Few quarterbacks in college football have had a better season than OU's Kyler Murray. Murray, a first year starter after backing up 2018 1st-overall pick Baker Mayfield, has been on a torrid pace all year. With the regular season in the rear-view mirror, now is an appropriate time to admire Murray's 48 touchdowns and 4427 total yards from scrimmage.
Kyler Murray's play has gotten the junior quarterback some buzz from fans of college football and the NFL, many hoping he may be the savior their team has long waited for. There's only one problem: Kyler Murray doesn't want the buzz.
Instead, Murray appears primed to ride off into the sunset after the season and pursue another sport: baseball. You see, Murray was a top-10 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. And before Murray returned to Norman for his junior season, he agreed with to a $4.66M contract with the Oakland Athletics. Written into that contract was a simple stipulation: Murray was allowed to play one season for the Sooners in 2018.
When pressed yesterday about his standing as a baseball player vs. a football player, Murray was pretty straight-forward:
It will be a decision that is highly speculated on. But at the end of the day, Kyler Murray is right to pursue baseball.
Would Face A Difficult Off-Season Circuit
Murray, as a pro baseball player, will have plenty going for himself. His contract will be fully guaranteed. He won't be exposed to the same physical wear and tear that comes with playing football. His shelf life will increase exponentially. And he's got excellent tools, according to those who would know better than I would. Murray is a promising base stealer and offers upside as a hitter, according to the scouting reports.
Life as a pro quarterback is glamorized beyond belief...if you can do it well. But there are also more holes poked into your resume as a passer than any other position in sports. One doesn't have to look any further than the treatment 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson got as a prospect last season. Former NFL executives and anonymous sources speculated Jackson would require a position change to stick in the NFL because they felt he:
- He couldn't read a defense (Jackson's experience at Louisville included three years of improvement manning a passing offense that featured many pro route concepts, but I digress...)
- He was too small (Jackson measured in at the NFL Combine at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds and a 9.5" hand width...Sam Darnold by comparison measured 6-foot-3, 221 pounds and had 9.38" hand measurement, but again, I digress...)
Jackson would ultimately land in the first round with the 32nd overall pick. But the questions and perception of his game were legitimate barriers to convincing teams to invest in him as a player.
Murray plays the game a lot like Jackson. They're both explosive passers with gifted arms who are a constant threat to break contain against man coverage and gouge you on the ground. The problem? Murray's going to get put through the same gauntlet and barrage of questions.
And while Murray has a very gifted arm, he's short of Jackson in both of the two big hurdles from last year's off-season. Murray is listed on his MLB.com Draft Card at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds. So size will be an issue for teams. And Murray isn't quite the passer that Jackson was either. Murray's levels of anticipation throwing to spots vs. zone coverage is an area of needed improvement. He'll require some development and patience as a passer.
Whether it's fair or not to perceive him in that light, those lingering questions will cost Murray quite dearly in the NFL Draft process. It's difficult to envision him landing among the top-32 prospects drafted next spring.
Economics Support Baseball
Should Murray make a play at being drafted to an NFL franchise, he'd need to land inside the top-50 picks to make approximately the same dollar figures as what the A's are giving him in his first contract.
Former Notre Dame QB Deshone Kizer was drafted 52nd overall in 2017, as an example. He was given a 4-year, $4.9M contract, with $2.5M of that fully guaranteed. Murray's MLB contract is the same length and features nearly twice as much guaranteed cash.
That's a tough sell for a guy who would have to buck just about every trend about quarterback play at a high level in order to stick in the pros. The closest physical stature to Murray in recent memory? Probably Johnny Manziel, who came through the draft process at 5-foot-11 and 207 pounds.
It's difficult to know what Manziel's career would have looked like had he kept himself clean off the field. But Manziel did look awfully out of place getting smacked around by much bigger human beings than himself. Durability was a problem. Manziel suffered a hamstring injury his rookie season and right elbow pain/a concussion in his second year.
If Murray didn't have baseball at his disposal, I'd venture he'd be a mid-round prospect with a very promising ceiling as a pro passer, despite the negative perception he's almost guaranteed to be met with through the draft process. But Murray does have baseball. And a team thought highly enough of Murray to draft him 9th overall. Considering the holes and concerns I do have with his game? It feels like one step forward and two steps back to pursue life in the NFL.
I don't want to speak for Kyler Murray, so I won't say that's how he feels, too. But his insistence, even after his stellar junior season, that baseball is the way should say something.