TAMPA — In the months leading into Thursday night’s opening round of the NFL draft, the value of former University of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was probed, investigated, debated, studied and, as always, questioned.
“A hundred different mock drafts, a hundred different opinions,” said Murray, the former Plant High standout. “It will drive you crazy if you let it. It will confuse you and take over your life.
“You know what? It doesn’t matter. The work has been put in. The stuff I’ve done on the field is all on film. I feel great. Now it’s just a matter of where I’ll go.”
More specifically, when will he go?
By most accounts, Murray can expect a call on Friday night, during either the second or third round. He has recovered from surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Nov. 23 against Kentucky, showing unexpected mobility at Georgia’s pro day.
“I have no (physical) limitations because of the injury — none,” Murray said. “I’m back and ready to go.”
Murray was the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leading passer (13,166 yards, 62.3 completion percentage) during four seasons as the Bulldogs’ starter. He might not have prototypical size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), but his strongest characteristics can’t be quantified.
“I see production at the quarterback position and I don’t think many kids have thrown for 3,000 yards four straight seasons in that conference,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. “I just like what he is off the field.
“He’s an SEC scholar of the year. He has his degree. He goes to the Senior Bowl on his own just to be in the meetings. He’s a football junkie. He has a charisma about him.”
That became evident at Plant.
In Murray’s first high school start, the Panthers lost 9-2 in a nationally televised game against Armwood in 2007. Murray was roughed up, being sacked five times and absorbing about 20 hits. Long after ESPN’s cameras had been packed away, long after all the fans had departed, Murray watched film of the debacle with Plant coach Robert Weiner.
“It’s the wee hours, just the two of us, we had played terrible, he got pounded, but Aaron just had this love of the competition,” Weiner said. “At one point, he looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I’ve never had more fun in my life.’
“He said the same thing at Georgia, when he got pounded by (Auburn’s) Nick Fairley. He has blood on his jersey. ‘I’m sore all over ... but I’ve never had more fun in my life.’ He’s a competition addict. He loves this game and it shows.”
Murray has been compared to Saints quarterback Drew Brees, potentially a future Hall of Famer, but it’s often related to a smallish-for-the-NFL physical stature. Weiner said a better comparison is the competitiveness displayed by Brees and Murray.
“When you look at Aaron’s personality, his perseverance, his intelligence, his ability to apply that intelligence, he’s someone you’d like at the forefront of any program, whether it’s college, pro or high school,” Weiner said.
When Murray considered entering the draft after his junior season, former Buccaneers and Colts coach Tony Dungy, whose son was a teammate at Plant, said he would’ve been the best available quarterback and a player worthy of the No. 1 overall pick.
No one is saying that now. The first-round quarterbacks are expected to be Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, UCF’s Blake Bortles and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater — with Fresno State’s Derek Carr and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo possibly sneaking into Thursday night’s late picks.
Murray must wait. But it won’t become days of monotony. Instead of sitting around waiting for the telephone call, Murray will work off nervous energy with his family while bowling, eating at restaurants and visiting Busch Gardens.
“We’re looking at it like we’re all going to get drafted,” Murray said. “We just want to have some fun. If the (draft) call comes while we’re on a safari ride, so be it.
“Once I know where I’m going, no one will love that city and that team more than me. Until then, I have no control, so I don’t want to be idle.”
Murray is just eager to again become part of a team. If that team is the Bucs, his favorite as a kid, he would be elated. Back home this week, while cleaning out his room, Murray came across several Bucs T-shirts and caps. His parents are hoping for the hometown story, Murray said, but everyone knows it’s a 1-in-32 chance.
“If it’s backup quarterback, I can’t think of anybody better,” Weiner said. “He’s a smart guy who will know everything about the playbook. He’ll be ready when his number is called. He’ll be supportive of the starter and be a good team guy all around.
“Whatever situation he goes to, he will work to make it a great situation. He’s going to be that kind of special guy.”
In the minds of Weiner, Georgia coach Mark Richt and others who know Murray best, there’s no question about that.