For the first time since 1993, the New England Patriots are heading towards the season with no clear starting quarterback on their roster after losing Tom Brady in free agency. While second-year man Jarrett Stidham appears to be the frontrunner to earn the position, nothing appears to be set in stone — especially when it comes to the long-term outlook of replacing Brady. Accordingly, the Patriots are in the draft market for another quarterback.
While there is a chance that they address the position early on, the team might also be willing to look at the mid and late rounds to find developmental prospects to groom alongside Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer. One player to fall under this category is Florida International’s James Morgan. Let’s therefore take a closer look at the potential Day Three pick who has already had a pre-draft meeting with the Patriots.
Name: James Morgan
School: Florida International (redshirt senior)
Opening day age: 22
2019 stats: 12 games; 357 attempts, 207 completions (58.0%); 2,551 passing yards; 14 touchdowns, 5 interceptions; 87.4 passer rating
Size: 6040, 229 lbs, 9.75 hand size, 33.38 arm length
Workout numbers: 4.89 40-yard dash, 751 three-cone, 29 vertical jump, 904 broad jump
Expected round: 5th-6th
Patriots pre-draft meeting: East-West Shrine Game
Strengths: Measured at 6-foot-4, 229 pounds at the combine with 9.75-inch hands, Morgan brings ideal size to the table to succeed as a pocket passer at the next level. While he is mostly a developmental prospect at this point in time, he does also possess some intriguing traits. The best of which might just be his poise in the pocket: the 22-year-old is not afraid to stand in the pocket and wait until the last second to pull the trigger, even if it means getting hitting.
Morgan also has solid accuracy in the short and intermediate areas, and is capable of successfully the targeting the middle of the field. He also has a solid technical makeup: his footwork and drop-backs are quick with no lost motions, and he is throwing off a good platform with both feet generally staying on the ground through his passing attempts. Furthermore, he also quickly re-sets when asked or forced to escape the pocket.
Morgan’s arm may be so-and-so, but he has a good fastball and is capable of putting the appropriate zip on the ball to fit it into tight windows. On top of it all, he also brings considerable experience to the table: Morgan started his college career at Bowling Green before transferring to Florida International where he served as a starter for two years.
Weaknesses: While Morgan’s arm is good enough in the short parts of the field and on slant and out passes, he does not have the strongest cannon and becomes more inaccurate the further down the field he goes — he has a tendency to float his deep passes and also to miss receivers high. He also has a rather unique throwing motion and sidearms his attempts instead of throwing over the head like Tom Brady and Jarrett Stidham, for example.
Morgan’s technique may look like that in part due to the fact that he is more of an upper-body thrower that needs to improve his follow-through motion from the waist down. What he also needs to improve is his decision making: while distributing the football well, he tends to hold onto it for too long. Morgan needs to get quicker progressing plays as they develop or break down, and become willing to throw passes away when the play is not there.
Furthermore, he lacks experience playing under center. Coming from a spread scheme at FIU, he has to get used to handling traditional hand-offs as opposed to shotgun snaps — and also to run play-action from under center. Morgan also lacks agility and is not the best mover; he is more of a traditional pocket passer that offers limited upside as a runner. He also had only mediocre production in college despite the Conference USA not featuring the top defenses in the country.
What would be his role? While Morgan offers some intriguing traits, he would likely serve as little more than a depth quarterback in Year One: either the number three behind Stidham and Hoyer, the number two in case he beats out the veteran during the summer, or maybe even as a practice squad passer in case the team opts to go with three other players at the position or he simply fails to carve out a roster spot. He would therefore see most of his action during preseason while also running the scout team during the regular season.
How many downs can he play? Theoretically all three or four offensive downs, but he likely would only get the chance to do so during New England’s exhibition games in 2020.
What is his special teams value? Morgan’s special teams value is virtually non-existent. He could serve as a backup holder on field goal and extra point attempts behind punter Jake Bailey, but likely would be handed this role only if carving out the number two spot on the roster and being a safe bet to make the 48-man game day rosters on a weekly basis.
Does he have positional versatility? As noted above, he could serve as an emergency holder on special teams. Other than that, however, Morgan’s positional versatility is limited to playing the quarterback position— in part because he lacks a truly outstanding athletic skillset, unlike New Orleans Saints passer/gadget player Taysom Hill, for example.
Will his role change from Year One to Year Two? Morgan’s role in both 2020 and beyond will likely depend on the players ahead of him on the quarterback depth chart, especially projected starter Jarrett Stidham. The best-case-scenario from the Patriots’ perspective would be Stidham establishing himself as the clear-cut QB1, with Morgan filling the number two role instead of Hoyer by 2021.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? After releasing Cody Kessler earlier this week, the Patriots carry only two quarterbacks on their current roster. Stidham can be considered a lock to make the team, with Hoyer and at least one possible draft pick — Morgan, in this case — battling for the number two role. Hoyer will likely be the favorite in this scenario, with Morgan fighting for the third spot.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots need to find a starting quarterback. While Stidham is the odds-on favorite, adding more players to the equation would be smart business considering that the second-year passer has not yet proven that he can carry the load and adequately fill Tom Brady’s enormous shoes. That said, New England has more holes than just the quarterback position and therefore might be willing to invest in a developmental late-round prospect instead of spending an early-round selection on a more polished player. If the team wants to do that, Morgan is an appealing target due to his poise in the pocket and accuracy in the short and intermediate range.
Why not the Patriots? The Patriots could decide to tap into the second tier of quarterbacks rather early in the draft. Whether it is fringe first-round prospect Jordan Love out of Utah State or potential third-round pick Jake Fromm out of Georgia, New England might prefer going after more polished passers than Morgan. After all, his limited arm strength and inconsistent decision making might turn the team away from him — even if the investment needed would be comparatively small.
Verdict: Even with Jarrett Stidham the projected starter, New England is in the market for more depth at the quarterback position alongside him and Brian Hoyer. While James Morgan may not be the most electrifying passer they could get, he would be an intriguing developmental option in one of the later rounds due to his prototypical size in combination with a good feel for the pocket and solid arm. He needs some work, but if the Patriots feel like they can groom him into a solid depth player it would not be a surprise to see them go after the FIU product.