Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at UTSA Roadrunners Football
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at UTSA Roadrunners Football

UTSA's David Morgan unfazed by big-school bias of national awards

If you’re counting, David Morgan II actually caught more touchdown passes than Arkansas’ Hunter Henry this fall (five to Henry’s three). He piled up more receiving yards than Clemson’s Jordan Leggett (566 to Leggett’s 442), and grabbed more receptions than Stanford’s Austin Hooper (45 to Hooper’s 31).

So where’s the national love?

On Wednesday, Henry was named winner of the 2015 John Mackey Award, presented annually to the top tight end in college football; Leggett and Hooper were the other finalists.

But while Henry gets feted on national television Thursday, Morgan, UTSA's top target and (arguably) top blocker in 2015, gets to … well, he gets to watch.

“Yeah, I’ll enjoy it,” Morgan said this week. “It is what it is, and if I wasn’t there (at an awards show), I wasn’t there. Nothing’s going to change it.”

The 6-4 senior made the Mackey’s midseason watch list in October, but didn’t crack the final eight. Or the final three. All of which left at least one college scout wondering what the heck kind of film everybody else was watching.

“Morgan should have been (a finalist), definitely,” said Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus (ProFootballFocus.com), which recently expanded its grading system for evaluating NFL players to the college ranks. “We had him on our 'Dream Team' at tight end basically all year because of how good he was. His lack of receiving stats probably hurt him too.”

Stats and perceptions. What’s the old line? In the pros, it’s about the name on the back of the jersey; in college, it’s about the name on the front.

“I think there definitely is a bias (against smaller schools),” McGuinness noted. “Not in a cynical way, but especially for positions like tight end and offensive line where there aren't always easily accessible blocking stats out there — it's tough for voters to think highly of players they haven't seen a lot of, which definitely happens for smaller-school guys. But then that's where we come in and we've definitely tried to champion and shout about small-school players that have stood out to us.”

To wit: Earlier this week, Pro Football Focus announced its own national awards finalists, based simply on its internal film review, in which players are graded on a plus/minus scale based on their individual performances. Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson, who threw for a Mid-American Conference record 4,700 yards this season, was their No. 3 choice for the Davey O’Brien Award (behind Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Cal’s Jared Goff), while Morgan was the winner of their fictional Mackey Award (Tyler Higbee of Western Kentucky was their runner-up based on season grades).

“(Morgan) top graded at +36.6, he was solid as a receiver but really where he made his mark was as a run blocker,” McGuinness explained. “(That) huge run blocking grade shows just how dominant he was here.”

“Regardless of who it is, talent is talent, wherever it’s at,” Morgan said. “I guess people can justify whatever they want to justify. It’s cool. I like how (PFF) does their process. It’s not subjective, who you are or where you’re from. It’s all based on talent. That’s what’s really special.”

Morgan is an amiable sort, but he’s also not the type to go Google himself. A pal tipped him off as to the love he’d been getting from McGuinness and the PFF scouts — especially on the blocking side — a few months ago.

“I really feel like tight end, it’s a really underrated position,” Morgan said. “We don’t get a lot of love in the pass game, we don’t get a lot of love in the run game. It’s great to see some recognition for that. There are a lot of great guys up there who actually bring the whole package. It’s cool to see people take notice of that stuff. It’s cool to know that people recognize you.”

Just not all the people with the power of the ballot.

“There definitely is something to (a Power Five bias),” McGuinness said, “and if you have two players who have graded similarly, and one has played more games against Power Five schools, it makes sense that you're probably going to give him the nod above a player who has played against mainly Group of 5 schools. But what we set out to do at PFF, and now PFF College, is grade every player on every play. And I think for some of these players, namely (Western Kentucky’s Brandon) Doughty, (Bowling Green’s Matt) Johnson, (WKU’s Forrest) Lamp and Morgan II, they have shown themselves to be clearly among the best at their positions.

“Would you expect some regression if they were going up against better defenses week in, week out? Sure, but they all played well enough that it would be surprising to see them suddenly struggle.”

Morgan will get his chance to test himself against his Power Five peers soon enough, nabbing a formal invite Wednesday to the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla., on January 23.

“I’ve never been one who’s big on awards or trophies or whatever,” said Morgan, who was recently tapped as a second-team All-American by USA Today. “It is what it is. That stuff doesn’t mean a lot unless you get the job done.

“I was really honored, just really honored (by PFF). To see other guys’ names up there (on that list) like Leonard Fournette and Baker Mayfield, crazy names like that. It just blows my mind.”

PFF on ASN players

Matt Johnson, Bowling Green

  • Key stat: 4,700 passing yards, a new single-season MAC record and No. 1 in the FBS.

  • PFF scout Gordon McGuinness: “Big arm. You don't throw for 1,577 yards and 18 touchdowns on those downfield throws without it and he showed accuracy and touch to go along with it. Definitely an interesting player when you're looking at how he projects at the next level.”

Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky

  • Key stat: 71.8 percent completion rate tops all FBS signal-callers, while his 4,594 passing yards ranks second.

  • McGuinness: “Not quite as strong an arm as Johnson, but no slouch either. Really liked his accuracy this year and, like Johnson, definitely interesting to see what happens if/when he gets to the NFL.”

Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi

  • Key stat: Second only to Doughty among C-USA QBs in completions (306), passing yards (4,145) and passing touchdowns (36).

  • McGuiness: “(Mullen) also had some success downfield, throwing for 990 yards, admittedly with a less-impressive TD/INT ratio at 4:5. He was ninth in adjusted accuracy percentage, at 77.1%.”

Zach Terrell, Western Michigan

  • Key stat: Leads the MAC in passing yards per attempt (8.8) and sits second in pass efficiency (161.1).

  • McGuinness: “Definitely helps that he had very productive receivers in Braverman and Davis, with Braverman in particular an outstanding slot receiver which can often be a quarterback’s best friend.”

Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis, Western Michigan

  • Key stat: The Broncos’ wideout duo accounts for 20 percent of the FBS Top 10 in receiving yards, with Braverman ninth (1,266) and Davis 10th (1,246).

  • McGuinesses: “No wide receiver had more yards from the slot in 2015 than Braverman's 1,247, or more than his 12 TDs from the slot. Davis dropped seven of the 90 catchable passes thrown his way and forced 13 missed tackles as a receiver.”

David Morgan II, UTSA

  • Key stat: A team-leading 566 receiving yards and five TD catches.

  • McGuinness: “Monster blocker and probably a better receiver than people give him credit for. Wasn't used a huge amount as a receiver but was still productive.”

Sam Brunner, Ball State

  • Key stat: The 6-2 junior caught seven balls for 73 yards.

  • McGuinness: “Not a lot of opportunity as a receiver this year, but definitely impressed as a blocker.”

Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky

  • McGuinness: “Allowing less than one pressure per game and looks very good as a run blocker.”

Taylor Moton, Western Michigan
McGuinness: “Much better run blocker than in pass protection, like the fact that he had so few penalties (three) in 2015 too. Definitely one of the better run blockers from Group of 5 schools.”
Jatavis Brown, Akron

  • Key stat: Undersized (5-11) but with mid-4.4 speed, Brown led the Zips in tackles (108), tackles for loss (17.5), sacks (10.5) and fumbles forced (three)

  • McGuinness: “Brown (+36.5 grade) had a big year as a pass rusher with 13 (PFF-credited) sacks, 12 hits and 21 hurries. Not bad when you consider he only rushed the passer 123 times! Good in coverage and solid against the run, too.”

Michael Egwuagu, UTSA

  • Key stat: Recorded three picks and four pass break-ups.

  • McGuinesses: “Egwuagu (+20.0 grade) had three interceptions and four passes defensed in coverage, and had a good year against the run.”

Above: UTSA's David Morgan may not have been invited to the  major awards shows this week, but he is garnering interest among NFL teams. (Courtesy Jeff Huehn/UTSA Athletics)

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