Tony Romo is the Dallas Cowboys quarterback for at least the next two seasons. But I believe that they will draft his eventual successor in this quarterback class. The Cowboys have tried unsuccessfully to find an eventual replacement before. They were interested in Andy Dalton in 2011 and would’ve drafted him in the second round had he fallen to their pick. They also liked Russell Wilson in the later rounds in 2012 but he went to the Seattle Seahawks in the third round. This is the year that the team finally uses a mid-round draft pick on a quarterback. And if you forced me to tell you what quarterback from this class will likely be on the Cowboys roster in 2014, I would say Aaron Murray from Georgia.
The Cowboys were present at Aaron Murray’s Pro Day yesterday with quarterback coach Wade Wilson in attendance. The Cowboys are also set to use one of their 30 pre-draft visits on Murray in the upcoming days. The team has legit interest in Murray and wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on the star quarterback from Georgia in the mid rounds despite his ACL tear in mid November. This begins my scouting report on Aaron Murray and why I believe he could be a good fit in the Dallas Cowboys offense.
Aaron Murray is a highly decorated collegiate passer (SEC Passing TD holder, SEC Career Passing Yard Leader) who started all four years at Georgia and was productive in each season. What I find most impressive about Murray and his career stats is that he broke SEC passing records without great receivers (outside of 2010 with A.J. Green). This is Murray’s career stats, broken into his four years:
The best way for me to describe Aaron Murray is that he is a task-oriented passer. If the play is designed for the receiver to beat the corner across his face and Murray is asked to deliver the ball on time and on target, the ball will hit the receiver between the numbers nine times out of ten. Murray is the perfect example of the phrase “extension of the coach.” He will run the designed offense to perfection. In Dallas, that can be a good and bad thing. Often, this offense has thrived and failed due to the improvisational skills of Tony Romo and playing a fast-break, backyard style of offense.
Where Aaron Murray “wins” is in the short to intermediate passing game. When he is given time, Murray can pick apart even the best defenses in the SEC with his hyper-accurate arm. Murray also does an excellent job on any fade or back shoulder throw that have become a staple of the Cowboys offense.
It’s hard to show how well a quarterback will translate to the NFL with a few pictures and GIFs, but I want to show you just a few traits of Murray that I like and believe will help him in the NFL. The first is something that we don’t see from a lot of young quarterbacks in the NFL. If quarterbacks get flushed from the pocket, they typically drop their eye level and look at the pass rush and/or look to run. Not Murray. And that’s partly due to the fact the he’s not a quarterback who is going to make plays with his legs like a Johnny Manziel or Russell Wilson. He has to use his arm and accuracy do this. Here is an example of that:
Murray sees Jadeveon Clowney bursting through the line of scrimmage and rolls to out of the pocket to find his running back in the back of the end zone. Too often young quarterbacks in the NFL will throw this ball out of bounds or take off running before letting the receiver work back to the ball.
What is the very first thing anyone wants to know about a quarterback when you are scouting one? Everyone knows it’s the arm strength. Murray does not have a bazooka for an arm. But he doesn’t have a noodle for one either. What Murray may lack in arm strength he makes up for with anticipation. Like I mentioned before, if he has a clean pocket where he can step into his throws, he can make up for an average arm against elite defensive backs. Here is an example of that against Alabama in 2012:
This ball isn’t thrown on a rope the way Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco can do it. But Murray steps into the throw and lets it fly before the receiver even comes out of his break.
Another thing I like about Murray is he is a positive thinking quarterback. And let me describe to you what that means by using an example of a quarterback who is a negative thinker. When quarterback Alex Smith is behind center, he reads the defense by looking at where he “can’t” throw it. He typically won’t challenge the sideline boundaries because there is a chance the throw might be intercepted. When I watch Murray play, you can see that if he thinks his receiver has the chance to make the play, he’s going to throw the ball and he believes it will be completed.
The last point I want to make about Aaron Murray is this; if he is given a running game in the NFL, he will be a dangerous quarterback. When his running game was working at Georgia, their offense rarely could be stopped. Murray carries out his play-action fakes to perfection and is deadly accurate in that portion of his game. In an ideal scenario, Murray is only asked to throw the ball between 25-30 times a game, where he is just asked to move the chains and get the ball to his playmakers. He can thrive in that role. But if you ask him to carry your offense like Matt Stafford, Tony Romo and Eli Manning are asked to do, I don’t think you will be thrilled with Murray as your quarterback.
But where are the weaknesses in Murray’s game? He has a few that do worry me. At 6’0 1/2 inches, Murray’s height does hinder him unlike Russell Wilson and Drew Brees. Murray often has passes batted down because he doesn’t do a great job at throwing from different platforms. I don’t expect this to change in the NFL. Murray gets rid of the ball very quickly, which is good and bad, but I would like to see him hold the ball longer at times and scan the field to see if other receivers are open deeper. Murray reads the defense from short to intermediate to deep. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as Tom Brady has done the same in his last few seasons. If Murray learns to work from long to short in his progressions, that in turn will create bigger plays.
The one term that kept coming back to me each time I watched Murray is that he is fearless. He’s not afraid of a pass rush. He’s not afraid to trust his arm and rip a ball down the seam. He’s not afraid to make mistakes. I saw him against Alabama and he gave that defense fits and Murray just kept on swinging. If I’m drafting a quarterback, I want him to think like he is always going to come out on top. That’s Aaron Murray for me.