Futures: UGA QB Aaron Murray
By Matt Waldman
The most glaring example of the difference between a good college player and a good NFL player is at the quarterback position. It’s also the position where draftniks and football evaluators have one of the loosest working definitions for the term “developmental prospect.” I’ve seen this term used to describe players judged as undrafted free agents who would be best served looking for work with the Canadian or Arena League just as often as I’ve seen it as a label for a second or third-round prospect.
But it was only a few years ago that the NFL draft had nearly twice the number of rounds, which explains why a third-round player and an undrafted free agent can have the same label. Considering that NFL scouting is still rooted in mid-20th century practices (I’m not talking about some teams’ uses of iPads and databases to track and store information, but the actual concepts and techniques they use to assess players), it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Georgia’s Aaron Murray is a quarterback I’ve seen projected by my colleagues at CBS as a third-round prospect and top-100 player, but whose game matches my working definition of a developmental player. The Bulldog’s four-year starter exhibits sound fundamentals, base accuracy in the passing game, and enough awareness to lead a winning football team in one of the best conferences in college football.
However, Murray also epitomizes the skills gap between big-time college passers and the pro quarterbacks fighting for remaining rosters spots in the NFL. This week’s Futures profiles Murray’s comfort zone and where his inner demons lurk. If the Georgia quarterback can expand his ability to translate what he’s learning in the classroom to what he does on the field, he could have a career as a capable backup. However, I think the third-round grade is an optimistic assessment.
A good way to explain this is a quick look at Murray’s former competitor for the starting job when they were freshmen: Zach Mettenberger, who played at a local high school no more than 20 minutes from the UGA campus. Mettenberger was the prototypical pocket passer in terms of size and arm strength and I thought he was the better prospect. After he was arrested on alcohol, disorderly conduct, and obstruction of justice charges during spring break of his freshman year, it didn’t matter – he was booted from the team and Murray earned the job.
I haven’t studied Mettenberger in depth since then, but I’m not the least bit shocked that Cam Cameron’s system is bringing out the best in the LSU quarterback and reviving his draft stock. Mettenberger has the physical skills and prototypical size most NFL teams covet and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mettenberger’s classification as a developmental player also earns the accompanying tag of “future starter”.
Murray’s developmental label might warrant starter consideration, but I think the fit is more team-specific for the 6-foot-1, 208-pound quarterback. Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers’ skills are proof that quarterbacks between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-2 can succeed as NFL starters, but they are currently exceptions to the rule. I think Murray’s upside is more along the spectrum of Alex Smith and Jeff Garcia as the best-case scenarios with Bruce Gradkowski as a more realistic aspiration: quarterbacks who perform best in the classic version of the West Coast Offense predicated on short passing, rhythm, and movement.