Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan will soon make an NFL team very happy. Morgan has excellent size for a defensive end — 6-3, 266 pounds. He is one of the faster linemen available in this year's draft. Morgan can play the run and the pass. His motor never stops on the field or in the weight room. Best of all, he just turned 21 years old, and PFW's draft expert, Nolan Nawrocki, believes his best football is ahead of him.
Morgan was an All-American and Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. He piled up 12½ sacks and 18½ tackles for a loss while helping lead the Yellow Jackets to their first outright ACC title since 1990.
PFW recently caught up with Morgan to discuss a variety of subjects, including his decision to leave school early, his performance at Georgia Tech's pro day and advice he has received from current NFL players.
PFW: We'll start by talking about your draft preparation. How did the Combine and pro day go for you? Were you pleased with your performance?
DM: Everything overall went good. I improved a lot on my numbers from the Combine to my pro day — my vertical, my broad and my short shuttle. I stood on the 40-time from the Combine. Really the main thing, my pro day was to show my position work, so I just focused at the Combine on getting more comfortable. They wanted to see me at outside linebacker.
PFW: I know you couldn't bench-press at the Combine because of a shoulder injury. How is that doing?
DM: It's perfect. Doing fine now.
PFW: Great. Most evaluators project you to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Some believe that you are capable of playing anywhere on the line in a three- or four-man front, as well as outside linebacker. What is your preference, and do you feel you could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 if asked?
DM: I definitely feel most comfortable playing end. I have played a little three-technique, but not a lot at all. I have been practicing at outside linebacker, because that is where a lot of teams want to see me. I've been trying to hone in on my skills and get them polished. But again, I feel most comfortable at end because that is where I have played my whole life. I'm definitely not opposed to outside linebacker, though, because I'm getting a lot more comfortable there, too.
PFW: What are your thoughts on commissioner Goodell mentioning the possibility of banning three-point stances to prevent concussions? Have you heard that?
DM: Are you serious? What does three-point stances have to do with concussions?
PFW: Well, I think the idea is that it would limit the head-first collisions.
DM: I mean that's football. You can't play football like that. If that's the case, I guess I'll be playing linebacker. We all will (laughs).
PFW: Any favorite move when it comes to pressuring the quarterback?
DM: I like to establish my speed rushes as the game goes on. My best move is a speed rush and then transitioning to other counter-rushes.
PFW: As a sophomore, you played on a defense that saw three players get drafted at the end of the 2008 season. How did you adapt in '09 to seeing a lot more double-teams and becoming the focal point for opponents to game-plan against?
DM: I put a lot of work in during the offseason into refining my skills. I worked with Chuck Smith, who played eight seasons for the Atlanta Falcons. We trained together all summer, and he really helped get me in the right mindset. It was a new thing, dealing with double-teams, but I just went out there and played my hardest and took them as they came.
PFW: You never missed a game because of injury in college. You obviously have a great work ethic, but is there anything else you attribute that to?
DM: It's a blessing, really. You have a high chance of getting hurt every time you step on the field, so I'm just very blessed.
PFW: What was the most memorable game of your collegiate career?
DM: The most memorable was probably the ACC championship game. That was my first time winning any type of championship.
PFW: What attracted you to Georgia Tech coming out of Coatesville, Pennsylvania?
DM: I visited a lot of schools, but just felt the most comfortable down here, especially with the recruiting class coming in. I formed a lot of great bonds with my fellow recruits throughout the process, and we kept in contact. Really, we all felt that if we came down here together, we could do some special things. So, that is what tipped the scale in Georgia Tech's favor.
PFW: Any role models in your life?
DM: Definitely my mother. She basically raised me by herself, instilled good values in me. I am the person I am today because of her. I feel she did a great job raising me.
PFW: A lot of the scouting reports mention you're such a great prospect because of your huge upside — still growing as a player, peaking at the right time. Is there anything specific that you want to continue working on to improve your game?
DM: I never stop working. I'm still trying to improve all facets of my game. I'm actually about to go do some drills right now. The process is never-ending. The competition is always going to be at the highest level, so I can't ever let up.
PFW: Have you received any advice from NFL players?
DM: (Former Falcons DE) Chuck Smith has helped school me a lot. Also, my college teammate, Michael Johnson, who was drafted by the Bengals last year, has given me a lot of knowledge on what is coming my way, what to expect and how to prepare for it.
PFW: Anything specifically on what to expect in your rookie season?
DM: Mike just told me it's going to be nonstop your first year, a lot of hustle and bustle. Just to stay focused, really. And be smart with your money.
PFW: Tell me about your decision to leave school early. Was it a tough choice, and what factored in to your decision?
DM: It was a fairly easy decision. At the beginning of the season, I was kind of going back and forth on whether I was going to leave or not, but after the season I had, I consulted with Coach Johnson (Tech head coach Paul Johnson), who has some NFL contacts, and he said that many teams had me rated high on their draft board. Coach Johnson said that if I was his son, he would tell me to go. I also consulted with my mother, of course.
PFW: Did the uncertainty of the 2011 season and the possibility of a rookie salary cap play into the decision at all?
DM: A little bit, but I just felt like it was my time to leave. I feel like I'm ready.
PFW: Absolutely. Are you still enrolled in school? Any favorite courses or subjects?
DM: I took the semester off. I'm about a semester and a half away from graduating.
PFW: Is that your plan then, to go back and finish your studies?
DM: Absolutely. My major is business management. Every class at Georgia Tech is hard, but probably entrepreneurship has been the most beneficial.
PFW: If you weren't headed for the NFL, what would you be doing career-wise?
DM: Something in marketing. I had an internship with TBS (Turner Broadcasting System). Not really sure exactly, though.
PFW: OK, a few fun questions and then I'll let you go. Favorite team growing up? Favorite player?
DM: 49ers and Jerry Rice.
PFW: Favorite thing to do when you're not playing football?
DM: Oh, man. Sleep.
PFW: Other sports you enjoy playing?
DM: I play a little basketball every once in a while.
PFW: Favorite food?
DM: I don't know. Steak, I guess.
PFW: Favorite TV show?
DM: 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air.'
PFW: Favorite musical artist?
DM: Biggie Smalls.
PFW: Nice, a classic! Last one: First thing that you will buy after signing your first NFL contract?
DM: I will be buying my mother a new house.
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