Most scouts, myself included, agree that Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson is the top SEC quarterback and one of the top NFL Draft prospects headlining the 2013 draft class. So what many are asking now is, “Who is the next best quarterback in the toughest conference?”
Tennessee Volunteer quarterback, Tyler Bray and Georgia Bulldog quarterback, Aaron Murray are the next two in line for top of the draft consideration, so who’s the better prospect?
Tennessee's Tyler Bray: Future Top 10 Prospect?
Bray, at 6’6 and 210 pounds, possesses great size to stand tall in the pocket, see the field, and create throwing lanes with ease. In terms of pure arm talent, there aren’t many quarterbacks in the country his equal and there isn’t a single throw he can’t make. More importantly, whenever his feet are set to the throw, Bray can pick defenses apart with accuracy to every level. Add in the fact that Bray can create 2nd lives for himself outside the pocket, and there isn’t much missing from a physical tools perspective. With the size and mobility reminiscent of last year’s prospect Brock Osweiler, and the arm talent akin to 2011 draft prospect Ryan Mallett, Bray sounds like a sure-fire top-10 pick.
All those positives not withstanding, Bray is anything BUT a top-10 pick. Bray’s raw talent, gun-slinging ways, and cannon arm endear him to many fans and scouts alike –however, his bad habits scare me to death.
Bray Doesn't Come Without Concerns
In arguably, the most important areas of any critique of the quarterback position–preparation, coverage reading, decision-making, and mechanics- Tyler Bray struggles the most. His mistakes boil down to unforced errors, resulting from a lack of development in pre-snap reads, post snap deciphering of deep coverage, and inconsistency with mechanics.
As recently as this past week, Bray has pointed to his own bad habits as the main culprit for poor throws via ESPN. Having evaluated 4 games on the Volunteer junior quarterback, I couldn’t agree any more. Word for word, my notes versus Florida read, “Undisciplined with a number of bad habits: Throwing off back foot; Locking onto primary target or staring down the receiver; predetermines throws at the line of scrimmage, and becomes erratic in the pocket if predetermined target fails to open up.”
And while I can’t speak definitively on the character of Tyler Bray, I will say that everything heard up to this point has been negative; from a sense of entitlement, to a lack of leadership, I’ve heard it all. If he decides to come out, Bray could be picked apart by evaluators much in the same way Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett were, in the 2011 NFL Draft.Intangibles aside, there are clear-cut flaws with this prospect in terms of the mental side of quarterbacking, as well as the physical side involving mechanics and footwork.
While Bray occasionally shows awareness in locating potential blitzers and decisiveness in delivering the ball to hot route receivers, he too often overlooks pressure packages, rolled coverages, and mixed looks from the defense, and makes poor throws as a result. He is often too trusting of his arm talent and receivers instead of reacting to the coverage, he commits unforced errors by driving the ball into clearly established coverage. In order for Bray to take the next step as a quarterback, he’ll need to graduate from being a “sight-thrower” to an “anticipator” –whereas he currently has to see his receiver break open before delivering the throw, Bray will need to release the ball prior to separation in anticipation of the receiver getting to the correct spot.
Mechanically, Bray’s issues start from the ground and work their way up. Often delivering the ball flat-footed, off a straight front leg, Bray struggles to consistently step to target and get ideal weight transfer with his throwing motion. In addition to lack of weight transfer, Bray also tends to over stride when climbing the pocket –an issue that is most certainly caused by his tall and lanky frame. When forced to move in the pocket or flushed outside by the pass rush, Bray shows the ability to slide laterally or break end contain, however his throwing arm slot drops to a near side-arm delivery, falling off of his throwing base and aiming the ball downfield.
Having completed passes off-balance, moving to either side, along with multiple arm slots, Bray has developed an arm-heavy motion that generates little velocity from the lower half. Concluding this point, his versatility or exceptional talent as a thrower, stunts his growth mechanically, as he is content with being lackadaisical with his footwork.
Despite the concerns I have over Bray as a prospect, he also made clear his efforts to correct his footwork and coverage reading –two areas I harp on. If Bray is able to clean up his footwork, improve dramatically at reading defenses, and be a smarter decision-maker under center, then certainly this quarterback will garner 1st round grades from the masses of NFL scouts. That being a very tall task to accomplish in one season, I’ve pegged Bray as a high 3rd rounder with the potential to jump into the 2nd round based off of pure potential and upside.
Moving on to the other SEC quarterback vying for the #2 ranking behind Tyler Wilson, is the highly-criticized Aaron Murray.
Why Aaron Murray is Easily Overlooked in the NFL Draft Community
The biggest knock on Georgia quarterback, Aaron Murray, without question is his lack of prototypical height, as he stands right at 6’1. The perception being that he is unable to properly see over the offensive line and readre the back half of the defense. In addition to only average height, Murray also has a history of committing critical mistakes in crucial moments. Winning just 2 of 10 games versus ranked opponents, Murray has been lambasted by Georgia media in an eerily similar fashion to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Despite winning 10 straight games last season, detractors will almost certainly point to the 4 losses versus ranked opponents, finishing the year with a blowout loss in the SEC title game to #1 ranked and a bowl game loss to #17 ranked Michigan State –also worth noting are Murray’s 4 interceptions in the final two games. Developing a penchant for the dramatic, Murray has kept plays alive with his feet, only to force blind throws down-field to covered targets. This combination of average height, inability to win the big game, and questioned decision-making are certainly, legitimate areas of concern and without question, the artillery of Murray critics.
With that said, certain traits and abilities of Aaron Murray have led me to grading him much higher than Tyler Bray.
Is Murray a Better Prospect Than Bray?
What cannot be overlooked in Aaron Murray’s player bio is his ability to step in as a redshirt freshman, take ownership and leadership of a new team, and earn the respect of his teammates with on-field play, toughness, and work ethic. Shattering Georgia freshman passing records, Aaron Murray completed over 60% of his passes, throwing 24 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions. As a true freshman Murray managed an efficient and productive offense, scoring more than 24 points in all but three games, including 6 games of 41 points or more.
Continuing his development as a leader and a passer in 2011, Murray broke yet another Georgia passing record with 35 touchdown tosses. More importantly, after two tough losses against Boise State and South Carolina to start the season (games lost by an average of 8.5 points), Murray handled the adversity exceptionally well, winning 10 consecutive games, 7 of which were SEC opponents, over the course of a 3 month stretch. Murray’s play elevated Georgia to its first SEC East championship and SEC title game appearance since 2007.
Even more important than instant productivity however are his physical tools, polished footwork, high football IQ, and consistent throwing mechanics. With the arm talent to make all the throws, Murray is able to drive the deep out, file the ball down the deep seam, and drop in bucket passes outside the numbers. Accurate with back shoulder throws at medium and long distances, Murray reads the leverage of opposing corners and does an excellent job with ball placement to allow the receiver to shield the defender. He’s decisive and on target with his ball placement on short to intermediate routes as well, showcasing plus feel and confidence in the 3-step passing game.
Murray’s best traits, as a prospect, are his footwork and ability to extend the play. From setup to delivery, he stays sharp and active with his feet, displaying plus foot speed, balance in his drops, and an instinctive ability to avoid sacks. Whether it’s stepping up in a clean pocket, sliding laterally to avoid interior pressure, or reverse pivoting outside the pocket to avoid the sack, Murray has an innate ability to create sight lines for himself, adjust to a collapsing pocket, and extend the play. He does an excellent job of maintaining down-field focus and locating receivers on the move, and has the ability to complete passes rolling to either side. When nothing is there, Murray has also shown the ability to convert first downs with his legs.
With respect to his throwing mechanics, the Georgia signal caller sports a quickened, sudden, rapid release, with an ideal over-the-top delivery. His feet and hands separate simultaneously to begin the motion, and there isn’t any wasted motion throughout his mechanics –a quick, snapping action, Murray’s throwing mechanics are exactly where they need to be. He understands the need to throw from the base up, consistently stepping to target and aligning his shoulders, to properly add zip on his throws.
In conclusion I’ll take the higher floor over the higher ceiling, as it will take a great deal of time and development for Bray to reach his sky high potential. Bray isn’t nearly as grounded in his footwork, has developed bad habits that will be difficult to break, and has yet to prove he can stay healthy for a full season.
With Murray having more experience and polish as a prospect, I’d be comfortable giving him the upper edge in a preseason competition for the starting role. Taking over day one, as the young gun won’t be anything new to Murray, as he’s done that already at Georgia as a true freshman.