defenders in pursuit, he directs running back Todd Gurley to peel off of his route and go toward the right sideline.
Murray delivers the ball in a place where only Gurley can catch it. Worst-case scenario here is that Murray throws an incompletion. However, that’s not what happens and Gurley makes the grab for a touchdown.
How’s that for a display of arm strength and improvisation?
This is where the rubber meets the road. Murray can be the greatest prospect ever, but in order for him to make sense for the Dallas Cowboys, he needs to fit.
Currently, the Cowboys have no contingency plan at the quarterback position. While Romo has recently signed a new long-term deal, there do remain concerns about his back after two separate surgeries. Aside from Romo, the Cowboys have rostered Kyle Orton and Brandon Weeden—not exactly a ringing endorsement for a bright future.
Murray is essentially Romo 2.0. He is an athletic quarterback with solid improvisational skills who also possesses above-average arm strength and passing accuracy. Murray’s work ethic, leadership and football IQ aligns with what Jason Garrett considers a “right kind of guy.”
More importantly is that the Cowboys offense fits Murray’s strengths. It is a balanced offense similar to the one Mike Bobo runs at the University of Georgia. It is based on timing and allows quarterbacks to make quick decisions.
By drafting Murray the Cowboys would allow a strong developmental player to come and learn without the immediate overwhelming expectations that Cowboys quarterbacks receive. His arrival would signal that the team has a contingency in case Romo’s back can’t hold up and that the team has a plan for the future.
The bottom line here is actually really simple—the Cowboys and Murray both stand to benefit from each other.
For the Cowboys, they won’t have to deal with the media circus of bringing in a top-tier rookie quarterback. It’s already bad enough that every moment of Romo’s life is under the microscope, and bringing in someone like Manziel would only fuel that fire.
Instead, they’ll get a guy who can sit for a few years and learn the game. There won't be any pressure to start him if Romo struggles, and Jerry Jones can show fans that he’s thinking about more than the here and now.
For Murray, he’ll get to continue rehab without feeling like he needs to compete right away. He’ll be able to fully heal, work on his mechanics a little and get stronger. The benefit is that when his number is called, he’ll be a more complete quarterback who will have a real shot at being among the league's best.
This is a match made in football heaven—make it happen, Jerry!