Photo: Josh Baumgard
“Stephen Morris might be the most talented quarterback in college football.”
The quote above is sourced back to an article by Bucky Brooks back in July, after seeing Morris spin the football at the Manning Passing Academy. Brooks, a former NFL player and scout who works for NFL Network/NFL.com, was high on the kid who finished his junior season with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions across his last four games. Many were. A month after the Manning camp, he labeled Morris a “strong Day 2 prospect” entering his senior season, essentially saying the Miami quarterback looked like a solid second-to-third round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Fast-forward seven months to Brooks’ thoughts about our once promising quarterback prospect after the first day of practice at the Senior Bowl:
“I confidently boasted about Miami QB Stephen Morris’ talent and potential after seeing him at the Manning Passing Academy this summer. However, he looks nothing like an elite quarterback prospect at the Senior Bowl. Morris struggled with his accuracy and ball placement throughout the day… he was so off with his accuracy that it is an obvious concern for scouts looking for a legitimate prospect at the position.”
Amazing how drastic opinions can change in seven months. Another one of NFL Network’s finest in Daniel Jeremiah seconded the analysis after the Senior Bowl:
“His decision-making was questionable when I studied his fall tape and the same issue arose during the Senior Bowl. He’s a late-round project.”
CBS Sports has the former Hurricane passer ranked as the 17th best quarterback prospect and 314th overall. There are only 256 picks total in May’s Draft. From one of the most talented quarterbacks in the nation to a late-round project, Morris’ draftability — among notable draft pundits — can be likened to a post-mortem pinata. What the hell happened?
Morris ranked 33rd in passer rating nationally last season, with a QBR ranked 26th — he was an above-average quarterback on an above average team. Much like predecessor Jacory Harris, his college career gushed with beautiful throws followed by manic ones, only Morris possessed the salivating arm with a more hopeful NFL future. But above average at the college level isn’t good enough for NFL quarterbacks.
If we peel back his final season at Miami, plenty of variables connect the dots of his inconsistencies. Most notable was a bone bruise and strained achilles on his plant foot that lingered for most of the season. Compounded with season-ending injuries to two major weapons of the Canes offense — running back Duke Johnson and receiver Phillip Dorsett — and one of the worst defenses in the history of the program, and it’s not difficult to rationalize a dip in production and a failure to match his preseason hype. That’s not to say these surrounding factors absolve Morris from a disappointing season, that only external factors caused evenings like his four-interception disaster in Chapel Hill that somehow resulted in a win. Nonetheless, this is all a part of his story.
Not helping his case was the fact he was supposedly at full health in Mobile for the Senior Bowl. “Just watch me now,” he told a Miami radio host. “Watch what I’m doing right now, ’cause this is the real me. I’m finally healthy.” Morris tossed two picks in limited action during the Senior Bowl. A week of practices with unfamiliar teammates and a showcase game do not define a player’s draft stock. Yet it’s clear Morris has a ways to go in rebuilding his reputation as a legitimate NFL prospect at the most challenging position — one that can make or break a franchise, costing NFL executives and coaches their jobs with the efficiency of a guillotine.
The question NFL General Managers will be asking themselves leading up to the draft will not be about the raw talent of Stephen Morris. Browse any game this season and you’ll likely see at least one beautiful, NFL-caliber pass that 95 percent of quarterbacks can only dream about. It will be whether he’ll ever be consistent enough with his decision-making, mechanics, and accuracy to even garner a chance to make an impact at the highest level. I’m no quarterback guru, having never played the position competitively, but even I noticed mechanical flaws with Morris on the regular this year. He consistently threw off-balance, off his back foot, resulting in some wildly inaccurate throws. His arm is so strong, sometimes those back-footed throws still resulted in touchdown bombs. But it will be up to NFL scouts to decipher whether Morris’ flaws are fixable, how much they were attributed to his injury, and if there’s any chance at rebuilding a man once in the conversation for “most talented quarterback in college football.”
All it takes is one person to fall in love with a prospect. With former Miami offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch out there running the Jaguars offense, maybe he’s the one to convince his coach and GM to give Morris an opportunity. Maybe not. Teams can never have too many good quarterbacks, and with Morris’ stock dipping to an all-time low, one would think someone would pluck extreme potential at low cost.
From second round to borderline draftable — the most talented Stephen Morris has everyone perplexed leading up to May’s draft. Will he get his shot?