With Kyler Murray having committed to playing football professionally, in the process walking away from a contract with the Oakland A’s, the biggest question now is where he will be taken in April’s NFL draft. Apparently, it won’t be first overall, to hear Kliff Kingsbury tell it.
The first-year coach of the Arizona Cardinals used a media session Tuesday to tamp down speculation that his team might use the No. 1 draft position it holds to pick the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback out of Oklahoma. Much of that speculation stemmed from comments Kingsbury himself made a few months ago, but he told reporters that incumbent quarterback Josh Rosen “is our guy.”
Rosen is coming off his own rookie season, one that had more downs than ups for him after he took over from a struggling Sam Bradford, who was later released, three games in. The former UCLA star, selected 10th overall by the Cardinals after they traded up, finished with not just the worst DVOA among qualified quarterbacks in Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics, but the website declared he’d had “second-worst [quarterback season] we have ever measured, and the worst ever for a non-expansion team.”
It certainly wasn’t all Rosen’s fault, but he contributed to a dormant offensive showing that led to a 3-13 record and the firing of one-and-done coach Steve Wilks. In came Kingsbury, a college coach renowned for his aggressive offensive schemes, and while it wasn’t immediately known how he felt about Rosen, his October remarks about Murray were quickly dug up.
“Kyler, I mean, he’s a freak, man,” Kingsbury, then leading the Texas Tech Red Raiders into a matchup with Murray’s Sooners, said at the time. “ ... I just think the world of him and what he can do on a football field. I’ve never seen one better in high school, and he’s starting to show it now at the college level. I don’t have enough good things to say about him. He’s phenomenal. I’ve never seen him have a poor outing. Not one, which at quarterback is impossible to do, but he’s done it.
"I’d take him with the first pick of the draft if I could. I know he’s signed up to play baseball, but he is a dominant football player and I would take him with the first pick.”
Little did Kingsbury know at the time that he would soon be coaching the team with the first pick in the draft, especially given that he actually held another job, offensive coordinator for Southern Cal, after being let go by Texas Tech but before his hiring by Arizona.
“I get it. We have the first pick, and so there are going to be a million scenarios over the next three months that are going to come up,” Kingsbury said on Tuesday, “but Josh is our guy.
“Kyler is a tremendous player,” he continued. “I said that being very complimentary before we played an opponent. I understand the sound bite, but like I said, there are going to be a ton of scenarios that are going to come up before we get to the draft.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said of Murray’s decision to forego a baseball career to pursue his “passion” for quarterbacking, “It’s great when we have new players and new excitement around our game that will cause people to speculate and talk."
In comments to an Arizona sports-radio station (via azcardinals.com), Bidwill then threw his own dose of cold water on the Murray talk, telling the hosts, “There’s always a lot of speculation that turns out to not be true. But moving forward, we’re going to continue to build this team and build around the foundation that we have.”
The addition of Murray has spiced up a draft that appeared notably light on quarterback prospects who might go very early, in contrast to 2018, when that position was targeted with the first, third and seventh picks before Rosen went at 10. Of course, a lot can change between now, with the NFL’s draft combine yet to take place, and April, and Murray may either justify the excitement with a dynamic pre-draft showing or see his stock fall as his flaws are picked apart by scouts and team executives.
As it is, Murray is small for an NFL quarterback at a listed 5-10 and 195 pounds, and none of the teams in the top five, which also includes the 49ers, Jets, Raiders and Buccaneers, have a clear need at that position. Nevertheless, his talents, which were on full display as he racked up more than 5,000 total yards and 50 touchdowns in his one season as Oklahoma’s starter, might be enough to convince another team to trade up to get him.
Alternatively, as some had hypothesized, the Cardinals could nab Murray and trade away Rosen, but Kingsbury’s comments seemed to make that a less likely prospect after Tuesday than it was before. “Our feelings toward Josh haven’t waned or changed,” he told reporters.
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