NFL Draft Preview: The Curious Case of Stephen Morris

Grant Halverson

Is he a talented prospect with big time potential or just another guy with a huge arm?

Want to instigate an argument among Miami Hurricanes fans?  Just mention the name Stephen Morris.

Something tells me you might get the same argument (perhaps a less heated version) on Day 3 of the NFL Draft in some war rooms.

As a senior Morris completed 57.6% of his passes for 3,028 yards with 21 TDs and 12 INT.

The previous season, his first as a full time starter, he amassed 3,345 yards (including an ACC record 566 against NC State) with 21 TDs, just 7 picks and had a 58.2% completion percentage.

Not the worst numbers in the world for a two year starter.

So why were so many 'Canes fans disappointed with how Morris played?

After turning heads at the Manning Passing Academy and even winning the skills competition, a break out senior season was expected.

"I thought he threw a beautiful football, He's got a big arm. He won the 'Air It Out' challenge, which they do on the final night there, which is a test of accuracy. Stephen Morris has got great mechanics." - Mike Mayock on Morris at the Manning Academy,  7/18/2013

Bucky Brooks even gushed on NFL.com about Morris being the most talented QB in all of College Football.

There was also  talk of Morris being a dark horse Heisman candidate and a high pick in this April's draft.

So what happened?

Well in game 3 this year against Savannah State he suffered a sprained right ankle.  He would re-injure one week later against USF.

But Morris never did sit out an entire game.

The health or lack thereof of his ankle, would pain 'Canes for weeks to come.

All season long, he showed signs that it bothered him.  He rarely scrambled, after showing good athleticism both in and out of the pocket his junior year.

But most importantly his mechanics, which already needed improvement,  were now seriously flawed.  His foot work was sloppy.  Very rarely did he set himself and step into throws, He consistently threw a pretty deep ball, but often got underneath the ball on short and intermediate passes, causing overthrows and inaccuracies.

How much of his issues that could be blamed on the ankle and how much was simply regression remains up for debate.  After a month off and plenty of time to heal, he did not perform well at all in UM's disastrous bowl loss to Louisville, pushing further speculation  that the ankle wasn't the only issue.

After showing great poise and improvement his junior year under then offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, he had to start over under the watch of James Coley, when Fisch took the same position with Jacksonville.  How much of that lack of continuity affected Morris' performance is also a point of contention.

For my money I think he had a decent season and the criticisms were overblown, but considering the hype and expectation, I can see where many fans would be upset.

So where does this leave Morris as an NFL prospect?

Currently projected as a 6th-7th round pick by most pundits.

Strengths: Uncommon arm strength, with a beautiful deep ball. Effortless delivery.  Good size (listed at 6'2 218). When his feet are right, he can make any throw you want. Good accuracy on sideline routes, and usually makes good decisions with the ball. When healthy has above average athleticism (4.65 40)  and can buy time in the pocket with his feet or scramble for a first down. Also has a very good hard count he uses effectively.

Weaknesses: Inconsistent and sometimes terrible footwork leads to missed throws on short and intermediate routes. Will sometimes force the ball into coverage. Lack of touch on short passes and sometimes puts too much on passes to outlet receivers.  Needs a lot more coaching.

Summary: If you are a team with an established #1 and a good veteran #2 and you want a super talented project who needs a lot of coaching (late, great Bill Walsh level coaching), Morris is your guy. I hate to use too much hyperbole about Morris' arm,  but it really is stronger than 3/4 of the QB's in the NFL.  With a LOT of work and  aforementioned coaching, could develop into a poor man's Jay Cutler. Worst case you are looking at a Matt Simms type.

Arizona, Jacksonville, and Cleveland, who all have vertical passing games would be ideal for Morris.

It's hard to watch the highlights below and NOT gush over his potential.

Career Best Performance:

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