Why Kyler Murray is a Good Bet to Be an NFL Difference-Maker
Describing how an NFL prospect will play at the NFL level is almost impossible before we have a team and, more importantly, a coaching staff.
The offense itself informs a lot about the success a player can have -- think about how David Johnson was used creatively as a receiver under Bruce Arians, but not at all as Steve Wilks floundered in his one season as Cardinals head coach.
With that in mind, and greasing this with a bit of Cardinals talk as most of the buzz is heading toward this player being the No. 1 overall pick, Kyler Murray checks most of the boxes for an NFL franchise quarterback in 2019.
And even in spite of how some of his metrics are a bit inflated by the team around him helping create one of the best college offenses in NCAA history, he has a lot to offer a team:
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Fans of the team that drafts Murray as well as fans of NFL betting would like to know what they are getting. We’ll just use videos from the Alabama game to preempt complaints about the quality of Big 12 defenses. Fair? Fair.
Murray Can Throw Deep Ball To The Edges
The toughest throws for an NFL quarterback to hit are ones using the boundary of the field that go more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. Because NFL cornerbacks often have great position on those throws, they take a measure of recognition of the window and arm talent to hit the window on the sideline before it closes.
This throw in the second quarter of the Alabama game is something that Murray will make a killing on if he does it in the NFL:
It’s a corner route from the slot, the slot cornerback is in excellent trail position, and the ball is perfectly directed to where Ceedee Lamb can either box out the defender and make an over-the-shoulder catch or go backshoulder. Lamb chooses the back shoulder.
This is the kind of throw that is hard for an NFL team to defend. Yes, outside-on-outside throws are a bit harder, but Murray’s arm talent has that ability as well.
Murray’s Legs Can Add Value
Something that has changed a lot in just the 10 or so years since I’ve started covering football is the viability of what used to be called “off-script” plays by quarterbacks.
Cam Newton hit the NFL, the read-option became a staple of some NFL offenses, and the combination of third-and-short aims of modern coaching staffs with the need to spy a quarterback made it harder than ever to properly defend a quarterback who can make plays on the run.
Here’s Murray showing that off in the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl:
Raekwon Davis is able to get past the right guard here, forcing Murray to step up in the pocket. Traditional passers would be able to reset on this ball but would still be trying to find a hot read.
Murray’s ability to read that the slot corner would be carrying the slot receiver all the way up the field let him know that he had plenty of daylight. (He actually might have been able to step up and throw this deep, but the run is the easier, safer option.)
Murray Deals With Pressure in the Pocket Well At Times
So, this is Murray at his best, showing a top-level NFL trait. This is a defender right in the backfield, unblocked, and Murray doesn’t just step up and run like your traditional run-first quarterback would. He resets his eyes in the pocket, finds a man open deep, and hits him about 55 yards in stride:
Murray’s pocket presence is still a work in progress to me, but throws like this show a very high ceiling to his skill set. This is the kind of throw that only the best in the best in the NFL actually hit, and he did it almost without even breaking stride.
What Will Go Wrong Early On?
There will be learning experiences at times because NFL teams have deeper scouting reports and more invested in figuring out the situations where a quarterback will struggle.
Think about how Jared Goff was made to look like a scrub by the Patriots in the Super Bowl, because they completely threw him off of what he did best by changing his pre-snap reads.
Murray is not flawless, and I expect quick interior pressure and schemes that ask him to hit throws over the middle of the field (where defenders can lurk under his vision) to be effective against Murray in the short-term.
Who Murray Compares To
But over the long-term, the comparison I keep coming back to is Deshaun Watson. Murray has a better deep ball than Watson did coming out of Clemson, but Watson had more tape to make an evaluation on.
Murray’s game also reads as him being more willing to take a risk, though that could also be a difference in the systems that Watson and Murray played with in college.
For both quarterbacks, the intrinsic struggle in their games is figuring out the right amount of their creative ability off-script with the system they’re in. Murray can beat himself with his creativity if he gets too focused on it.
Why Murray Makes Sense at No. 1
Murray being in play for the No. 1 pick makes a lot of sense intuitively, and it’s kind of funny that it took as long as it did for NFL media folks to glom on to the idea.
But at the end of the day, it’s a symptom of a changing set of evaluations. Teams have seen Russell Wilson succeed. They know that they can give shorter quarterbacks more shotgun throws to improve their vision. They know Drew Brees isn’t an outlier.
In the mid-2000s, Dan Dierdorf was still around talking about how teams that run the ball 30 times win nearly all their games. When the media voices grew up with a different era of football and can’t keep up with the changes, we get an older interpretation of the reality in front of us.
There are teams who won’t take Murray with a high pick, but they are now the older interpretation. Murray can play and will be a worthwhile stab at a franchise quarterback.
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