Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray put together a tremendous collegiate career. He was a productive four-year starter in a pro-style offense against elite SEC defenses. If not for a serious knee injury late in his senior season, his draft stock would likely be much higher.
As it stands, Murray is likely to get selected somewhere in the middle rounds by a team that's not expecting him to play right away. Kelly Parsons of the Tampa Bay Times passed along comments from the talented prospect, who said he's worked hard to eliminate injury concerns:
The most important thing is, it's another opportunity for me to show them that I'm healthy. My goal was come draft day when these guys are drafting, the last thought in their mind should be the knee. It should just be, "Can this player fit in our system?"
He's done that by returning to the field just five months after tearing his ACL. Although it's hard to imagine he's close to full strength, getting a chance to showcase his progress is key given the uncertain nature of this year's draft.
Along with participating in the Bulldogs' pro day, the Tampa Bay Times report notes he's held individual workouts with the Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams. All three are teams that would benefit from more depth at the position.
Let's check out a full scouting report on Murray, featuring the pros and cons front offices will weigh before deciding to take a chance on him on Day 2 or 3 of the draft. That is followed by a look at what the future may hold for the Georgia quarterback.
One major advantage Murray would have held if not for the knee injury was his NFL readiness. After five years at the college level, including his redshirt season, he had the experience necessary to step right into the starting lineup.
Now, it's unclear whether his knee will recover quickly enough to compete for a job should he land with a team without a locked-in starter. That said, once he's all the way back to 100 percent, his football IQ is high enough for him to play right away.
Kipp Adams of 247Sports agreed with the assessment of Mike Mayock, who said Murray is one of the quarterbacks in this year's draft that won't need a developmental season:
Mike Mayock thinks QB Aaron Murray goes in 3rd round. Says his understanding of game means no redshirt year needed. Agreed.— Kipp Adams (@KippLAdams) May 1, 2014
It's not just a case of experience, either. Murray's production was at a level where he would probably be receiving a lot more hype for the first or second rounds if he had stayed healthy.
The Florida native completed better than 62 percent of his passes over his four years with the Bulldogs, including a rate above 64 percent over his final two seasons. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was nearly 3:1 (119 TDs, 40 INTs).
He also showed good awareness and "escapability" in the pocket. While certainly not the most athletically gifted quarterback in the class, and the injury won't help in that area, he could sense when there was space to tuck and run. The result was 16 rushing touchdowns.
In terms of his ability to navigate the pocket, there's a hint of Drew Brees in Murray's game, as pointed out by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:
People want Johnny Manziel to be Russell Wilson or Brees, but Aaron Murray's ability to step up in the pocket is more like Brees-like— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) May 1, 2014
His arm talent is also among the best in the class. He has the strength to hit the deep ball and the accuracy to take what a defense gives him and keep moving the chains.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Murray's throwing skill set is his touch in the red zone. In that key area of the field, he's shown an advanced ability to drop a pass in the bucket where only his receiver can make the play.
Ultimately, Murray isn't a flashy prospect who's going to generate the same type of attention as Johnny Manziel, but his track record is strong. If no teams view him as an immediate starter, he's a solid backup given his ability to run an offense efficiently.
The biggest concern teams are obviously going to have is the stability of his knee. Throwing without a legitimate pass rush during an individual workout and going up against an NFL pass rush are on completely different ends of the spectrum.
Where do you think Murray will be drafted?
Furthermore, Murray is a quarterback who relies on moving around in the pocket to create throwing lanes. He's not a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, but he, like most players at the position, needs to showcase at least some mobility to succeed.
So how convinced teams were about his progress and long-term prognosis is going to play a key role in where he ends up getting drafted.
Beyond the injury issue, the one thing that's been pointed out more than anything else is his lack of size. Murray checks in at 6'1" and a shade under 210, which is below the standards for what would be considered a prototypical quarterback, especially for one with his pro-style skill set.
The silver lining is that the success of Brees and Russell Wilson has helped the cause of smaller quarterbacks. UGA Football News provided remarks from Murray, who downplayed the importance of height when it comes to making plays:
Aaron Murray responds to critics who say he's too short: "Majority of the time you're not throwing over guys, you're throwing through lanes"— UGA Football News (@UGAfootballLive) May 5, 2014
One other thing that limited the upside of his draft stock was some third-down struggles last season. Being able to convert to keep drives alive is essential for success at the next level, where there are far less blowouts, increasing the importance of each possession.
Brett Perrotta of ESPN illustrated the issue in stats:
Murray's ability to convert third down opportunities was an area of consistent improvement through his first three seasons, going from 39.2 percent as a freshman to 45.0 percent as a junior. But last season, Murray converted a career-low 37.3 percent of third downs when his number was called, 51st in the nation and seventh in the SEC.
Murray's Total QBR on third down took a major hit as well, dropping from 87.2 in 2012 to 62.9 last season, lower than all but his freshman season.
A final thing on the negative side is his deep-ball delivery.
While he has the arm strength to make any throw, there's a small hitch when he really has to generate some extra power, and it slows down the process. And even a fraction of a second is enough to throw off the timing of a play, especially with a pass rush on the attack.
The first word that comes to mind when it comes to Murray is "value." Barring a surprise, it seems like he's going to come off the board somewhere between the third round and fifth round. Yet, if he builds off the success he had at Georgia, he possesses first-round talent.
How do you project Murray's future?
Of course, the unknown factor is his health. Questions will linger about whether Murray can ever get all the way back to where he was from a mobility standpoint, and without the facet in his game, he's less attractive as a prospect.
That's why he'll go in the middle rounds without the expectation of him starting in his first season. Quite frankly, that might be the best thing for him. Watching from the sidelines as a rookie while making sure he's back to full strength should set him up for long-term success.
All told, if the NFL draft was a stock market, shares of Murray would be worth taking a chance on because there's a good chance he will outplay his draft slot over the long haul. The ability to succeed is there, even without ideal size.