Now comes a fascinating experiment.
Kyler Murray has chosen football over baseball. His timing is perfect – and not because he was due to report to spring training this weekend. It’s the right move, and despite his coy non-answers in those interviews before the Super Bowl, no one should really be surprised.
He’ll forgo that $4.7 million bonus from the Oakland Athletics. He’ll likely become the first athlete ever chosen in the first round of both the Major League Baseball and NFL drafts.
And never mind his size, no one should be too surprised if he excels.
Murray’s talent is undeniable. The Heisman Trophy winner is blazing fast, sure. Pay close attention to what he runs in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine (if he runs, and boy, we hope he does); he might not just be the fastest quarterback in Indianapolis – he’ll be among the fastest players, period. He has an NFL arm and the accuracy to go with it. But yes, we know: he’s tiny.
Murray is 5-9 7/8 in socks, according to Oklahoma’s media relations department (which leads some to wonder: how thick was the material?). But anyone who watched him propel Oklahoma into the College Football Playoff with a season that was better – this is still hard to type – than the performance by Baker Mayfield a year earlier – should recognize this much:
Murray’s spectacular impact is outsized.
Sure, but can he do it at the next level? The question will dominate the next few weeks, during the run-up to the draft. And once a team has made him a first-round pick and bet on him as the face of the franchise – pretty clearly, this is going to happen; it’s only a question of which front office falls in love – the story line will only grow.
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Murray is not exactly a wisp, by the way. Oklahoma listed him at 195 pounds. Whatever his official weight in Indianapolis, he’s solidly built, especially in the lower body. Go ahead and cringe at the vision of a defensive end crushing Murray from the blind side – or in the open field, a safety blasting him at full speed – but it’s worth noting how few hard hits he actually took at Oklahoma. That’s in large part because of his awareness, but also because he is possibly the best quarterback at sliding, ever (he drops, then pops up like he’s just stolen second base).
It’s at least as tantalizing to envision Murray escaping the pocket, then rifling the ball to a receiver downfield. Or taking off, leaving defenders grasping at a vapor trail.
In baseball, he’s a five-tool prospect. But emphasis on the noun. Murray might one day become a baseball superstar, but he’d first have to work his way up through the minor leagues. He showed promise on the diamond a year ago with Oklahoma, but it’s a hard road and there are no guarantees.
In football, despite bigger risks, the payoff could be immediate. Murray arrives at the perfect time, with NFL front offices growing gradually more open toward quarterbacks who don’t fit their preconceived notions of size – and at least as important, suddenly enthralled with wide-open college offenses like Oklahoma’s modified Air Raid, which Murray took to another level. Ten years ago, or maybe even five, it’s likely scouts would have been far more skeptical of someone like Murray. He’d have gotten questions like, “Would you consider a position change?” And he’d probably have chosen baseball.
But there’s now room in the NFL for a guy like Murray to move. And boy, can he ever do that.