The Oakland Raiders had plenty of surprises in 2017, both good and bad. As far as the players go, the most pleasant surprise of the season was Nicholas Morrow.
The Oakland Raiders have consistently found value through undrafted rookie free agents in recent years, which is a testament to their scouting department. This year was no different in that the biggest surprise player during the preseason was also the biggest surprise player during the regular season — UDFA from Division 3 Greenville, Nicholas Morrow.
Morrow had literally zero recruitment buzz out of high school as an undersized safety and therefore ended up at DIII Greenville. He can be categorized as a late developer who packed on muscle and athleticism later into his college career, when he transitioned to LB. By NFL standards, he is still an undersized WLB at 6’0″, 216.
Morrow put up some impressive numbers at his Pro Day, posting a 4.52 40-yard dash and a 37” vertical jump. 4.52 would have been good for second at the NFL Combine behind Jabrill Peppers, who was questionably categorized as a LB. His 37” vert would have also been tied for second behind Tyus Bowser. With such impressive SPARQ numbers, it’s a wonder why he wasn’t drafted late, but luckily the Raiders kept an eye on him and lured him to the roster following the draft.
Nicholas got some early run with the first team in preseason, more frequently with the sub-package unit where he showed some fluidity and instincts in coverage. His flashes in preseason earned him a surprise spot on the 53-man roster and an integral role on the special teams unit.
As the season progressed, he found himself getting more and more playing time as a nickel linebacker in which he frequently matched up against opposing tight ends and third down running backs. Throughout the year, Morrow was consistently the best coverage linebacker on the team, filling a void the team had been desperate to fill.
This is great coverage for a CB let alone an UDFA LB. Morrow has been a steal this year. pic.twitter.com/QDhWrjX2P3
— Chris Reed (@LVRaidersreview) December 21, 2017
He also showed really great screen diagnostics, making a handful of tackles for losses by reading screens and using his speed to get to the ball carrier before the offensive lineman could react. In the run game he flashed but still has some considerable work to do. As an undersized LB, he needs to use his lateral quickness and diagnosing skills to avoid oncoming blockers because he struggles getting off NFL blocks.
— Josh Cohen (@jco3215) September 11, 2017
By The Numbers
- 16 games played, 5 games started
- Topped 50 snaps four times, with 62 in Week 4 and Week 14, 59 in Week 13 and 50 in Week 16
- 553 snaps on the year, which was second only to NaVorro Bowman within the LB group
- 43 solo tackles, 22 stops, 5 tackles for loss and 5 missed tackles
- 10.8 tackling efficiency (ranked 29th)
- Season grade of 48.0 by PFF (ranked 56th)
- 47.6 pass defense grade (ranked 50th)
- Recorded 4 passes defensed
- 6.6 coverage snaps per target (ranked 35th)
- 1.07 yards per coverage snap (ranked 30th)
- 8.9 coverage snaps per reception (ranked 31st)
- 53.5 rush defense grade by PFF (ranked 58th)
- 13 Run Stops (ranked 60th)
- 25 pass rush snaps, 2 hits, 3 hurries, 5 pressures, 15 pass rush productivity (ranked 17th)
- 55.6 pass rush grade by PFF
I believe Paul Guenther’s 4-3 base defense will serve Morrow well as he can play the weakside, off-ball linebacker spot because if the defensive line does it’s job, it should keep him free and let him use his speed to attack ball carriers.
The ceiling should be fairly high for Nicholas and the hope is that another offseason of strength building and film studying should help him take the next step in being a consistently reliable three-down linebacker.