As NFL scouting combine looms, Kyler Murray will face plenty of tough questions
When the NFL world descends upon Indianapolis next week for the annual scouting combine, the buzz and intrigue surrounding Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray will reach a feverish pitch.
The Heisman Trophy winner has had the spotlight squarely trained on him this winter because so rarely do we encounter an athlete with game-changing potential in two professional sports. Already an MLB first-round pick last summer (No. 9 overall to Oakland), Murray could now rank among the first wave of quarterbacks taken in April's NFL draft. But in part due to that versatility, he faces more questions than many combine prospects.
Murray had to decide whether to pursue baseball or football because the Athletics reported for spring training last week, and the combine – a football player’s most important job interview opportunity – takes place next week. Last Monday, he announced that he is "firmly and fully committing (his) life to becoming an NFL quarterback."
For now, NFL talent evaluators remain divided on Murray. Some of their questions have to do with baseball, but some center on his measurables and ability to transition to the faster, more physical pro game.
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There’s no denying Murray has great ability at the position, several NFL talent evaluators all agreed when asked by USA TODAY Sports to break down the quarterback’s game. The men spoke on the condition of anonymity because they didn’t want to comment publicly on a player in the draft or risk revealing teams' draft plans.
Murray's resume speaks for itself: 4,361 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, with another 1,001 rushing yards and 12 scores on the ground. He boasted a 12-2 record as Oklahoma’s starter in 2018 and completed 69 percent of his passes, averaging an NCAA-best 11.6 yards per attempt with a passer rating of 199.2. He also averaged 7.2 yards per carry and was sacked only 18 times in 377 dropbacks.
“He can make every throw,” one talent evaluator told USA TODAY Sports. “No effort throwing any pass, with excellent technique and mechanics. Very natural.”
An official from another team described Murray’s mobility as “Russell Wilson escapability” and agreed that he has one of the best arms in the draft.
One AFC scout called Murray “an athletic, game-changing talent and accurate passer.”
All three believe Murray has the physical tools to thrive in the NFL and predict success for him if he winds up with a creative offensive coordinator and a team that offers the backing of a strong defense.
However, others worry about his size and await this next week’s measurement portion of the combine. Murray was listed by Oklahoma as 5-10 and 195 pounds, but some scouts believe he’s closer to 5-8 and 185. By comparison, Wilson is an undersized passer at 5-11, but he’s a sturdy 215 pounds. Baker Mayfield – Murray’s predecessor at Oklahoma – is slightly taller than 6 feet, but he also weighs 215 pounds.
A lack of bulk could put Murray’s health at risk. To protect and aid him, an NFL team will have to implement a variety of creative tactics.
“He’s got to have the right offensive coordinator,” one NFC team’s draft consultant explained.
Added an AFC evaluator, “You can’t just run your traditional dropback stuff because he’ll struggle to see over the line. You’ve got to move him around so he can see and to protect him.”
But another scout has confidence that Murray’s skills will translate because the team that drafts him will do so with the understanding that adaptability is paramount.
“The NFL is evolving,” he said. “Teams are finding ways to use the mobile or undersized quarterback – Mayfield, Wilson. There are a lot of college concepts in the pro game now.”
Murray’s build might prompt some teams not to consider him. Others will give him the benefit of a doubt. But every talent evaluator who spoke to USA TODAY Sports agreed that the baseball option looms large, even though Murray professed his commitment to football.
As one NFC front office member mentioned, baseball will always be there, and that risk scares teams.
The more immediate payoff offered by football – particularly if Murray is taken in the first round – is much more attractive than what he would receive as a minor league player who must grind it out and travel through small towns.
But multiple NFL team officials wonder: What if Murray struggles in the first year or two?
“There’s nothing keeping him from walking away from football at any time,” one reiterated.
Murray will field plenty of questions on his plans and be presented with various scenarios as teams try to gauge his resolve for pursuing football.
“If it was me, I might tell him, ‘I’m drafting you, but you’re sitting for the first two years because we have a quarterback,’ ” one AFC official explained. “See how he responds to that, what he says, watch his body language.”
Murray’s answers could satisfy some teams, but others expressed doubt to USA TODAY Sports that there is anything he could say to give them enough confidence to pull the trigger on him as a first- or second-round pick.
General managers think about both the short- and long-term picture, as well as their job security. Some would take the risk, but others would rather pass on the gamble of drafting an undersized quarterback with baseball still in his back pocket.
When it comes to first-round quarterbacks, many general managers are looking for layups and not a deep 3-pointer. To some, the latter is what Murray represents.
But others believe Murray has the physical skills and the intangibles to change perceptions on quarterbacks. If that’s the case, Murray’s first step to doing so begins next week.
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
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