Matt Waldman’s RSP shares his pre-NFL Draft scouting report on Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, an exciting prospect with a player comparison that goes a lot deeper than physical similarities.
2. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma (5-10, 207)
Depth of Talent Score: 80 = Rotational Starter/Contributor: Executes at a starter level in a role that plays to his strength. The scheme will at least temporarily need more customization for the player. Murray is on the cusp of a contributor grade, which means he may struggle early with certain responsibilities.
Murray is the most exciting quarterback in the draft and potentially the best. He’s also a polarizing prospect. This is often the case when the player is shorter than the prototype for the position. Compounding matters, Murray has only one full year as a starter, performed in a spread offense, and his most visible trump card has been his game-changing speed as a runner.
Murray has the acceleration and long speed to gash a defense with designed running plays as well as off-script forays into the secondary. He can also make multiple defenders miss with his change-of-direction quickness and that includes buying time in the pocket. If not accounted for with a defender, Murray will earn easy gains that move the chains and occasionally break off field-flipping plays that lead to quick scores.
No matter how accurate a passer—and Murray is accurate—there are still lingering questions about his height and style of play translating to the NFL. There are also people who still believe the earth is flat. The difference is that their views don’t usually earn a prime time or drive time audience.
The immediate concern from most is that Murray’s height will lead to deflected passes at the line of scrimmage. Before giving a contextualized football response to this concern, I charted 10 of Murray’s games. He had two deflected passes during that span.
I charted 10 of Drew Lock’s games and the six-foot-four-inch Lock had 5 passes deflected. The six-foot-five-inch Daniel Jones had 11 deflections in 8 games. Six-foot-seven-inch Tyree Jackson had one more than Murray in 10 games charted.
Quarterbacks throw the ball in the lanes created between linemen far more often than directly over them. As for being able to see downfield, if a major college quarterback behind a line like Oklahoma (or Wisconsin, in Russell Wilson’s case) doesn’t have that consistent problem now, it won’t be a problem in the NFL.
The earth is round and Murray’s height will not lead to deflected passes and widespread issues seeing the playing field. If Murray develops a problem with deflected passes, the root cause will be one of the ways he prefers to move in the pocket, which will be discussed later.
Murray is an accurate passer in the short and intermediate game and a promising vertical and deep game. This includes throws from the pocket as well as on the move.
He’s also capable of dynamic off-script plays that are rare for most quarterbacks. This too requires some balanced perspective when evaluating the position.
In the course of charting games, it becomes evident that off-script and/or off-platform throws are rare. They seem commonplace in our highlight-driven culture that has access to a vast resource of rare moments. These plays may occur daily or weekly but not usually from the same player.
It’s another example of how mass media in a digital age can skew our perspective.
Despite the fact that these plays are rare occurrences, their impact can be huge on the outcome of a game—or even a season. Part of that impact isn’t just the score of a game. The threat of these kinds of plays can influence an opponent’s approach to defending that team, which creates exploitable opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available.
This is the added value in Murray’s game and the reason most consider him the top quarterback in this class. It’s important to consider the phrase “added value,” because if Murray lacked the baseline skills of a strong prospect, touting him for his speed would be an empty proposition. Murray, like Grier, plays with tempo. He’s quick into his drops, sets up fast, and his release is efficient. This is especially positive for Murray because he plays at a similar tempo as a passer as he does as a runner, which keeps opponents on their heels.
Although Oklahoma uses a lot of zone read, there are a comparable number of play-fakes in the pistol formation to those while playing under center. This includes use of one hand, both hands, or fakes that use and don’t use the ball as a prop for play-action.
Murray’s offense required him to execute 1-, 2-, 3-, and 5-step drops. Like many shorter quarterbacks, Murray has refined the ability to alter the paths of his drops so he’s capitalizing on throwing lanes.
His release is a traditional over-the-shoulder motion but he can also deliver three-quarter and sidearm. He also has enough arm strength to deliver the ball on the move and off-platform to targets on the far side of the field or in the vertical game.
Murray has a partial pump fake with a range of motion that mimics one-third to one-half of a full release. He has enough violence with the motion for it to be believable.
He can do a better job of cultivating greater clarity to the motion when he’s on the move because it can appear that he’s carrying the ball loose from his frame or shaking the ball at the defender rather than pretending he’s delivering a throw.
Like Grier, Murray has strong short and intermediate accuracy. He thrived in an offense with quick reads with an embedded look-off of the safety or linebacker and then a quick-hitting throw of up to 25-30 yards from his release point. He’s also capable of scanning the field sideline-to-sideline as well as deep-to-short while checking to his outlet when nothing comes open.
When he spots the ancillary zone defender dropping within range of his target, Murray will throw the ball away from that opponent’s drop. He has the pinpoint accuracy to throw receivers open in the intermediate range of the field. Murray also delivers the back-shoulder fade with the necessary amount of air under the ball for his targets to make a play.
In an offense that incorporates a quick-tempo system with a potential for the run, but also a quick set and fires downfield, Murray thrives as a dangerous triggerman that can run play-action boots with accurate throws down the field. The pressure he places on defenses as he breaks the pocket creates run-pass binds that lead to big plays.
The question marks about Murray’s game include his pocket management and vision, his anticipation, his timing while reading the field, and his ball security. None of these things separately will preclude Murray from producing in the NFL, but when integrating these negatives into the whole of his game, it indicates that a smart system fit will be paramount for him to acclimate quickly
When Murray climbs the pocket with hitches to avoid pressure rather than running or jumping from spot-to-spot, his eyes and feet are still connected to his routes in a way that he sees a route breaking open faster and delivers the pass efficiently. However, the pressure that
forces Murray to move laterally leads to unrefined movement.
Murray’s play speed is so fast that it can sometimes work to his detriment. There’s a point where his movement in and around the pocket has diminishing returns. When there’s pressure and Murray has to act fast, he will often evade more hastily than he should rather than use controlled movement.
Murray often runs from spot to spot in the pocket, avoiding multiple defenders in the process while also abandoning a stable throwing position to throw the ball—even when he keeps his eyes on the coverage. He may avoid opponents quickly, but the lack of refined movement also sends him to areas where there’s more pressure and he has to double-back to another clean area.
All of this is done before he even has a chance to get into a throwing position—if there’s even enough time at that point do so because a lot of that movement leads to the pocket breaking down. Murray is then forced to throw the ball away, take the sack, or earn a minimal gain in a compressed area.
Murray’s rushed movement also impacts his ability to see the field clearly as well as complete anticipatory throws. Murray has demonstrated anticipation but it is only as consistent as his feet. At this point in his development, Murray’s too frenetic with his movement, and this can also prevent him from making accurate throws because he doesn’t simply side-step, reset, and fire.
This tempo is such an inherent part of Murray’s game. The success he’s had being quicker and faster than the competition has been ingrained in Murray. He reacts dynamically—sometimes too dynamically for what the situation requires.
This also occurs as a runner because against lesser athletes, he can stop-start, reverse field, or even change direction multiple times and revert to his original course and still, earn a big play.
Murray will likely earn big plays this way, but watch him against the likes of Alabama’s athletic defense and you’ll see a runner who becomes indecisive when his initial path doesn’t lead to an open crease. He can also cost himself potential yards when he doubles-back and he takes too much punishment when the maneuvering fails.
Murray often runs as if he’s deciding between three ice cream cone flavors and changing his mind multiple times within his request to the clerk:
“I’ll take choco…no…straw…no wait, butter peca…forget it I’ll have strawberry.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah…no, wait…I’ll have chocolate.”
This annoying habit can still yield big plays against top defenses, but when combined with the desire to buy time for his receivers and create space to throw the ball, it places constraints on the offensive line and also leads to sacks and turnovers.
This is especially true with Murray’s ball security. He holds the ball with one hand and waves it around like a tambourine. He does this in and outside the pocket and only begins to protect the ball when he sees oncoming pursuit. Murray’s ball security also leaves him vulnerable to backside and lateral pursuit lanes.
Although Murray weighed-in at 207 pounds at the NFL Combine, he likely played at 190-195 pounds at Oklahoma. He likely “gamed” the weigh-in to reach that 207-pound figure and will lose much of the weight for his Pro Day since he didn’t participate in any NFL Combine drills. It’s also likely that Murray will have difficulty maintaining that listed weight this year.
He’s a small quarterback and when he gets hit hard while using poor ball security, the ball squirts loose. This will happen more often to Murray early in his career because of his size and exposure of the ball when he extends plays and often placing himself in off-balanced and inefficient positions to get rid of the ball. It enhances Murray’s chances of committing turnovers.
It’s one of the reasons why Murray thrives in a system like Oklahoma’s, which emphasizes quick-hitting plays based on run-pass binds and layers of fakes that can buy Murray space in the pocket to execute longer-developing plays.
Philadelphia is an NFL team that uses a system of this type. Carson Wentz uses short drops from pistol—often paired with a zone read—that sets up quick-hitting seam plays up to 30 yards downfield. This is the vertical range of the field where Wentz remains accurate and it’s enough to stretch the defense because of the paired run threat and the inherent quickness of the play.
Houston uses these plays but also incorporates longer developing plays with layers of misdirection that divert the opponent’s focus from the pocket and gives Deshaun Watson time and space to deliver longer-developing vertical and deep passes. Murray will fare well in an offense that uses either of these tactics, although one of the problems with Houston’s scheme has been a lack of great tempo.
When Murray can work in a system that gives him quick decisions from a clean pocket, he does a better job of keeping his feet under him. He’s also better at making anticipatory throws and reading the field.
Even so, Murray can be too patient with his first or second read in the progression because he believes that he can buy time to make the big play. This causes him to miss check-downs that are low-risk decisions that yield quality production.
This patience, when combined with his time-buying athletic ability can also lead Murray to misread coverage that’s in the area of his intended target but not the primary defender. Losing track of ancillary coverage is a common issue with athletic improvisers. It’s one of Sam Darnold’s significant flaws as a young player.
Although an odd comparison, the fact that Murray will thrive best in an NFL offense that incorporates a lot of what the Eagles do, I’m compelled to say he’s a lot like Carson Wentz despite the physical differences. Before the knee injury, Wentz created space with quickness and strength, whereas Murray relies on game-breaking speed and change of direction. Murray also has better deep accuracy than Wentz. However, both are boom-bust commodities from the pocket when they can’t get rid of the ball quickly.
If the team that takes Murray fits the offense to his skills, he’s the most promising quarterback on the board. If the team asks Murray to fit into an offense that forces him to address his weaknesses right away, it could be a maddening first 18-24 months as a pro.
RSP Film Room (Below): Full-Length Look at Kyler Murray’s Game:
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Murray is regarded as a top-five pick and likely the No.1 overall pick. Because he has the skills to produce as a runner and he’s a big-play passer, Murray will be an early-round selection in fantasy leagues.
He’s worth a first or second-round selection depending on your rules for quarterbacks, how marketable the position is in your league, and if the top receivers are off the board.
For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), get the 2019 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge.
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