Just like so many other American millennials, Kyler Murray prefers football to baseball. And on Monday, he made it official:
After months of speculation, the Heisman Trophy winner and former Oklahoma quarterback announced that he was committing himself fully to football, and in the process will forego a potential baseball career with the Oakland Athletics, who selected him ninth overall in the 2018 MLB draft. The A’s were prepared to pay Murray nearly $5 million in a signing bonus, but Murray is choosing the NFL instead. It’s the correct choice—Murray is better at football, he’ll make more money in the sport right away, and he’ll be a more relevant figure in the American sports landscape.
Murray enters the draft pool as one of the most interesting QBs in recent memory. He has just one year of starting experience, but is clearly a special talent—one who led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff last season and was crowned the sport’s best player. Murray will dominate the conversation around this NFL draft, and where he’s selected will reveal a lot about how teams evaluate nontraditional prospects in a league that is seemingly more aggressive and forward-thinking than ever.
One of the biggest factors working against Murray is his size. It’s not just that he doesn’t have a Josh Allen–type stature—Murray might break records for his lack of height. Oklahoma lists Murray at 5-foot-10, and there’s speculation that he’s even shorter than that. We’ll get an official measurement at the NFL combine, which begins on February 26, but should he see significant snaps in the pros, Murray would be the first quarterback at 5-foot-10 or under to do that since Doug Flutie.
Will his lack of height matter? In a previous NFL era, scouts would have hardly looked at Murray—no team has drafted a QB who was under 6 feet tall in the first round since the 1950s. But Russell Wilson (5-foot-11) and Drew Brees (6 feet) have shown that smaller QBs can play as well as anyone. Last season, Baker Mayfield (6-foot-1) overcame some height concerns to become the no. 1 overall pick, and he was far and away the best rookie passer in 2018. It’s been decades since Bill Walsh wrote that the ideal quarterback should be 6-foot-3. The NFL doesn’t put players in such rigid boxes anymore.
And like Wilson, Brees, and Mayfield, Murray can ball. He threw for 4,361 yards at Oklahoma last year, racking up 42 touchdowns to just seven interceptions on 11.6 yards per attempt. His 199.2 college passer rating this year is the second highest in history. And he has the best total QBR since at least 2004 (which is how far back the stat goes), edging out none other than Wilson. By every metric, Murray had one of the most efficient and productive seasons in college football history.
That record-setting 2018 does come with a few caveats, though. Mayfield put up similar numbers two seasons ago in Oklahoma, which raises the question of whether Murray’s productivity more about his extraordinary talent or the system he was in. Mayfield is shining in the pros right now, but he also had a very different career than Murray: Mayfield had three very good-to-awesome seasons in Norman and one solid year at Texas Tech as a freshman before he entered the NFL. Murray barely played until 2018, so teams will have far less tape with which to evaluate him. The chances that Mayfield’s entire college career was a fluke were relatively slim; Murray, on the other hand, is more of a risk.
Draft season is a hell of a lot more fun with Murray in the mix. Many NFL draftniks will have no idea what to make of him—many more will have strong opinions on either side of the debate. Right now, though, most mock drafts project him as a first-round pick, and he’s a candidate to go to the Raiders, Giants, Jaguars, Broncos, Dolphins, Redskins, Bengals, or even no. 1 overall to the Cardinals:
He could even go to the Patriots. Lord save us if that comes to pass.