Leave it to now-former University of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner himself (even though I’ll die on the hill of “Tua Tagovailoa was more deserving of said award than Murray”), to take what looked like it could be a very unextraordinary, unsexy, and maybe even outright mundane 2019 NFL Draft, and turn everything on its proverbial head. So, should Kyler Murray be considered for the #1 Pick in the 2019 NFL Draft?
In any other year, Murray is much more of an afterthought. In any other year, we’d come to our senses and realize that Murray is nothing more than a slightly shorter Lamar Jackson or less mentally-unstable but stronger-armed Johnny Manziel, and we’re pushing Murray up draft boards after lazily comparing him to Baker Mayfield, just because they both played at a high level in Lincoln Riley’s offense and won the Heisman Trophy.
But the truth is that in this year’s draft class, the other top quarterback prospects — namely Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, and Daniel Jones — are about as exciting as a cardboard box. For quarterback-needy teams in the top half of this year’s NFL Draft, their high draft pick is the equivalent of giving them a $100,000 stipend to purchase a car, and forcing them to choose from an array of Toyota Corolla’s.
That’s why we’re spending so much time talking about Murray. Well, that and the fact that reports emerged at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine that new Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury was allegedly telling teams that the Cardinals taking Murray with the #1 overall pick was effectively a “done deal,” coupled with Kingsbury’s coach-speak-filled clip from a few years back, talking about how he would — completely hypothetically, mind you — take Murray with the top overall pick in the draft, if it was up to him.
Here’s the thing: it’s not up to him. You really think Cardinals’ General Manager Steve Keim, who has two decades of player personnel experience, is suddenly going to run around and let his coach make such franchise-altering draft decisions two months before the draft even takes place? Even in the scenario that such a decision was made, do you think Kingsbury is that loose-lipped that it would’ve come out so quickly and publicly? And how or why would Keim sign off on a move to acquire another quarterback using this precious resource, when the team sacrificed a bunch of resources to take a top quarterback prospect (Josh Rosen) just last year? If the Cardinals draft Murray, they’d almost certainly have to trade Rosen, which would lead to a whole host of salary cap ramifications, given the current structure of NFL rookie deals.
That’s why Arizona beat writers have speculated that the Cardinals have been interested in Ohio State University defensive end Nick Bona — the previously presumed #1 overall pick — while simply doing their “due diligence” on Murray. But any NFL executive worth his proverbial salt should see through such reporting bluster, and realize that the Cardinals are effectively subtweeting the rest of the league, telling them the #1 overall pick is up for grabs. The idea that Murray should already be looking at real estate in Scottsdale is about as accurate as everyone speculating at this time last year how the Cleveland Browns were going to take Josh Allen with the top overall pick last year.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that Murray-to-Arizona is a done deal. After all, a majority of personnel executives around the league and media types who covered the league walked out of the aforementioned Combine believing so. It’s entirely within the realm of possibilities that Cardinals’ President Michael Bidwill empowers the hot-shot young coach over the embattled, one-foot-out-the-door GM, and gives the former a familiar and sexy asset to rebuild the team with. You have to think someone like Bidwill, who’s constantly trying to fight the battle of keeping people’s interest on the Cardinals amidst the beautiful weather and so-many-other-things-to-do in Phoenix, would love the idea of being able to market Murray to this beleaguered fan base.
Would that really be the right move from a football perspective? Again, it’s downright negligent to give any credence to the idea that just because fellow Sooner Mayfield enjoyed success in the NFL, Murray will as well. Yes, they were both privy to the offensive innovation of Riley, but how much stock can we put into that? After all, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart won the Heisman Trophy two years apart, playing for the same school and under the same play caller (Norm Chow); you could say their NFL careers differed just a little bit.
And don’t forget that Mayfield was a 3-year starter at Oklahoma, and started 44 games at quarterback over his college career (including five games as a freshman at Texas Tech). By comparison, Murray started less than one-third that amount of games, and Mayfield threw almost as many attempts as a senior (404) as Murray did in his four years of college ball (448). That experience, and that number of repetitions matter.
There’s also the general “face of the franchise” element as well. For all of Mayfield’s flag-planting and crotch-grabbing antics, nearly everyone gushed about the way he handled himself in the pre-draft process, and the command he had over virtually any room into which he arrived. Even if he was seen as something of a prima donna by some, even fewer questioned his competitive fire or work ethic.
Are we sure we can say the same about Murray? At least in the scant few public interviews, he’s given to date, Murray has demonstrated as much charisma as a tire iron (his monotone responses — or lack thereof — turned his appearance on the Rich Eisen show into a complete debacle). That’s not even mentioning former NFL General Manager Charley Casserly — who’s admittedly lost his fastball in terms of being a reliable NFL “insider” — absolutely excoriating Murray, talking about how the impressions he left in interview sessions and whiteboard play design quizzes led to some of the worst feedback Casserly had ever received about a top quarterback prospect. While such statements seemed like a bit too much bluster even for sports opinions, it does seem like such feedback has corroboration.
Nobody denies that Murray is a special athlete. You can’t take that away from him. You don’t get drafted by a Major League Baseball team with a top 10 pick, and also strongly be considered for the top pick in the NFL Draft, if you weren’t that supreme of an athlete. But being an NFL quarterback, let alone a quarterback whom a largely moribund franchise is relying upon to resurrect them, is about so much more than being a great athlete. And we’re conveniently overlooking his lack of poise, production, and polish in college, and even the limitations of his athletic gifts (his lack of size and bulk) because it just doesn’t fit our narrative of whether he should be the #1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
But if the facts say one thing, and the narrative says another, maybe we’re just telling the wrong story, to begin with.