Kyler Murray Is Not An Outlier, He's The New Standard At QB

by Steve Frederick

"Moving forward, I am firmly and fully committing my life and time to becoming an NFL Quarterback."

On February 11th, Oklahoma Quarterback Kyler Murray finally announced which sport he was going to pursue professionally by issuing a statement on Twitter. For years now, Kyler has been one of the more unique athletes in all of sports. 

On the baseball diamond, Murray's 80-grade athleticism at Shortstop and in the Outfield has had MLB talent evaluators drooling. Coming out of High School, Murray bypassed the 2015 MLB Draft, which included the likes of Alex Bregman, Andrew Benintendi, Walker Buehler, and Dansby Swanson. ESPN's Keith Law even ranked Murray as the 32nd best prospect in the 2015 draft class ahead of the Red Sox Outfielder, Benintendi. Despite a limited amount of playing time his first few years due to transferring schools and on-field performance Murray still was on teams radars heading into his Junior season with the Sooners. Murray shined and his play intrigued the Oakland Athletics enough to select Murray with the 9th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.

On the gridiron, Murray was a prodigy as well as he put together one of the most decorated careers in Texas High School football history. Murray went 42-0 as a starter and won 3-straight state championships. Just like his collegiate baseball career it took Murray a few years to find his spot and once given the opportunity Murray dazzled as he went on to win the Heisman Trophy in his lone season as a starter.

Murray's been a sensation at every level so far but in spite of this Murray is still seen as an outlier and a scheme dependent Quarterback in the NFL. In a USA Today article, two NFL evaluators were quoted as saying, "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.” and “He’s got to have the right offensive coordinator."

His character and work ethic has also been in question since declaring. The most notable criticism came from NFL Network Analyst, Charley Casserly after the NFL Combine where he stated, “These were the worst comments I ever got on a top-rated quarterback, and I’ve been doing this a long time. Leadership — not good. Study habits — not good. The board work — below not good.”

It's rare a top prospect goes unscathed in the pre-draft process. Media outlets churn through stories daily and all of the criticism sent his way was all too predictable. Yes, his personality might not light up a room but I have a hard time believing that someone who is on his way to becoming the 1st player ever to be drafted in the 1st Round of both the MLB and NFL draft has a questionable work ethic and study habits. Yes, he's short but if your basis for his ability to succeed at the NFL level is predicated off his height and frame, which was similar to Russell Wilson's, then I think you're missing what he brings to the table because he's not an outlier. He's quite the opposite and he's actually what the NFL has been heading towards for a few years now.

Think of all the truly transcendent Quarterbacks that have come through the draft or developed as starters in the last 10 or so years - Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield, etc. What makes them unique?

Now think about other Quarterbacks who have entered the league who have had very good careers but for some reason still have question marks or perceived limitations  - Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton, Jared Goff, etc.

What's the difference? All of these Quarterbacks can win from the pocket but what separates these two groups is the ability to flourish as a passer outside of structure and the ability to create as a runner when needed.

Now let's think about Kyler Murray. He can win in the pocket (more on this in a second), is calm within all the chaos of an off-script play where he needs to improvise and he's a lethal threat as a runner.

The number everyone focuses on with Kyler Murray, is 5'10". The number that everyone should focus on is 89. Per Pro Football Focus, 89 percent (336-of-377) of Kyler Murray's throws in 2018 came from the pocket. That means that close to 9 out of 10 times Kyler was functioning behind an NFL-sized offensive line and still saw tremendous success and batted passes were not an issue.

# Of Batted Passes In 2018
Kyler Murray5'10"5
Will Grier6'2"1
Dwayne Haskins6'3"5
Drew Lock6'4"8
Daniel Jones6'5"12

The 11% of throws outside of the pocket also gives us a good representation of how often Murray was asked to create on his own. Although this might only account for 3-4 throws a game it's these type of plays that can swing games. They don't always need to result in 40-yard gains or touchdowns. Sometimes it's as simple as evading a blitzing defender on 3rd down and moving the chains right before the half to get the offense into field goal range. How many times over the years have we seen Rodgers, Wilson or Mahomes just break a teams spirit with their improvisation? Another added benefit of knowing a player has this capability is that teams need to gameplan for this. Although the tools on offense largely remained the same, teams were forced to prepare differently for the Chiefs in 2018 than they did in 2017 and that's all due to knowing what Mahomes brought to the table.

Murray also transforms a team's rushing attack and how teams defend their offense at all areas of the field.

Having the ability to create out of structure isn't a prerequisite for success. Tom Brady and Drew Brees have rewritten the record books playing within the pocket. I didn't leave them off the list from above to be misleading. I left them off because being a Hall of Fame talent/mind paired with a Hall of Fame Coach in a perfect scheme isn't normal and shouldn't be expected. Matt Ryan ripped off his MVP season once he played alongside a stacked supporting cast and had the top up-and-coming coordinator in the game calling plays. Matt Ryan earned that MVP but it takes a village in these scenarios. To integrate baseball back into the conversation, as a pitcher it's better to have 3 pitches you can rely on instead of 1. 99.9% of pitchers aren't Mariano Rivera. Josh Allen and Josh Rosen were both in terrible situations last year and it was Allen's athleticism that carried the Bills to a few wins where Rosen was at the mercy of how his offensive line played that week. 

Having more than one pitch gives you something to fall back on and it's what differentiates QB's in a league where there is an offensive line crisis and the players on the defensive side of the ball are getting freakier and freakier by the year. It's also the Golden Era for passing in the NFL. It is as efficient as it's ever been as teams are slowly integrating more college passing concepts into their offense and the rules more than ever are slanted in the offense's favor. Really any reasonable QB can do it relatively well so how are you going to add value to your offense? 24 Quarterbacks last year finished with a QB rating above 90. In Week 2 last year, the average QB Rating was 102.6, the best week in NFL history by a large margin. To put this in perspective, for an entire career Aaron Rodgers owns the best QB Rating of all-time at 103.1.

Again, can you elevate your offense when called upon? More and more we're seeing the QB's entering the league being multidimensional and it's actually the traditional pocket passers like Rosen and Goff who are the outcasts.

2019: Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, Daniel Jones, Will Grier

2018: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson

2017: Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes

2016: Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch, Dak Prescott

2015: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota

Trevor Lawrence, Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Fields are on their way too so maybe it's time to change the narrative. Maybe Dwayne Haskins, who for the record is a terrific player, has been the outlier all along?