Is Aaron Murray the SEC's Franchise Player?

ATHENS GA - NOVEMBER 27: Quarterback Aaron Murray #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sanford Stadium on November 27 2010 in Athens Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

ESPN's Ed Aschoff — as you likely know, a former Gainesville Sun writer — has an interesting post on the Worldwide Leader's SEC blog today, riffing on the "Who's your franchise player?" question that gets asked in professional leagues.

Aschoff tries to come up with a name for the SEC, and eventually lands on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who Aschoff chose for his versatility and leadership:

However, I want to build my program around a quarterback and Murray appears to have it all. He can run, throw and certainly earned a ton of respect as a gamer during his first year in Athens, Ga.

But is Murray really the best pick?

Consider what it takes to win the SEC. For the last five years, it's required one of the nation's premier offenses or defenses (or both) just to escape the rugged SEC schedule with an SEC Championship: 2006 Florida had defense; 2007 LSU had defense (but actually had more offense than you think, ranking 11th in scoring offense); 2008 Florida had both offense and defense; 2009 Alabama had both offense and defense; 2010 Auburn had offense.

Now ask yourself this: Does Aaron Murray have a chance to lead Georgia's offense like Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram, or Cam Newton did those three great offenses? I don't think so, at least not yet; Murray's not nearly as physical a runner as either Tebow or Newton, and never will be, though he could maybe approximate Colt McCoy, which would be no small feat. (He's also not a running back, duh.)

Murray needs to throw to be effective, and to do that, he needs protection from the SEC's incredible defensive linemen and targets that can haul in the ball. (Ask Ryan Mallett about how important sure-handed receivers are.) Murray was sacked 24 times last year, and had A.J. Green to throw to; his line is young and should only get better, but Green's departure is going to make throwing on SEC secondaries that much harder.

I'm writing all of this not because I doubt Murray's talent — I think he's going to be a great quarterback not only for Georgia but possibly in the NFL, and I'm going to be grudingly hating him for at least the next two years — but because I doubt how much that talent is worth in today's SEC. I think you need someone who can be Tebow or Newton at quarterback if you're looking for a program-changing franchise player at that position (and, honestly, I don't see any of those players in the SEC right now), so I would shy away from signal-callers as my franchise players.

I'd probably take Aschoff's other finalist, Marcus Lattimore, as my SEC franchise player. He's a sophomore, so I get two or three years from him, unlike the one I would get from Trent Richardson, and he can impact the game more than even a top-flight defender like Dont'a Hightower or Ronald Powell can. Plus, he's shown his ability to hold up over a full season, despite that nasty injury against Florida State in South Carolina's bowl game.

But is my rationale right? Is Lattimore a good choice? Am I neglecting Jeff Driskel's obvious capability to dwarf the accomplishments of Tebow and Newton? (The last one is no, but feel free to argue that a freshman who barely played in a spring game should be your franchise player.) Let's talk in the comments.

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