Last week, the pro-day spotlight was on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who threw for scouts less than five months after having ACL surgery. This week, the spotlight turns to another SEC quarterback returning from an ACL injury, Georgia's Aaron Murray. Both of these players were together at Georgia in the spring of 2010, with Murray emerging as the winner of the starting job as a freshman, and Mettenberger transferring to Butler Community college and eventually LSU.
Murray started 2010 by losing four of his first five games, but he finished the year with six wins and a bowl appearance, totaling 24 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions, pretty remarkable for a first-year starter. Very few quarterbacks in history have put up these kinds of numbers starting as a freshman.
To be a good NFL quarterback, you need to have three things to go along with your ability to perform as a player: mental quickness, dedication and leadership potential. Murray ranks at the top of the charts in these areas; in my evaluation of him, he scored as high as a player can in the three categories.
On the field, Murray's athletic ability is outstanding. His arm strength isn't quite at Mettenberger's level, but it's adequate, and he has good accuracy and is an outstanding decision-maker. Picture Drew Brees as a senior at Purdue -- I see Murray being in the same mold, and not just because of their similarities in size. Obviously, Murray will have to prove it at the NFL level, but I think his performance to this point has proved to be as good as Brees' when he was at Purdue.
On top of his skills, Murray also has great production. He is the SEC's all-time passing leader in yards, touchdown passes, completions and total offense. He also is the first QB in SEC history to have four consecutive seasons with 3,000 yards passing. He finished his career with 121 touchdowns and 41 interceptions.
One other thing stands out to me about Murray. I've always felt a quarterback should have at least 30 starts under his belt before entering the NFL. Having that kind of experience teaches you to read defenses better and improves your overall play. Murray made 52 starts -- that means he started every game while he was at Georgia through the 11th game of his senior year, when he suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Fifty-two starts from a college quarterback is something you might see once every 10 years.
Only time will tell if Murray turns out as good as Brees, but if he's medically cleared from his injury, I believe Murray can be a starter in the NFL and has the potential to lead a team to the playoffs. Brees was the first player taken in the second round of the 2001 draft; I wouldn't have any problem drafting Murray somewhere past the midpoint of the second round.
Murray is just five months removed from ACL surgery, so I'm not expecting his workout Wednesday to be great, but this shouldn't raise any alarms. Considering how advanced we are in repairing injuries these days, I don't think his knee should be a concern on draft day.
Back in November, I predicted that Murray would make some team very happy and be the steal of the draft. I still think that, when we look back on this draft a few years from now, we'll view Murray the way we view Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson -- a successful quarterback who should have been drafted much higher than he was.
Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.