Is Kyler Murray a first-round NFL Draft pick?
There’s a lot to digest when it comes to the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Kyler Murray has declared for the 2019 NFL Draft and has committed to playing football instead of baseball. Whether or not that decision was a good one — at least in the immediate sense — may depend on where he lands in the draft order. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner exploded in 2018, rising from dual-sport curiosity to the top player in college football. Murray proved a worthy successor to Baker Mayfield, slinging 42 touchdown passes in 14 games, rushing for more than 1,000 yards, and leading Oklahoma back to the College Football Playoff in his lone year as a starting quarterback. That meteoric rise eschewed plans to leave the gridiron behind and fulfill his destiny as the No. 9 overall pick of the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft. Murray’s decision to continue his football career means he’ll forfeit the $4.6 million signing bonus he inked with the Oakland Athletics. It could also mean his next contract — this time in the NFL — could be worth several times more in guaranteed money. That last part is the gamble Murray is taking as the NFL Combine nears. The Sooners’ quarterback/center fielder could have value no matter where he lands in April, but his earning potential will rise exponentially if he can work his way into a Day 1 pick. Players selected in the first round earn guaranteed four-year contracts, with a fifth-year team option that constitutes a significant raise built in as well. In 2018, Lamar Jackson, the 32nd and final pick of the first round, signed a deal worth a guaranteed $7.57 million — nearly $3m more than Murray’s signing bonus in Oakland. The appeal of more guaranteed money and the chance to eschew several years spent toiling in the minor leagues makes this a worthwhile risk for the NCAA’s fastest rising passer. But will he earn a first-round grade and the perks that come with it? SB Nation’s draft expert Dan Kadar says yes, ...but it’s complicated. Pro: there’s never been a better time for a 5’10 passer in the NFL Murray’s biggest limitation is a 5’10, 195-pound frame that would make him the smallest quarterback in the league — an inch shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Russell Wilson. But Wilson answered all the questions that dropped him to the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft with aplomb, proving a smaller quarterback with the ability to extend plays and fire lasers downfield can be a Super Bowl champion and a perennial (if overlooked) MVP candidate. Wilson’s example helps, but the key factor that will make franchises forgive his relatively slight stature is a rocket arm that completed nearly 70 percent of his passes at Oklahoma while averaging a wildly efficient 11.9 yards per attempt. As 2019’s conference championship games show, this is no longer an NFL where a caretaker quarterback can make a run through the postseason with a dominant supporting cast. True contenders need a quarterback who can make plays, and that description fits Murray to a T, regardless of size. Con: Will NFL teams trust him to be a durable starter? There are some short quarterbacks in the NFL who have found success. Russell Wilson, Baker Mayfield, and Drew Brees have all shown you don’t need to be 6’5 to light up a secondary. But Murray is pushing it at 5’10, 195 pounds. And that’s just his listed size, according to Oklahoma. What if he attends the NFL Combine in February and teams find out he’s even smaller than that? Oklahoma’s information director Mike Houck says it probably won’t be too drastic of a difference, though. Keep hearing TV talking heads question the 5-10 height at which we list Kyler. Have heard a couple even say they think he's more like 5-8. Before the season, our strength staff measured him at 5-9 7/8 in socks.— Mike Houck (@mhouckOU) January 14, 2019 He played behind the Oklahoma offensive line — the collective winner of the Joe Murray Award recognizing the nation’s best college offensive line — which allowed 19 sacks in 14 games this season. Aside from the fact that he’ll have to scan the field over NFL offensive linemen, he’ll have to survive game after game of getting hit by NFL defensive linemen in a way he never came close to getting hit at Oklahoma. And while Wilson, Mayfield, and Brees have proven durable, Brees is the lightest at 209 pounds. He’s also a pocket passer, while Murray’s rushing ability is a bigger part of his game than any of those other sub-6’ quarterbacks. Hoping he’ll be healthy for 16 games is quite the roll of a dice for a team looking to invest a first-round pick in a transformative quarterback. Pro: Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes have paved a path for Murray Electric quarterback play has never been more important in the NFL. The success of college standouts like Mahomes and Mayfield have served as proof Air Raid-style passers can not only make the transition to the NFL, but also bring some of that wide-open spacing and distribution to the next level. Murray’s quick-twitch athleticism gives him the ability to escape pressure in the pocket without losing his feet. His fluid hips allow him to make throws on the run or across his body without losing vital arm strength. In a season where Mahomes used both those traits to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a likely MVP campaign, Murray’s talents are sure to be properly valued. But nothing suggests future success for the young passer more than Mayfield’s emergence in Cleveland. Like Murray, Mayfield won a Heisman Trophy and led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff. And after a slow start to his pro career, he teamed up with interim offensive coordinator (and now current Browns head coach) Freddie Kitchens to rise from backup quarterback to potential Offensive Rookie of the Year. Kitchens earned his spot on the Cleveland sideline by catering to Mayfield’s strengths, installing a wide-open offense that encouraged the dynamic quarterback to freestyle as needed and hit as many targets as he could rather than key in on top options like Jarvis Landry or ... Jarvis Landry (former OC Todd Haley’s playbook was pretty rigid). The Browns didn’t become a carbon copy of the Sooner offense, but a subtle tweak was all it took to unlock Mayfield’s potential and give him a 106.2 passer rating under Kitchens despite a barren depth chart at wideout. While Murray and Mayfield are different quarterbacks, it’s tough not to look at Cleveland’s success and think of all the lessons another needy franchise could steal and then apply to the Sooners’ latest Heisman winner. Con: Murray has only one (1) season as a starting quarterback under his belt Murray began his collegiate career at Texas A&M where he split time as a freshmen with Kyle Allen. He saw time in eight games — often in a rotational role — but finished the year with five touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He transferred to Oklahoma and sat behind Baker Mayfield until he took over the reins in 2018. His one season at the helm was fantastic, but now he enters the NFL Draft without much experience. The list of one-year collegiate starters to land in the first round is small. There’s Cam Newton as a success story, but there’s also infamous bust Akili Smith. The jury is still out on Mitchell Trubisky, but former one-year starters Mark Sanchez and Ryan Tannehill didn’t work out too well. Add on top of that the fact that Murray played in an offensive system and a conference that have historically struggled to produce NFL talent, and there are plenty of red flags. The best case scenario is that Murray lands in a situation where he isn’t asked to play immediately and he can take time to learn NFL coverages and adapt to the speed difference. But when was the last time that happened? The 2018 NFL Draft class had a few green quarterbacks — looking at you Josh Allen and Sam Darnold — but by the time the season was over, all five rookies taken in the first round were their teams’ respective starters. Is Murray ready to lead a team in 2019? Luckily for Murray, the other top quarterback class, Dwayne Haskins, is going to face the same questions. Haskins comes with a little more polish, though. Pro: Mitchell Trubisky only had one (1) season as a starting quarterback in college, still turned out OK And Trubisky never had the kind of impact Murray did — though comparing Oklahoma football to North Carolina football is like comparing apples and embarrassing football programs. Con: Baseball is always going to be there Kyler Murray could tell every NFL team that he hates baseball and that he never wants to see a baseball again. He did the right thing and did exactly that in the middle of February. pic.twitter.com/kGePeWhrId— Kyler Murray (@TheKylerMurray) February 11, 2019 But the NFL knows. They all know that if the NFL doesn’t work out, he could go try his luck as a centerfielder with the Oakland A’s. That shouldn’t matter to an NFL team. If he ends up being the player they think he is, why would he leave the sport? If he’s worth a first-round pick, he’d get a huge second contract that makes his football career worthwhile. But there are other quarterbacks in the NFL Draft who don’t have other options. If things go south, they’ve got no choice but to double up the practice time, hit the books, and get better at this football thing. Murray could always leave. Pro: Running quarterbacks are more valuable than ever Lamar Jackson, another former Heisman winner, carried the Ravens to the postseason on a 5-1 season-ending hot streak in which he averaged 17 carries and 79 rushing yards per game. Any concerns about his accuracy or adapting to the speed of NFL secondaries was brushed aside by a running game that kept opposing defenses off balance and dragged safeties close enough to the line of scrimmage to allow the Ravens to take their shots downfield — Jackson’s 12.1 yards per reception were a full 1.5 yards more than Joe Flacco’s in 2018. Jackson isn’t the only quarterback to bolster an iffy passing game with a dynamic ground attack. Rookie Josh Allen carried the Bills to upset wins over the Vikings, Jaguars, and Dolphins behind five rushing touchdowns. Marcus Mariota kept the Titans afloat by running for career highs in both yards and carries. Trubisky averaged five runs per game while gaining more than six yards per carry. Cam Newton continued to do Cam Newton things — you get the idea. The read option remains a key part of NFL offenses, and that’s an area where Murray, who ran for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018, can thrive. It’s just a matter of matching him with the right enterprising coordinator. Con: NFL teams are dumb This isn’t Murray’s fault. But it certainly won’t help him. You can point to his 42 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing touchdowns during the 2018 season as evidence that he’s electric. Since when did that matter to NFL teams, though? Lamar Jackson scored a bajillion touchdowns at Louisville and he barely got a spot in the first round. He was picked a full 25 spots behind Josh Allen, who completed only 56.3 percent of his passes in his final season at Wyoming and just flat-out wasn’t really a good college football player. Deshaun Watson led Clemson to a national championship over Alabama to finish a ridiculously great college career. For some reason, that landed him 10 spots below Mitchell Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft. You watched Murray run circles around defenses in his junior year. An NFL team will watch Duke’s 6’5 quarterback Daniel Jones throw a ball at his pro day and decide they can turn him into Peyton Manning. Don’t trust the NFL to care that Murray made sweet football magic at Oklahoma.