NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 25: Derrick Morgan #90, Jurrell Casey #99 and Shaun Smith #93 of the Tennessee Titans defense wait for the offense of the Denver Broncos at LP Field on September 25, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Broncos 17 - 14. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Derrick Morgan's sophomore season disappearing act has been sort of flying under the radar until recently. All this talk lately has got me thinking; why aren't we more worried? It's safe to say that, while it may be through no fault of his own, Derrick Morgan has not been living up to expectations. A torn ACL will often have that effect on a player. I'm willing to excuse many of his shortcomings and even a slow climb back to form given the severity of the injury, but when this magical return to form isn't even close to a sure thing, I'm becoming wary. The sixteenth overall pick isn't one that you can just mess up and be fine, that's a cornerstone player you're selecting, a staple of the defense. Thus far, that's not what we've seen.
Coming out of college, Morgan offered the measurables that scouts drooled over. Great combine numbers and physical traits, excellent college production, really a complete package at defensive end. Notice that coming out of college he didn't have this "only strong against the run" label that we're hearing lately attached to him. He had a great pass rush repertoire and had the numbers to back it up. That's why he was taken as high as he was; pass rush in any system is at such a premium these days that it became very hard to pass up a player like Morgan. Here's a typical Morgan scouting report:
There's a lot to like about Derrick Morgan. He is a great pass rusher and one of the best 4-3 DE's. He has a deadly speed rush and shows great strength against both the run and the pass. He is a very well-rounded prospect. His main weakness is that when I watch tape of him, I see a strict 4-3 DE. I think that if he was asked to be a three down linebacker in the 3-4, he would struggle a little bit and require time to adjust.
See where I'm going with this? We were given nothing that would make us think that Morgan would lack pass rushing skills. Look, there is no excuse for just giving up all hope that Morgan can contribute at the NFL level, all I'm saying is that given his reputation in college, perhaps there's reason for concern. The ACL issues definitely make this a little bit harder to figure out given that there's really not a great way of knowing how close he is to full recovery, but I would have liked to see some of the Derrick Morgan we got against Oakland back in his rookie year. He was extremely disruptive and got pass rush much more frequently. In fact, he nearly equalled this year's sack total in four games last season. Highly worrisome numbers.
What gives me hope is that Morgan is still very young with a lot of time to get his legs back under him. He wasn't known for durability issues in college, but what difference does that make, he's already suffered one of the most debilitating injuries an athlete can suffer, his reputation for not getting hurt means nothing right now. Furthermore, this lack of production is disturbing, especially given the considerable successes of some of the defensive ends selected around him in the same draft. Jason Pierre-Paul is becoming a star, and even though he's slowed down this year, Carlos Dunlap nearly hit double digit sacks in limited action in his rookie year.
Again, I won't advocate giving up on Morgan's career, but is it unfair of me to expect a disruptive pass rusher in the mold of Pierre-Paul? They're not the same player, but there is nothing that I can find to convince me that Morgan wasn't projected to be a high sack player. Now sacks aren't everything, his prowess in stopping the run lately is much appreciated, but you win football games by attacking the quarterback and forcing turnovers. In short, I worry about Derrick Morgan because what we've seen, a healthy Morgan still isn't living up to the considerable hype he generated as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and also because a severe knee injury suffered early in his career may prevent a return to that level, and I don't think that's something the Titans can afford right now.