Sunday, May 4, 2014

Scouting The 2014 NFL Draft: James Morris

For Hawkeye fans, James Morris became Mr. Reliable. He was never outstanding, but fans were rarely left cursing his name. He got his first start as a true freshman and never relinquished the role from his sophomore year on. Still, it was hard not to want more from Morris. Don't get me wrong; he got better, but there was never a leap in production that everyone kept predicting. Without a doubt, his Hawkeye career was a huge success, but does his talent translate to the next level?

Iowa players are not known for their athleticism, but they are known for having the fundamentals. James Morris is actually more athletic than many people would expect as he has decent speed for a linebacker and moves fairly well. Still, he's going to make his money by being a very sure tackler. He's not a big hitter, but he's going to have proper technique when wrapping up the ball carrier.

Although athletically he is solid, he is not great at reading and reacting. Everything is just a split second slow, which means that runners who make quick cuts can make him look bad as he will fill the wrong hole, and a lot of times his zone coverage has him bouncing around on an island by himself.

He seems at least a little active in his zone on that play, but in the end, he moves about a total of two yards when the ball is thrown. He's likely not going to be able to make a play on that ball either way, but if he drifts back a few more yards, it gives him a much better opportunity. At the same time, it's tough to ever judge somebody in a zone, as his sole responsibility may have been to stop any drags across the middle and quarterback scrambles. Still, I would like to see the awareness to peel off that responsibility to drift into possible passing lanes while still keeping an eye on the quarterback.

The biggest problem with Morris is that he positions himself out of plays. When watching a player like Chris Borland, even if he didn't make the tackle, he was almost always around the play. Morris often makes decisions that put him far away from having any impact on a play. But then there's those times where he guesses right, avoids a blocker, and stuffs a runner in the hole. The problem is that it is a guessing game with him. Imagine the middle linebacker as the quarterback of the defense. A quarterback with a good accurate arm would look like they have the tools to succeed. If their first read is open, then they are going to look great. But if that first read is covered, they are going to make big mistakes that cost their team. James Morris is the linebacking version of this. He has the tools to succeed, but he often guesses wrong in his defensive positioning, and it costs his team.

Optimistically, he had a ton of turnover in both his linebacker coaches through his career which can make assignments confusing in some areas. Still, after watching him for four years, I like all the tools, but I just can't envision him becoming reliable enough in his instincts to become a starting linebacker. Because of that, I wouldn't feel comfortable taking him as anything more than a 7th round flyer.

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