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College Sports: Film room: Can Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray succeed in the NFL if he wants? Here’s a breakdown of his skill set


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File - In this Oct. 27, 2018, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) maneuvers during an NCAA college football game against Kansas State in Norman, Okla. What figures to be Murray’s one-and-done attempt to get No. 7 Oklahoma back to the College Football Playoff will require a win in an atmosphere significantly more hostile because of a prime-time kickoff. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)


Sue Ogrocki/AP

File – In this Oct. 27, 2018, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) maneuvers during an NCAA college football game against Kansas State in Norman, Okla. What figures to be Murray’s one-and-done attempt to get No. 7 Oklahoma back to the College Football Playoff will require a win in an atmosphere significantly more hostile because of a prime-time kickoff. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)



By

John Owning


The Oakland Athletics are nervous. When they selected Kyler Murray with the ninth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, the Athletics knew Murray was a good football player, but they didn’t know Murray would be this good of a football player.

Murray has taken the college football world by storm this year, leading the Oklahoma Sooners to an 11-1 record ahead of this weekend’s Big 12 Championship Game against Texas. On top of the team’s success, Murray has had a great deal of individual success as well.

In a year where he is one of the Heisman Trophy front-runners, Murray has put up historic numbers, accumulating 3,674 passing yards and 37 touchdowns while throwing just seven interceptions. He’s also recorded 853 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on 113 carries (7.5 yards per carry), making him the best dual-threat quarterback in college football.

Murray is fourth among FBS quarterbacks in competition percentage (70.6), sixth in passing yards, first in yards per attempt (12), second in adjusted yards per attempt (13.4) and second in passing efficiency rating (206.8). If the season ended today, Murray would have the second-best passing efficiency rating in the history of college football — right behind Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s 212.5 passing efficiency rating this year.

Because of his phenomenal season, it has made many wonder whether Murray will opt to forgo his MLB contract to try and make it as an NFL quarterback. However, the question remains as to whether Murray’s skill set can effectively translate to the NFL.

Let’s try and answer that question here. 

Positives

Despite his lack of size, Murray has a powerful arm that he uses to rifle passes to his targets with high velocity. He doesn’t typically throw into a lot of tight windows, but the velocity Murray can put on his passes lends itself well to tight-window throws in the NFL. That arm strength allows Murray to complete passes to every portion of the field.

Murray is deadly accurate in short zones, as he’s able to pick apart defenses using Oklahoma’s quick passing game.

Murray has impressive touch on deep passes, allowing him to nail some impressive throws deep down the field. Murray understands how and when to change the trajectory of the ball to better facilitate a completed pass.

Murray does a great job of limiting turnovers (though some of that is due to Oklahoma’s ability to scheme open receivers), as he routinely makes smart decisions with the football even during chaotic plays. He makes mistakes like any other quarterback, but he appears to have good football and situational intelligence. 

Because of his athleticism, Murray has a unique ability to extend plays with his legs, as he’s able to consistently elude pass rushers to buy time and hit an open receiver or scramble for big gains on the ground.

As a ball carrier, Murray possesses the vision and elusiveness to be a touchdown threat every single time he touches the ball. He is almost impossible to tackle in open space. Teams must account for Murray’s running ability on every play, making it difficult to play man coverage with a quarterback spy. 

Zone coverage is typically used against running quarterbacks because the defender can always keep an eye on the quarterback. In man coverage, defenders must turn their eyes away from the quarterback and onto their man, meaning they have no way to know when Murray would take off, which means nothing but open space for Murray with the ball in his hands.

From a mechanics perspective, Murray creates a ton of torque with his throwing motion and does well to generate force with his hips, which allows him to throw with high velocity despite his small frame.

Negatives

The biggest negative surrounding how Murray translates to the NFL is his lack of size. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, per NFL Draft Scout, Murray doesn’t have a frame that traditionally holds up to the rigors of playing quarterback in the NFL. When you consider Murray will likely use his legs a lot, Murray will likely have to deal with even more punishment than the typical NFL quarterback.

Murray’s lack of height will make it difficult for him to survey the field and fully go through his progressions, as he will have trouble seeing over his offensive line. Quarterbacks such as Drew Brees have mastered the ability to find throwing windows and lanes despite his lack of height, but even he is an inch or two taller than the Oklahoma quarterback.

Doug Flutie is the only NFL quarterback who has had any semblance of success at 5-foot-9, so for Murray to succeed, he would have to be an outlier.

Murray’s competition percentage is artificially inflated because he’s often throwing to wide open receivers. In Lincoln Riley’s space-and-pace offense, Oklahoma uses an assortment of alignments, route concepts and play fakes to get their receivers into open space, giving Murray easy throwing windows.

As is the case with most young, athletic quarterbacks, Murray will sometimes drift backward or look to run because of pressure when he should just side-step or slide in the pocket to avoid the pressure and make a throw.

Most importantly, Murray hasn’t shown the ability to consistently move through his progressions to find the open receiver and make the proper play. Also, Murray lacks the anticipation ability to throw receivers open in the NFL, as Murray is more of a see-it-throw-it passer at this point in his development.

Final Thoughts

Though his numbers are better than former Oklahoma quarterback and No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield, Murray faces an uphill battle to make it as an NFL quarterback if that’s the path that he chooses.

Mayfield excelled in his ability to move through his progressions, throw with anticipation and make pin-point accurate throws, which is why he’s translated well to the NFL in his rookie season. Murray, on the other hand, struggles in those areas, which would make life difficult in the tight-window nature of the NFL.

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On top of that, Murray’s diminutive frame and play style make him a huge injury threat every week until he bulks up to a point where he can absorb the NFL punishment and changes his play style to elicit a longer career.

On the bright side, the NFL is becoming more and more like the college game every year, meaning teams aren’t as shy to take quarterbacks coming from spread offenses as in previous years. Five years ago, the NFL likely wouldn’t even consider Murray as an NFL prospect, but now, as college concepts become even more popular in the NFL, Murray actually has a shot.

After taking his NFL skill set into account, Murray is a mid-round quarterback prospect who doesn’t currently possess the skill set to immediately translate into the NFL as a quarterback. With a lot of seasoning and improvement in key areas, Murray has the ability to become a competent quarterback in the NFL.

A mid-round prospect in one sport and the ninth overall pick in the other — the decision is easy, as Murray recently came out and said that he still intends to leave Oklahoma for professional baseball at the end of the year.

Breathe easy, Oakland.

Twitter: @JohnOwning

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