Opinion: Kyler Murray might have won the NFL scouting combine without taking the field
INDIANAPOLIS – The microscope zeroed in more intensely on Kyler Murray this week. But as he navigated the NFL scouting combine, the Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner provided clarity.
Some of the most powerful men in NFL front offices peppered him with questions. Doctors poked, prodded and measured him. Reporters hurled more questions his way. Flash bulbs spotted his vision. Flood lights illuminated his form. Murray shined even brighter.
As a result, he just might have won the combine.
When he reported to the NFL’s annual job fair, Murray already was considered by many to be the most intriguing prospect in the draft due to his impressive resume, elite athleticism, and diminutive stature, not to mention his potential to become the first top-10 draft pick in two professional sports.
By the time the medical and psychological portions of his week concluded, Murray had seemingly raised his stock to the point where many teams now regard him as the top quarterback in this year’s draft, and multiple talent evaluators, speaking on condition of anonymity for competitive reasons, told USA TODAY Sports that he now could be the No. 1 overall pick.
That’s right. In a matter of days, Murray has gone from a middle-to-late-first-round projection to a virtual lock for the top 10, and maybe the most coveted player in the entire draft. What’s remarkable is Murray made that jump without throwing a single pass, or performing a single sprint, shuttle or jump.
Sure, general managers, scouts and coached would have loved to see Murray showcase his skills by participating in the 40-yard dash and all of the passing drills. But Murray revealed that he, his agent, coaches and family made a joint decision that he should bypass that portion of the combine experience and wait until his pro day on March 13 to perform testing and passing drills.
Some talent evaluators acknowledged disappointment with that decision when asked by USA TODAY Sports. Others said its’s not a big deal. But all agreed that the move didn’t cost Murray in any way. Teams already have plenty of film of his play, and they’ll get to see his workout in Norman.
So what did Murray actually do to help himself?
On Thursday, he measured 5-10 1/8 and weighed in at 207 pounds. Sure, that’s still far smaller than the average NFL quarterback. But some scouts had worried that Murray was as short as 5-8 and as light as 185 pounds. Instead, he's just half an inch shorter than Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who has proven himself capable of playing at a championship level despite limited height.
Murray likely won’t play at 207 pounds. His frame isn’t as thick as that of Wilson, who entered the league as a 205-pound rookie and now is estimated to play at somewhere between 215 and 220. But with his dazzling speed and athleticism, he has the elusiveness, instincts and internal clock to avoid big hits, talent evaluators say.
After the measurements eased some apprehensions, Murray took care of the rest with in his private interviews with teams.
He met with one group of decision-makers after another. He looked each man in the eye and answered questions with great confidence, officials from multiple teams told USA TODAY Sports.
Most teams wondered how convincing Murray would be when it came to his decision to choose football over baseball after the Oakland Athletics drafted him ninth overall last summer. But he displayed no hesitation when he professed his commitment to becoming a quarterback, according to team officials.
Asked about the matter Friday afternoon, Murray told reporters, “I’m here. I’m ready to go. I was born a football player. I love this game. There’s no turning back. When I made this decision, I’m 100 percent in.”
That’s basically exactly what he told teams, and Murray said that’s all they needed to hear.
Murray conveyed a determination that suggests he can work through adversity as he adapts to the NFL. He carried himself with a confidence that enabled teams to envision him as a strong leader. He may not be a rah-rah type or a trash-talker like his Oklahoma predecessor, Cleveland Browns quarterback and 2018 No 1. overall pick Baker Mayfield. But Murray has his own self-assured leadership style and grit that impressed teams.
Murray may make things look easy on the baseball diamond or football field. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t encountered hardship. On Thursday, he said, “baseball, it’s a game of failure and it’s a lesson that’s helped me learn a lot … just learning to have patience and coming back from adversity.” And he definitely looks at his first college football season before his transfer to Oklahoma as adversity-filled. But he learned from that as well and says the experience also helped define him.
“I’ve never questioned myself. Have I struggled? Yes,” he said at his press conference. “My freshman year at Texas A&M wasn’t as successful, being the No. 1 quarterback coming out of high school, expecting to play now, and I did but obviously, I failed a little bit, but everything happens for a reason. I think I needed that to grow on and off the field and going to OU was the best thing that ever happened.”
Fit and scheme will be extremely important for Murray and the team that makes him its franchise quarterback. But Murray doesn’t view his size as a limitation.
“You can’t play scared,” he said before later explaining. “I’ve always been the smallest guy on the field. I’ve said it multiple times: I feel like I’m the most impactful guy on the field, the best player on the field at all times. That’s just how I feel, the confidence I have in myself and my teammates have in me. I’ve always had to play at this height. Everybody’s trying to make it out to be something, but I just got out there and play the game that I love.”
Now we settle in for a suspenseful month and change as we wait to see where Murray winds up.
Will the Arizona Cardinals and new coach Kliff Kingsbury, who recruited Murray out of high school while at Texas Tech, take him with the first pick and trade away Josh Rosen, who they just traded up to draft at No. 10 overall in 2018? Will another team trade with Arizona to take Murray first overall? Or will he get past Arizona at No. 1 and go to some other team in the top 10?
All of those scenarios are possible, but it’s evident that Murray sees himself as fully capable of shining in the NFL, and he has decision-makers from multiple teams sold.
“It’s always been the love of my life,” Murray said of football. “I’m a winner so that’s where my mind’s at. … I’m ready to go.”
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.