The Las Vegas Raiders chose to go what some might call the “safe” route in the first third of the offseason by choosing to sign backup quarterback Marcus Mariota over a veteran starter to replace Derek Carr (if you had any reservations about Carr’s abilities though, what would be safe about that?) but that doesn’t mean that Jon Gruden’s not searching for other options. Including in the draft, and if the Raiders don’t take one in the first round (is that “safe” or “unsafe” I wonder) then Florida International’s James Morgan could be the name to watch when GM Mike Mayock is back on the board at picks 80, 81, and 91 in the third round.
Mayock and his staff are already doing extra homework to vet Morgan, per a March 22 report by Aaron Wilson at the Houston Chronicle.
Since an impressive NFL scouting combine, Morgan has been rising steadily on draft boards.
An NFL area scout based in the Southeast said that Morgan has one of the three strongest arms in the draft and praised him for his intelligence and leadership.
Several NFL teams are closely vetting Morgan, who can’t go on visits or work out privately due to the restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the teams doing extra homework on Morgan, according to NFL sources not authorized to speak publicly: his hometown Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Las Vegas Raiders, New York Giants, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.
And per an early March tweet by Wilson, the Raiders were already known to be meeting with Morgan ahead of the draft — things of course have grown complicated since then with teams unable to meet with prospects in person due to the coronavirus pandemic.
New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins, Las Vegas Raiders all making plans to meet with or work out Florida International quarterback James Morgan following the combine, according to league sources— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 2, 2020
As of today, the quarterback class in the 2020 draft seems to be separated by hard-to-define tiers that includes Joe Burrow on a level of his own, Tua Tagovailoa seemingly holding onto that tier by a fingernail, and Justin Herbert in a new spot around the first round every day. Not far from Herbert, if separate at all, is Jordan Love, with the next group chasing them being some order of Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm, and Jalen Hurts.
If you ever needed a J-name, look no further than the 2020 QBs.
Now back to James Morgan.
The draft is such that what we think we know today becomes nonsense by tomorrow (how relevant) and if those “tiers” listed above become a fallen Jenga castle, don’t blame me. I’m just calling it as I’ve seen it mocked. Tipping that castle to an even further degree of course is going to be this “virtual draft” but that’s neither here nor there. All I’m saying is that Morgan’s placement in the draft is questionable to everyone, including Morgan, and maybe he goes in the second. Maybe he goes in the sixth.
Maybe he does go to the Raiders.
Who is James Morgan? Here’s a few snippets from around the internet, including at SI where they highlighted him as one of the draft’s best sleepers (how can anyone be a “best sleeper” I’ll always wonder):
A 6’ 4”, 230-pound pro-style quarterback, Morgan began his college career at Bowling Green in 2015, spending his true freshman season redshirting and learning Dino Babers’s air raid offense. Babers left for Syracuse, and new coach Mike Jinks brought a new system to BGSU and, early in the ’16 season, found a new starting quarterback in Morgan. But midway through the next year, Morgan was overtaken by true freshman Jarret Doege; Morgan decided to look for a new opportunity.
He finished a pre-law degree at Bowling Green and transferred to FIU, where his career took off. He quickly won the starting job and earned Conference-USA Newcomer of the Year honors after completing 65.3% of his passes for 2,727 yards, a school-record 26 touchdowns against just seven interceptions, and leading the Panthers to a program-record nine wins. As a senior he played through injuries and his numbers regressed—one scout pointed to Morgan’s completion percentage last season (58.0%) as an area of concern, saying that he tends to force throws downfield.
When Morgan transferred to FIU, he did so by emailing the school’s recruiting coordinator Bryn Renner, who was impressed by his words and also curious because he was from Green Bay, which is where his father played as a punter for the Packers. Per ESPN:
“As I was reading the email, it was very much like I have something to prove,” Renner said. “I like people who have that because you’re doing it for a bigger reason.”
... I’m very interested in your program. The biggest thing I’m looking for is a place where I can come in and compete for a starting spot. I’m extremely confident in my abilities, and will work harder than anyone for this game that I love. Additionally, I’m looking for somewhere with proven Coaches who have a deep understanding of their offense, and can help me prepare for my ultimate goal of playing at the next level. I believe I can greatly help your program to succeed and continue the success you’ve worked hard to build ...
Renner spent the rest of that day — and into the night — watching game tape of Morgan at Bowling Green, where Morgan started for parts of two years before a coaching change prompted his decision to transfer. Because of all the Advanced Placement credits he earned in high school, Morgan graduated from Bowling Green in three years (his redshirt year plus two seasons playing), therefore making him eligible to play at FIU immediately.
”I literally sent a block email to like 60 coaches, three from 20 schools I had picked out,” Morgan said. “The only person who responded to me was Bryn Renner from FIU.”
Morgan has also drawn a pretty good endorsement by TheDraftNetwork, who said he had “A+ intangibles”:
Player Summary - James Morgan is one of the more appealing developmental quarterbacks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Morgan has some impressive flashes of spot throws and willingness to stand in and survey under pressure and pairs it with a prototypical build and a preference to push the ball down field. Too often Morgan will eat the ball and take bad sacks and he’s got to quicken his process and delivery some — but he’s got A+ intangibles, a promising level of arm talent and an eye for the big throw.
Of course, Morgan is also a late Day 2, Day 3 prospect in the eyes of most watching the draft and it’s not just because he went to Florida International. Plenty of QBs get drafted out of non-powerhouse programs in the first round and Morgan’s accuracy issues concern plenty of writers and the like, such as Lance Zierlein:
It’s easy to tell that the Green Bay native favors quarterbacks like Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers when you watch his tape. Unfortunately, while he has similar zip to the Packer legends, he’s nowhere near as accurate and lacks any semblance of touch. Morgan is very capable of making impressive throws to all areas of the field, but his violent release and inconsistent footwork hinder functional ball placement and accuracy. His lack of pocket mobility and instincts make him too easy for defensive coordinators to assault with a variety of blitz packages. He’s a tough guy with a big arm and the 2018 tape is the one to watch, but QB3 may be his ceiling.
I spoke to former NFL quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan last week and he cited accuracy as one of the two “non-negotiable” traits in a quarterback, along with the decision-making process. Morgan could make good decisions, have ideal size, a strong arm, and great intangibles, but the lack of accuracy could be what keeps him from ever even making an active NFL roster. All those other things are definitely going to be what gets him drafted and fighting for a spot.
If Las Vegas takes a chance on him, it wouldn’t seem to be with any hope for him competing next season. But potentially he’s the safe or unsafe route they could go.