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Tech's Morgan eyes NFL

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

ATLANTA -- Derrick Morgan soon could be chasing NFL quarterbacks.

Morgan, Georgia Tech's junior defensive end who ranks among the nation's sack leaders, says he will "definitely" examine his NFL draft status after the season.

Some early NFL mock drafts list the junior as a first-round pick in 2010. He is projected as the No. 13 pick by MyNFLdraft.com and he's No. 27 on Bleacher Report's mock draft.

Morgan this week made ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s "Big Board" of players who could be picked high in the draft. Kiper noted Morgan "has been impossible to block all season."

Morgan ranks fifth in the nation with 111/2 sacks and is a big reason No. 7 Georgia Tech can wrap up the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division title with a win at Duke on Saturday.

Morgan said he won't pretend he doesn't think about where he might stand in the draft.

"People say they don't think about it, but I think about it every once in a while," he said this week. "It's not heavy on my mind. It gets brought up every now and then and I have to think about it. My main focus is on winning the ACC championship.

"I don't know. It's a possibility at the end of the season. It will all be determined by how I finish up."

Morgan gained momentum for a strong finish with his three sacks in last week's 30-27 overtime win over Wake Forest.

"He's a great player," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson. "He's got great physical tools. He's as quick and explosive coming off the ball as anybody I've ever been around. He's got a lot of God-given ability and he works at it."

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe says his players talked about Morgan last season even though Georgia Tech's front four also included defensive end Michael Johnson, who was a third-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, and two defensive tackles who were seventh-round picks: Vance Walker, now with the Atlanta Falcons, and Darryl Richard, who was selected by the New England Patriots.

Johnson, Walker and Richard combined for 100 career starts and 100 tackles for loss, so it was easy for some to overlook Morgan's seven sacks as a sophomore.

Wake Forest wasn't one of them.

"There was another player there last year that was fairly acclaimed," said Grobe of Michael Johnson, "and I know after the game down there last year our players who had to deal with them both were like 'Coach, that Derrick Morgan is going to be a monster before too long.'

"He's obviously applied himself to the point where he's having that type of season."

In last week's game, Morgan delivered a game-saving, third-down sack of Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner at the end of regulation when the Demon Deacons were driving for a potential game-winning field goal. The sack forced a punt to force the overtime and keep Georgia Tech's ACC championship dream alive.

"I think that was one of the best plays I've ever seen, NFL or college," said Georgia Tech linebacker Sedric Griffin. "He ran through their fullback to get the sack. It was amazing. I didn't even know until I watched the film."

Morgan (6-4, 272) has 181/2 career sacks. He said his third sack against Wake Forest "probably was one of the biggest plays as far as what it meant to the whole scheme of the game."

Morgan, from Coatesville, Pa., also had three sacks in a 30-27 win over Clemson this season. His pass rush has been crucial for the Yellow Jackets. No other Georgia Tech player has more than 11/2 sacks for the season.

"Oh man, Derrick is amazing," Griffin said. "He has a motor that does not stop. He's going to push you to your maximum all the time. He's a great competitor."

Morgan says that's how he's always played.

"I don't want to let nobody down with my lack of effort," he said. "Everybody always said I've got a motor."

Morgan rarely faced more than one blocker last season, when Michael Johnson was perceived to be the bigger threat.

This year has been different. Morgan usually faces two or three blockers but still leads the ACC with 16 tackles for loss.

"I'm just trying to go out there and play hard every down and defeating blocks, whether it's one, two or three," he said.

Morgan could challenge Pat Swilling's school-record 15 sacks in 1985.

Paul Johnson said Morgan "was one of our best players last year" even though few noticed.

Now everyone, including NFL scouts, can't help but notice Morgan.

"He's always going to be one of the best players of whatever team he's on," Johnson said.