Kyler Murray is one of the more intriguing NFL draft prospects in recent memory, and between now and Draft Day, you'll read scores of opinions and rumors on the Heisman winner from Oklahoma.
Earlier this week, Murray stated that he is going to play NFL football rather than baseball, where he was selected as the Oakland A's top pick (No. 9 overall) a year ago.
Giving up baseball has already cost Murray a lot, as he already signed a contract worth $4.6 million, including a $1.5 million signing bonus, which he now must return. Now that he has chosen football (or so he says), Murray needs to get drafted fairly early in the first round in order to make up for the money he already lost.
With 10 weeks to go before the draft, one of the big questions is, how high can Murray go? In my opinion, he is what I call a “wild card,” meaning evaluators are all over the board on him. There is no question that he is very talented, but there has not been a quarterback in the NFL who has had success at his size since Doug Flutie. And to say Flutie had success is an overstatement, as his success was moderate at best.
Yes, there have been short quarterbacks who have played well in the NFL. Russell Wilson was a third-round pick by Seattle, and at the combine he was 5106 (5-10¾). NFL passing champion Drew Brees measured 6002 (6-0¼). Reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up Baker Mayfield was 6004 (6-0½). We can even go back to Michael Vick, who was also 6002. Except for Wilson, all those players are about 3 inches taller than Murray.
We won’t know until the combine in 3 weeks exactly how tall Murray really is, but I estimate that he will come in at 5094 (5-9½) and 185 pounds. If that turns out to be the case, he will be an inch shorter and 20 pounds lighter that Wilson was in Indy. So to say that Murray is unique is an understatement.
What are Murray’s strong points? He has won at a high level of competition. His production is excellent last season, when he completed 260-of-377 passes for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns against only seven picks. On top of his throwing numbers, he ran for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns on 140 carries.
Murray is an exceptional athlete with great body control and speed. I think he will run in the low 4.4s — and maybe even the 4.3s. He might not have size, but he has a big arm and a quick delivery and can make all the different throws that are required of an NFL quarterback. He also makes those throws with very good accuracy and ball placement. With his baseball background, Murray can make the off-balance throws with accuracy that we have seen Patrick Mahomes make. Not many can do that. Add to that his ability to make plays with his feet and he gives defenses something to worry about.
On the downside, many of Murray’s throws are made after pre-snap reads, meaning he doesn’t have to go through a full progression and carefully read a “live” defense. Another negative is the defenses in the Big 12 are far from good; many throws are to wide-open receivers. He doesn’t have to make many small-window throws. When he played in the playoff vs Alabama, he only completed 51 percent of his throws, far worse than the regular season. Needless to say, Alabama’s defense is loaded with future NFL players.
What can help shorter quarterbacks in today’s NFL is that many clubs now run spread offenses. Though NFL spreads are far more sophisticated than in college, they still give the shorter QB a chance to see the field much better than when playing under center. Still, Murray has to be able to find seams in which to make throws. With both his linemen and defenders anywhere form 6-8 inches taller, that can be a difficult task.
There will also be evaluators who say that he is a “one-year wonder,” and this has merit, as it is a long ways away from old-school thoughts of three years as a starter. Though we have to look at everyone on a case-by-case basis, Bears QB Mitch Trubisky proved that thought process could be outdated.
From my talks with people around the league, they are all over the board on Murray. Some have him very high, while others wouldn’t touch him because of his height. Fact is, regardless of what a group thinks, it only takes one team to pull the trigger. Murray is going in the first round, and maybe even the top five. Would I do that if I were still in a Draft Room? No, but that’s what will happen. It will be a few years before we know if it was a smart move.
There are analysts who think he is going to Arizona with the first pick because of what new head coach Kliff Kingsbury said last fall about Murray, when the coach was in the middle of the college season preparing for the quarterback he was going to face that weekend, which is meaningless when it comes to the draft. Kingsbury has never been involved in the draft as a coach before and can’t be held accountable to something he said while on another job in a different sport.
Arizona GM Steve Keim moved up in the 2018 draft to select Josh Rosen, and Rosen is his guy. Keim hired Kingsbury to work with Rosen, just like the Rams hired Sean McVay and the Bears hired Matt Nagy to work with their young quarterbacks. There is just abut no way that Arizona is going to draft Murray with that first overall pick. The more viable option for the Cardinals is that they trade down to a team that wants to draft a quarterback, adding more picks.