The pre-draft series on the quarterback position concludes at the top of the board, with a look at Kyler Murray. The Heisman Trophy winner might not be available past the first selection, but should he fall to a spot where the New York Giants are on the clock, what would - or could - they be getting in this quarterback prospect?
In addition, since this is the final piece in the series, we will recap the 10 quarterbacks evaluated with a quick discussion and ranking of them at the end of this scouting profile.
Sports history could be made on Thursday night, if Murray hears his name called in the first round of the NFL draft. Should that happen the dual sport phenom would become the first athlete in history to be selected in the first round of both the MLB and the NFL drafts.
A few years ago this might have seemed outside the realm of possibility. Murray was an incredible two-sport athlete at Allen High School in Allen, Texas, a middle infielder on the baseball team and the starting quarterback for the football team. While in high school he lead Allen high to an unbeaten 42-0 record and three straight state titles. As a baseball player, he was good enough to be selected for the Under Armour All-American Baseball Game (and given his selection to the UA All-American Football Game, he became the first in history to earn both invitations) and was also considered a top prospect for the 2015 MLB Draft. But when Murray turned that down to enroll at Texas A&M to play both sports, it put a bit of a damper on those MLB thoughts.
As a freshman, Murray initially lost a competition with Kyle Allen for the starting quarterback spot, and appeared sparingly, mostly in Wildcat formations. But when Allen struggled Murray wrestled the job away from him, and took over as the starter. Appearing in eight games, Murray completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 686 yards and five touchdowns, throwing seven interceptions along the way. Despite his playing time, he announced his decision to transfer to Oklahoma in December of 2015 and was forced under NCAA rules to sit out the 2016 season.
Eligible to play in 2017, Murray found himself behind Baker Mayfield on the depth chart as the future Brown played his final collegiate season. Despite backing up a Heisman Trophy winner, Murray appeared in 14 contests and even made a start against West Virginia, when Mayfield was suspended to start the game due to a disciplinary incident the week prior against Kansas. All told, Murray completed 85.7 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions in his sporatic playing time.
When Mayfield left Norman for Cleveland, Murray ascended to the starting spot. He certainly made the most of his one year as a starter for the Sooners. Murray completed 69 percent of his passes for 42 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, for a quarterback rating of 199.2 and a whopping yards per attempt of 11.6. He also added 1,001 yards on 140 carries and 12 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 7.2 yards per carry. Those exploits earned him the Heisman, making it two years in a row an Oklahoma QB took home the hardware.
However, his future in the NFL remained uncertain thanks to his endeavors on the diamond. While at Oklahoma Murray moved to the outfield, and appeared in 27 games in the 2017 season as a left fielder, batting .122 and knocking in six runs. But he rebounded in the 2018 campaign, moving to center field and batting .296 with ten home runs, 47 RBIs and ten stolen bases. That was enough for the Oakland A’s, who selected Murray with the ninth overall selection of the 2018 MLB draft. While his junior year on the gridiron ended with him hoisting the Heisman, it seemed his future would be in the majors.
But with some big-time football hardware on his shelf and facing the prospects of a weaker quarterback class, Murray made the decision to enter the NFL draft back in January. When he measured in at just over 5’10” and over 200 pounds at the Scouting Combine, it was enough to move him into the first round debate. That, coupled with the recent hire of Kliff Kingsbury by the Arizona Cardinals (who recruited Murray while at Texas Tech), moved him even higher in the conversation, to where we sit on the eve of the draft expecting him to be the first player selected.
Many would start with Murray’s athleticism and escapism when listing his strengths as a passer, and we can get there in a moment. But for me his arm talent makes him a special prospect in this class. Yes, Tyree Jackson’s arm is impressive in how he can generate velocity. Yes, Drew Lock can also create some easy velocity as well, even with unsettled footwork at times. Yes, Will Grier and Brett Rypien showed the fastball in Indianapolis, but while I like both of those players we take those numbers with a grain of salt. But there is more to arm talent than velocity alone. When you study Murray you see the complete package when it comes to throwing the football: Velocity, touch, feel, placement, and you see it to all levels of the field.
These throws are prime examples of what Murray can do with his arm:
You were probably expecting his long touchdown pass against Alabama in the playoffs. Fear not gentle reader, we will get to that play. But on these two plays Murray flashes impressive arm talent. On the first play he works through multiple reads before throwing a seam route into the end zone, which he delivers with a perfect mix of velocity and placement, dropping the throw in over the defender but before the back line of the end zone. On the second, Murray uncorks a deep ball that covers 40+ yards on the fly, but drops it in while rolling to the right and places it perfectly along the right sideline.
Okay, here’s that play you were waiting for:
That’s just an insane throw, coming from a full sprint toward the line of scrimmage before releasing this downfield.
But this is the beauty of a player like Murray. His ability to make throws from any platform, with any base or set of footwork or, even here, with his feet basically off the ground as he releases the ball, is a thing of beauty. It stems in large part from his background as a baseball player, and being asked to release throws from anywhere on the diamond. Murray, who was a middle infielder in high school before moving to the outfield for the Oklahoma Sooners, has that Patrick Mahomes-esque ability to draw upon a baseball background to throw from any stance or while moving in any direction.
On the football field, that translates to plays like this. When Murray is forced off his spot in the pocket, he still has the ability to make incredible throws with his feet moving, or as in this case, with his feet off the ground. From escaping the pocket to creating outside of it, Murray’s feet will serve him well in the NFL.
Now we can start where many others begin with him. Murray’s athleticism and ability to create with his legs is another reason he’s looked at for the first overall selection. He is a true angle eraser, with the ability to make defenders miss at all levels of the field.
On this touchdown run against Army, Murray makes multiple defenders miss despite them having the angle on him in the open field:
Even better for Murray, when you study him on film you can see how he has already learned to protect himself. Often he will slide or step out of bounds early in plays, giving up the chance to pick up additional yardage in exchange for avoiding hits in space or along the boundary. While his frame might remain a concern for some, his penchant for protecting himself has me believing in his ability to play in the league and avoid injury.
This was covered in part when discussing Murray and his arm talent, but in terms of using the appropriate amount of touch and identifying the right trajectory on his throws, the Oklahoma product stands out here as well. If there is a drawback to this ability, sometimes Murray relies on touch too much. For example, on a red zone slant route against TCU he tried to throw the ball with touch over the defender, rather than dialing up a fastball. But overall, his understanding of touch and feel is impressive, and is on display on throws like this:
The corner route is among the toughest to throw in football because as a quarterback you face in essence three defenders, as Murray does here: The cornerback, the safety and the boundary. You need to show precision with the throw to get it over the CB, outside of the S, but drop it in so the receiver can complete the play before falling out of bounds. Murray’s precision and touch here against Iowa State is perfect.
Murray’s ability outside of the pocket is to be commended, but he does not get the credit he deserves as a passer from the spot. His ability to work through reads and make anticipation throws, including between the numbers and between the hashmarks, is impressive as well. On this play against Iowa State, Oklahoma runs a Mesh Sit design, and Murray makes a perfectly timed throw on the sit route over the top of the crossers when he identifies the zone coverage:
The Sooners run the Mesh concept but pair it with a sit/seam combination over the top. Once he identifies the zone coverage, Murray comes off the crossing routes and comes to the combination deeper down the field. He then makes a perfect anticipation throw to the sit, attacking the zone coverage and delivering on a solid play. Murray’s familiarity with this design, as well as his ability to make anticipation throws from the pocket, make this a great concept for him.
Let’s close this out with what is another huge plus for him: His ability to just make plays. What Murray can do with the football in his hands, in either scramble drill situations or as a runner, is what you cannot teach as a coach. His ability to extend plays, to evade and escape in the pocket, and turn potential big losses into huge gains will serve him very well in the NFL. Take, for example, this play against TCU:
Murray faces an inside stunt here from the Horned Frogs, and while that is picked up, there is backside edge pressure which he feels well and as a result slides to his right. From the athleticism he displays to outrun the pressure, to the ability to keep his eyes downfield, to the touch throw he makes on the move along the boundary, this is a perfect play. This is what he can do to create outside pocket in the passing game while using his athleticism, and if he indeed ends up with the Arizona Cardinals, a team that might be rebuilding their offensive line, this will help him deliver as the OL gels in front of him.
Many could point to Murray’s size out of the gate, and raise the issue of betting on an outlier. Again, I will zig when the rest of the world zags and look at another issue with him: The idea of results over process.
Traditionally, when studying quarterback evaluators view the player through a “process” prism. The reads, the decisions, the processing speed are all put under the microscope and the result of the play is not what matters, but the process the quarterback makes getting to his ultimate decision. Is that kind of process repeatable? Was it the right decision given the situation, the coverage, the route concept, and all of the applicable context. It’s a “show your work” kind of scale. Yes, we want the player to arrive at the right answer on each play, but was the process that led to the moment the right one?
Again, that is the traditional method of evaluating a quarterback. Taking the results out of the equation and looking at the process. If teams adhere that kind of philosophy, Dwayne Haskins might be atop their boards. As we saw with Haskins, his process is generally sound. From where I sit, those are the types of players I prefer.
And yet, Murray might force us to take a different approach.
Take that play against Army, the touchdown run. Let’s watch that play again:
Murray makes multiple defenders miss in the open field here, and it goes for a touchdown run. The results? Great on this play. But was the process? Murray has options in the passing game here, including the boundary curl route to the right sideline. He forgoes them and takes off with his legs, and the result is a touchdown. But was this the right decision? If the process is what matters, how do we grade this play? (For more on this play you can check out this video breakdown where I dive into the process or results question):
With Murray, how you grade him might come down to whether you agree he is a mold-breaker, a player where you discard the process and accept that the results work in his favor. But for some old-school types, giving up on the process issue might be a difficult part of the evaluation to part with.
There are other areas of concern with Murray. There is the size issue to discuss. When he measured in at the Combine just over 5-foot-10 and at 207 pounds, it moved him from a “Doug Flutie” outlier to a “Russell Wilson” outlier. Still an outlier, but at least one that has recent proof of success. Now, we’ve outlined how Murray does a good job at sacrificing yardage to protect himself, such as sliding or ducking out of bounds, so I am not as worried with him in terms of an injury concern. But an area that he will need to improve upon is finding passing lanes. While Murray made a great deal of throws from the pocket last year, he needs to do a better job at using his feet to create throwing lanes in the NFL. While he can do things like change his arm slot to fit throws around rushers, there were many examples of him staying on the spot in college and not doing enough with his feet to find a new lane. He’ll need to have both tools in his bag to create space in the NFL.
Another issue with Murray is manipulation. While he does a good job making throws from the pocket - including anticipation throws - he is not a natural manipulator of defenders. Part of this might be schematic, in that in Lincoln Riley’s offense there were fewer opportunities to truly move defenders with his eyes than, say, Rypien had in Boise State’s offense. So Murray will need to learn this in the NFL. Schematics might be the answer, incorporating designs that force Murray to move his eyes to different areas of the field while he learns and develops this trait.
Most would point to his play-making and athleticism as his strongest traits, but for me it comes back to his arm talent. His ability to combine touch, trajectory and appropriate velocity is tops in this class.
Besides the “process or results” question, Murray really needs to get better with his eyes. It is a work in process, and one he can develop, but all quarterbacks need to move defenders and get them out of position. It is a trait he needs to learn as he develops in the NFL.
Schematically, Murray looks to fit best in an offense that is rooted in Air Raid concepts and run out of spread designs, very similar to what he was running this past year in college. For example, an offense similar to what the Philadelphia Eagles have been running the past few years would make sense given his play style.
But Murray’s traits do translate to a bunch of different offensive systems. A play-action heavy system, looking to establish the run and then hit on schemed shot plays downfield, would be a fairly easy transition for Murray. Given his arm talent and ability to make touch throws in the vertical passing game, Murray could operate in that kind of offense. If the Giants, as we expect, are looking to build around the running game and play-action passing, Murray could be the trigger man in such a system.
It is difficult to bet on an outlier, and sometimes that leaves you on the very tip of a shaking branch. But Murray’s combination of traits make this seem like a much safer bet than with some outliers of the past. For example, a few years back Vernon Adams was a hot name in the draft community, but he ended up going undrafted and has been in the CFL for the past few seasons.
What is working in Murray’s favor is two-fold. First, he is a much more complete quarterback prospect than previous outliers (especially Adams) and his combination of traits gives him the ability to operate in the NFL. Second, the league is trending in the direction of quarterbacks with Murray’s background and skill set, and away from the traditional pocket passers like Haskins.
Murray’s athleticism and arm talent put him in position to play immediately, in an offense tailored to his abilities. If he lands in a spot and with coaches willing to cater to what he does, and not force him into an offense that might not be the best fit for him, he could live up to the Top 5 hype.
If you are banking on the trend towards a more wide-open game, Murray might just be the kind of quarterback to build a new generation offense around. His arm talent, athleticism, play-making ability and yes, his experience from the pocket are a perfect combination of traits for the new age NFL.
Top 10 QBs
Now that we have covered the Top 10 quarterbacks here at BBV, let’s close out this series with a quick ranking of the ten players. Bear in mind, these are my rankings, done in a vacuum and not tailored specifically to the Giants.
1. Kyler Murray - As we have just discussed, his blend of traits are prefect for the direction the league is trending. With some refinement and in the right spot, he could flourish as a pro.
2. Dwayne Haskins - Your prototypical pocket passer, Haskins has the mental approach, pre-snap ability and competitive toughness boxes checked. For a team that might value an old school throwback of a passer, Haskins might be their man.
3. Drew Lock - Arm talent moves the needle, and Lock checks that box rather definitively. A four-year starter who improved his team each year while on campus, Lock has enough to like that merits an early selection. He will need to refine some mechanical issues and get faster with his reads, but he could develop nicely in the right setting.
4. Brett Rypien - Yes, I insist on dying on Rypien Hill. I believe he is the refined, veteran quarterback that does all the small things incredibly well, which makes him a bit of a rarity in today’s draft process. The league probably does not share that opinion, and I remain fascinated to see where he gets drafted, if at all.
5. Will Grier - Appropriate aggression is Grier’s calling card as a passer. He will make throws that look risky or forced, but there is always a method to the madness. He will need to clean up some mechanical inconsistencies, and learn ball security as well as avoiding assumptions in the post-snap phase, but there are reasons he’s getting some late first round buzz as we approach the draft.
6. Daniel Jones - Another player where my opinion differs wildly from the league. I consider Jones a schematically-limited quarterback who is more of a Day Two selection. He might come off the board as early as third overall. He can work in a West Coast/quick strike offense, but there are very few pure West Coast systems left in today’s NFL. Oh, it just so happens that the Oakland Raiders are one such team.
7. Jarrett Stidham - An enigma in this class. What player are you getting? The player who seemed miscast in Auburn’s offense? The player who turned in a very solid week down at the Senior Bowl? Given the traits he seems able to operate in a few different offenses, but it is hard to ignore some of what he showed on film while at Auburn.
8. Tyree Jackson - The raw, developmental type of prospect in this class with a ton of talent to work with. A huge arm, some impressive athleticism and incredible size to go with that package. The issue becomes, how often do the developmental passers get the chance - or more specifically, the number of reps - necessary to reach their potential?
9. Ryan Finley - I thought I was going to be high on Finley, but as the draft approaches we are hearing some legitimate first- or second-round buzz. He is another experienced passer, who sees the field very well and spun the ball a bit better than expected down in Mobile, but he might be more of a long-term backup than a true potential starter. Even so, that is worth something in today’s NFL where a team is just one twisted knee away from a lost season.
10. Gardner Minshew - From his footwork in the pocket to his ability to make full-field reads on a given play, Minshew is a better pocket passer than he is given credit for. He might face some schematic limitations, and his arm is a bit of a question mark in a downfield offense, but teams that run more Air Raid concepts would be wise to consider him on Day 3.