Two Augusts ago I was watching Georgia Tech practice and commenting on the impressive nature of the defensive line. Michael Johnson, Vance Walker, Darryl Richard …
A man who works for Tech said to me: “Derrick Morgan is the best of the bunch.”
I started watching Morgan closely from that moment on. (I am, as we know, a moron, but I can be coached up.) And by the middle of the 2008 season I agreed: Derrick Morgan stood out the most along a D-line that would see its other three members drafted by NFL teams.
Which brings us to 2009, when Morgan was named ACC defensive player of the year, and almost to 2010, when Todd McShay of ESPN.com’s Insiders foresees the same Mr. Morgan going No. 3 overall in the NFL draft. (Link requires registration.)
Not third among defensive linemen, mind you. Third among everybody.
The top five: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska; Eric Berry, S, Tennessee; Morgan; Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma, and Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State. That’s four defenders up top, and three of the top five from the Big 12. Who said the SEC owns college football?
McShay’s take on Morgan: “[He] can anchor at the point of attack, make plays in pursuit, get to the quarterback coming off the edge and drop into coverage. That type of versatility would be a nice addition to a Browns defensive front seven that lacks difference-makers.”
Yes, for his good work Derrick Morgan might end up in Cleveland. But that’s what happens when you’re really gifted. Tech’s Calvin Johnson went No. 2 overall in 2007 and landed in Detroit, and Georgia’s Matthew Stafford joined him two years later. Still, I hear those guys do get paid.
But back to Morgan: He was nowhere in anyone’s first round when the season began — nowhere in anyone’s first round I saw, anyway — and only last month did he climb into the top 20. Now he’s No. 3, at least according to McShay, which means Morgan has caught and passed big-name Florida defenders Carlos Dunlap (No. 6 on McShay’s board) and Brandon Spikes (No. 19) and even Tech mate Jonathan Dwyer (No. 29; McShay has him going to San Diego).
As for the Falcons, who could stand to land a Suh or a Berry or a Morgan or even a Dunlap … McShay has them taking a defender, all right. He’s Navorro Bowman, an outside backer from Penn State. (Hey, wasn’t Jack Ham an outside backer from Penn State? And did I ever tell you Jack Ham is my favorite NFL player ever?)
McShay’s rationale regarding the Falcons: “The Falcons need an impact player at cornerback, but the next-best corner [after Florida's Joe Haden], Florida State’s Patrick Robinson, is not worth taking this early. Bowman has some off-the-field baggage, but he might be the best all-around athlete at linebacker in this class.”
Off-the-field baggage? Bowman was suspended back in 2007 and into 2008 for an altercation at the student union, for which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. And he also, according to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com, admitted smoking marijuana this year and saw his probation extended into 2010. Sound like a Falcon to you? (Wait, wait. Don’t all answer at once.)
But back to Morgan one last time: He’s a tremendous player and a splendid fellow who bears more than a passing resemblance to Will Smith. And if you thought Tech’s D was awful this season, imagine how it might be without him next year. (Wait, wait. Don’t all shudder at once.)