By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Last June, Kyler Murray was selected by the Oakland A’s with the ninth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. He may have been picked higher except for one little wrinkle: After backing up Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Murray was slated to be the Sooners’ 2018 starting quarterback.
This football thing didn’t end up where it seemed headed last summer. Murray, who played sparingly as a freshman at Texas A&M in 2015, sat out 2016 after transferring to Oklahoma and saw only spot duty in relief of Mayfield in 2017, entered last season as a talented but unknown commodity. The likely scenario: he would have a nice season while running head coach Lincoln Riley’s potent Sooners offense. As for the A’s, the only real risk seemed to be an injury on the gridiron.
By season’s end, Murray’s resume included nearly 4,400 yards passing, over 1,000 yards rushing, 54 touchdowns (passing and rushing), a Big 12 championship, a berth in the College Football Playoff and a Heisman Trophy - a “nice” year indeed. More accurate descriptions include “amazing”, “transformational”, “unbelievable” and “generational” – pick one, they all fit.
Murray’s performance created a dilemma – stick with the A’s and baseball or jump to the NFL. Murray recently chose the latter and will enter the 2019 NFL Draft. He is projected as a top-15 pick. A no-brainer, then? Hardly. Murray’s transition to the NFL will involve all the normal challenges as well as the negative perceptions of fault-finders.
At just 5’10” tall and under 200lbs, Murray lacks prototypical NFL quarterback measurables. The issue of Murray’s size is further compounded by his athleticism and willingness to scramble; Riley, his former coach, called him Barry Sanders at quarterback. It’s an alluring skill-set, but as Washington fans know, there is great consequence to a slight franchise quarterback running through NFL defenses.
It will matter little on draft day. Murray is the most fascinating prospect in the draft and quality quarterbacks are in short supply; an early first round pick he will be.
Regardless of Murry’s ultimate destination, I’m already a fan. Not because I have an affinity for Sooners football or even Murray himself; rather my affection is based solely in the fact that Murray is so unorthodox. The NFL likes its quarterbacks to be at least 6’2”, have a cannon arm and possess just enough athleticism to extend plays. Having played only football since age 10 and only quarterback since age 14 is desired. And why not? Games are won by big quarterbacks, utilizing precision footwork and throwing mechanics, delivering throws mostly from the pocket.
That is conventional wisdom.
Murray can probably do stereotypical quarterback things, but he’ll never be 6’5”, he’ll routinely use his legs and his mechanics will include a dash of baseball flavor, as needed. Every time he takes a snap in the NFL, coaches will question what thought they knew and fans will doubt the promulgated (and stale and unimaginative) “franchise quarterback” profile.
And I love it. I love that Murray played multiple sports and that he confronted his body and mind with diverse endeavors. I love that he will challenge NFL organizations to think differently and to recognize and adapt to the game’s evolution.
Murray’s not the first quarterback to put the NFL’s groupthink on tilt. Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes are others with baseball backgrounds. Wilson, at 5’11”, shares a similar vertical challenge. And league-wide mobility at the quarterback position might be at its highest ever. Still, Murray’s specific profile – his overall size, athleticism and multi-sport background – still qualifies for unicorn status.
But that’s just the football side of Murray’s story; his NFL journey carries broader relevance. Murray will play for everyone who has ever been doubted or outright dismissed for being too much of one thing or too little of another. Be it because of race, gender, age or some other baseless or blatantly unjust qualification, Murray will play for those who didn’t fit a pre-cast mold and succeeded anyway.
I’m rooting for him. How could anyone root against him?