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NFL

Kyler Murray: Not your average “running quarterback”

 (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) 

On my commute to work, I’ll often listen to sports podcasts or clips from shows to make the time pass quickly. Colin Cowherd is one that comes into the rotation fairly often. I find myself disagreeing with him very often, but at least he’s entertaining.

However, in a career full of hot takes, one recent take of Colin’s stood out to me in particular.

If you don’t feel like watching the 4 minute video, the basic takeaway is this: “Kyler Murray won’t be the future because he’s a running quarterback, and running quarterbacks are never successful”.

OK Colin.

Let me preface what I’m about to say by saying that I’m a big Oklahoma Sooners fan, so maybe there is some latent bias. However, this means that I’ve also happened to watch plenty of Kyler Murray footage in his lone season as a starter, and argue that this is one of Colin’s downright laziest takes that I’ve ever seen.

It’s true, Kyler Murray can run the football better than most quarterbacks, having rushed for 1001 yards and 12 TD’s last year.  

However, one glance at last season’s statistics demonstrate that Kyler Murray also happens to be a gifted passer of the football. In his lone season as a starter at Oklahoma, Murray threw for 4361 yards, had a 42:7 TD:INT ratio and completed 69% of his passes en route to the Heisman Trophy. These numbers are comparable to those of previous Oklahoma quarterback and another former Heisman winner in Baker Mayfield, who threw for 4627 yards, with a 43:6 TD:INT ratio and a 70% completion rate. Those numbers are elite.

Are those numbers potentially boosted because defences need to respect Murray’s ability to run? Sure. But this isn’t a Lamar Jackson situation, where we have an elite athlete that needs to do some serious work on his throwing mechanics. I believe that he has a special arm. After all, this is a man who was drafted in the first round of the MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics in large part to his elite arm.

The folks at Pro Football Focus seem to agree with me. According to their metrics, Kyler Murray generated a positively graded throw on 40% of his dropbacks, an astronomically high number that far exceeds that of any quarterback in each of the past two draft classes with the exception of the aforementioned Baker Mayfield.

The Arizona Cardinals had a dreadful offensive line last year, and that’s a fact that naysayers love to bring up as a possible reason that Kyler Murray will struggle in the NFL. However, at the collegiate level, Murray also happened to be an outstanding passer while under pressure. He was pressured on 23% of dropbacks last season, and on pressured drop backs, happened to lead the entire nation in passer rating (103.3) as well as adjusted completion rate (76.5%).

Kyler Murray passes the eye test as well. Sure, the Big 12 isn’t exactly the SEC, but he was unstoppable against most teams that stood in his way throughout the season. He even performed admirably against Alabama in the CFP semi final. He got hit often and hard, getting sacked 3 times, and getting his world rocked by fellow top 5 pick Quinnen Willaims on one particular play.

He started the game very slowly and sloppily, nobody can deny that. However, the composure Murray showed in overcoming a 21-0 deficit with close to the worst defence in college football behind him was nothing short of remarkable. The highlight of the comeback attempt was a 49 yard strike to Charleston Rambo while on the move, a throw that kept them alive late in the third period. Most NFL quarterbacks would struggle to complete that throw, let alone a college quarterback playing the biggest game of his life.

If you have a spare 20 minutes, here is Kyler’s tape from the Alabama game. The end result was less efficient than you’d usually expect – 19/37 passes completed. However, Murray wound up throwing for 308 yards with 2 touchdowns, and running for 109 yards with 1 touchdown. Most importantly, he gave his team an outside shot at an all time great comeback against a far superior opponent.

At the time of writing this, we’ve had one look at Kyler Murray in live game action – week one of the NFL preseason. One drive to be specific, with that drive starting on his own two yard line. All Murray did was go 6 for 7 on passes for 44 yards (and his one “incompletion” came when a receiver stepped out of bounds for a penalty on the catch). 

Sure, the drive ended with a penalty and a sack, but for the most part, he looked poised, eluded pressure in the pocket like a seasoned veteran, and showed the ability to throw accurately while on the move.

He did this without running the ball once, which I’m sure was a tactic by the Cardinals coaching staff to protect him from taking unnecessary punishment in a meaningless game. The threat of the run in game situations will certainly open up passing lanes that most traditional pocket passing quarterbacks necessarily won’t get, but I believe that Murray has the arm talent to be wildly successful even if he’s asked to be more of a pocket passer.

I don’t see him as a “running quarterback”, but rather a quarterback who can run if needed; a quarterback who won’t need to rely on his legs to be successful. If anything, he has a lot in common with a quarterback like Russell Wilson. They’re both undersized, uber athletic, deadly accurate, strong armed and know how to keep their eyes downfield. The fact that Colin only sees the elite speed while discounting everything else that makes Kyler Murray a potentially great quarterback, is lazy analysis.