Former Ashwaubenon QB gets taken in the fourth round by Jets
By Greg Bates
The pure excitement in his voice said it all.
James Morgan couldn’t have been more thrilled to be drafted by the New York Jets to live out his dream of playing in the NFL.
Jets brass called Morgan right before announcing their pick in the fourth round, No. 125 overall, on Saturday afternoon.
“You fired up?” Jets general manager Joe Douglas asked his new quarterback.
“Yes, sir,” exclaimed Morgan, who played the last two seasons at Florida International University. “I’m extremely fired up.”
As head coach Adam Gase got on the phone line, Morgan told the Jets’ decision makers: “You guys are not going to regret this.”
As the call was wrapping up, Morgan – already thinking about that first snap in the NFL – said to Douglas: “Let’s get into the playbook, huh?”
Morgan is ready to go. It’s a goal he’s been working for ever since graduating from Ashwaubenon High School in 2015. Midwest Collegiate Prospects assisted Morgan during his recruiting process when he eventually signed to play with Bowling Green University.
After receiving the call of his dreams, Morgan took time to celebrate with his high school friends and family who spent the day with him at his parents house. Morgan’s coach at Ashwaubenon, Mark Jonas, was also on a Zoom call with the Morgans during the draft on Saturday.
“He said to us, ‘That was so cool. First the head coach, then the GM and I even got to talk to the owner. It was so cool,’” Jonas said. “He was so pumped.”
And, remember, Morgan’s mention of getting into the playbook? Well, it didn’t take Morgan long. According to Jonas, Morgan and his dad, Brian, got a copy of the Jets’ playbook that day from offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.
“That’s James, and his dad,” Jonas said. “They will be studying that sucker and seeing how the terminology is similar to what we did in high school. What we did in high school actually was very similar to what they did at Bowling Green as far as the terminology.”
Morgan, who is the first Green Bay area quarterback to be drafted since Bud Keyes was selected in the 10th round in 1988 by the Packers, was a highly-touted prospect heading into the draft. Longtime ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had Morgan as the No. 139 overall prospect. Morgan ended up being the seventh quarterback taken in the draft, ahead of some bigger names such as power-5 quarterback Jake Fromm from Georgia.
“He can make the throws. He moves well in the pocket,” said Kiper about Morgan during ESPN’s broadcast on Saturday. “Very competitive, very smart, has great football IQ. Great kid, works hard, loves to study the game, very passionate about the game of football. I like the way James Morgan plays.”
The Jets also liked the way Morgan plays as well. He’ll be a good developmental project for the Jets’ first-year general manager with his young team.
“Great opportunity to bring in a quarterback to compete behind Sam (Darnold) in James Morgan,” Douglas told local member on Saturday following the completion of the draft. “He was a guy that we really loved spending time with him at the combine. Big kid, strong arm, has all the tools that should help us. And I think he has an opportunity to shine in this offensive scheme.”
The Jets are set with their starting quarterback in Darnold, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft. However, when Darnold was out last season with mononucleosis, the Jets’ backup quarterbacks lost all six of their games.
Jonas believes Morgan playing for the Jets is the perfect fit.
“You look at how the Jets did last year when Darnold was out, they struggled,” Jonas said. “I think you bring in a kid like James and he’s going to compete with those guys, backing up Darnold right away. He’s got the arm for it and he will not get outstudied, that I can tell you. I think it’s a really, really good fit for him.”
The Jets, which showed the most interest in Morgan out of any team through the process, like his 6-foot-4, 229-pound frame.
“I have had some absolutely great interactions with them throughout the course of it,” said Morgan about the Jets. “At the combine they were the only official interview I had. That was fantastic. I felt really good with their coaches. I just can’t wait to go start working that relationship.”
The Jets weren’t the only team showing interest in Morgan prior to and during the draft.
“I did not have any contact with the Jets at all. However, I had contact with the Colts twice,” Jonas said. “The Colts were a heavy possibility throughout, and I know one of the draft experts (on TV) compared James to Jacoby Brissett. So, not coincidentally, two of the other teams that he said were really interested were the Colts and Patriots, two teams that had Brissett.”
Heading into Day 3 of the draft on Saturday, Morgan’s agent fielded some calls from the Jets the night before and early that morning.
“They said they had three fourth-round picks, nothing’s guaranteed,” Jonas said. “I think (James) was looking at it. So, when 120 came up and (the Jets) took (Florida’s La’Mical) Perine, that running back, we were like, ‘Dang it.’”
Along with being a Packers fan growing up – rooting for Brett Favre, then Aaron Rodgers – Morgan was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. There was some thought at the Morgan household that the No. 124 selection for the Steelers could be a reality as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. However, the Steelers opted for Maryland running back Anthony McFarland Jr. The Jets were next on the clock again.
“Our eyes were glued to Zoom because the pick right before them, James got the phone call and they were jumping up and down like crazy,” Jonas said. “We knew it was going to be J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. It was awesome.”
The Jets love all of Morgan’s intangibles from his elite arm strength – he can sling a football 75-80 yards when utilizing a couple crow hops – to his smarts on the field.
“We had a real comfort level with James,” Douglas said. “This is a young man that’s extremely intelligent, has the physical tools you’re looking for. And I know you guys have heard me say it before: quarterback is the most important position in all of professional sports, and you can never have enough. So, here’s an opportunity we felt to get a young quarterback that can develop with and behind Sam and you need to have depth at that position.”
Morgan showed great progression as a football player during his five years in college.
After redshirting his freshman season, Morgan started the next two seasons at Bowling Green. He played in 18 games and amassed 3,342 yards passing and 25 touchdowns to 22 interceptions. Morgan earned his undergraduate degree in pre-law in just three years and sought to transfer to another program for his final two seasons.
Morgan told ESPN that he sent out emails to about 60 coaches around the nation about interest in signing him, and only Florida International quarterbacks coach Bryn Renner responded. A bond was formed and Morgan was off to Miami. Since he was a graduate transfer, under NCAA rules, Morgan was eligible to play right away. He started every regular-season game in his last two years and showed off what he can do on the gridiron.
As a junior, Morgan was 213-for-326 (65.3%) passing for 2,727 yards and 26 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He led FIU to its most single-season wins ever (nine). Morgan’s numbers in his senior season weren’t as eye-popping, finishing 207-for-357 (58%) for 2,585 yards and 14 touchdowns to five interceptions.
Morgan got invited to the annual East-West Shrine Game in January. He threw for a game-high 116 yards on 9-for-14 passing to lead the East squad to a 31-27 victory.
“He showed up at the East-West Shrine Game and was clearly the best quarterback in attendance,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said during draft coverage on Saturday.
Morgan had a storybook career at Ashwaubenon. He led the Jaguars to a 19-3 record combined in his junior and senior seasons, throwing for 5,964 yards and 60 touchdowns. A team captain in 2013 and ’14, Morgan was named Fox River Classic Conference offensive player of the year and honorable mention All-State both seasons.
Even with his cannon arm, Morgan can also get out of the pocket and run. As a senior in high school, he was the leadoff leg for Ashwaubenon’s 4×400-meter relay team that won the WIAA Division 1 state title. His 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine was 4.89 seconds, which was tied for the ninth-best time amongst quarterbacks.
Morgan is a real student of the game.
“I think my top strength is really my preparation,” Morgan said Saturday. “Everything that I do week in and week out is to help our team win. I’m a really good leader. I’m a good competitor. On the field, I’d say my biggest strength is my arm strength. That makes me good with anticipation and throwing in windows other guys can’t. I’m very confident with that. I think I can make any throw on the field.”
Morgan doesn’t shy away from his talents. He’ll be able to show them off to the diehard Jets followers hopefully soon. It’s sometimes tough to win over New York sports fans, but Morgan won over the Ashwaubenon community years ago.
“He’s getting an opportunity that very, very, very few people in the world get and we couldn’t be prouder of him,” Jonas said.