As soon as the Arizona Cardinals selected Kyler Murray with the first pick in the 2019 NFL draft Thursday night in Nashville, the Oklahoma quarterback rose in his pink and burgundy pinstriped suit and began taking unprecedented steps toward the stage.
Murray is now a true unicorn, a transcendent talent who has cemented his place as the first athlete to be selected in the first round of the NFL and Major League Baseball drafts. At 5-foot-10, he is also the shortest quarterback to be selected in any round since 2000, a historic feat emblematic of both Murray’s extraordinary skill set and the NFL’s recent shift toward spread offenses, in which traditional size at quarterback has become more of a luxury than a necessity.
“It’s surreal,” Murray said on ESPN’s telecast shortly after being drafted.
If the selection of Murray represented a new era in how teams think about quarterbacks and offense, it also served as a backdrop to the investment a handful of teams made in defensive linemen and pass rushers in the top half of the first round Thursday night. Aside from Murray and Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, whom the New York Giants selected sixth overall, five of the top seven picks were defensive players, four of whom were defensive linemen.
Of the top 13 picks, seven were defensive linemen. San Francisco took Ohio State’s Nick Bosa at No. 2, and the New York Jets selected Alabama’s Quinnen Williams third. Oakland provided the first surprise of the night by taking Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell at No. 4. Still, quarterbacks headlined the first night. Murray made history shortly after 8 p.m. with Arizona’s selection, and the Giants tabbed Jones to be the potential heir apparent to veteran Eli Manning five picks later. That allowed Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins to fall to the Washington Redskins at No. 15.
Arizona’s pick finally unites Murray with first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, who once had tried to recruit Murray while serving as coach at Texas Tech. Kingsbury now has picked the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to help run his Air Raid offense with the Cardinals, who are expected to deal second-year quarterback Josh Rosen just a year after taking him in the first round of the 2018 draft. Rosen became an afterthought Thursday as Murray and Kingsbury gushed about the potential of their new partnership.
“I feel that we can be very dangerous,” Murray said of his relationship with Kingsbury. “He’s one of the best in the world at calling plays.”
Analysts have compared Murray to former Texas Tech gunslinger Patrick Mahomes, who won the league’s MVP award in his second season with Kansas City last year, as well as Baker Mayfield, who transferred from Texas Tech after two seasons and became a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma before the Cleveland Browns selected him with the first overall pick in the 2018 draft.
While he followed a similar path as the 6-foot-1 Mayfield, who had dealt with speculation about his own stature in the lead-up to last year’s draft, Murray is a phenomenon all his own. He grew up as a prodigy in baseball and a five-star quarterback recruit at Allen (Tex.) High, and he later signed to play quarterback at Texas A&M.
He eventually transferred to Oklahoma, and although the Oakland Athletics selected him with the ninth pick in the 2018 draft, Murray made it clear that he intended to play his junior season under center for the Sooners. The results vaulted him into the NFL draft conversation: He threw for more than 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, ran for more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns and won the Heisman Trophy.
That spawned a turbulent pre-draft process in which Murray contemplated his professional careers in both football and baseball. He eventually put out a firm statement in early February vowing to concentrate solely on football, returning $1.29 million of the $1.5 million signing bonus he earned with the Athletics. That decision, coupled with his surprising measurements at the NFL scouting combine — Murray was expected to measure at 5-foot-9 but came in at 5-foot-10⅛ and 207 pounds — thrust him into the conversation as the potential top pick.
“His size doesn’t [matter],” Kingsbury told a crowd Thursday night at the Cardinals’ draft party. “It doesn’t come into play.”
Murray’s ascent is even more noteworthy given he wasn’t guaranteed to start at Oklahoma last fall, let alone become a first-round pick. Most of the players who followed him in the draft Thursday couldn’t say the same. That included the bevy of defensive linemen who went in the first half of the first round; after Bosa, Williams and Ferrell were selected in the top five, Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen landed with Jacksonville at No. 7. Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver went to Buffalo at No. 9, Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary was taken by Green Bay at No. 12, and Miami bolstered its defensive front with Clemson tackle Christian Wilkins at No. 13. A few minutes later, Clemson became the first school to have three defensive linemen selected in the same first round after the Giants picked tackle Dexter Lawrence at No. 17.
Murray was long gone from the stage by that point. His decision to choose football over baseball was similar to the experience of his father, Kevin, a former two-sport star himself who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the early 1980s. The elder Murray eventually chose to pursue football as a quarterback at Texas A&M over his baseball career, but he was never drafted into the NFL. Kyler had leaned on his father in making his decision, which took another remarkable turn Thursday night. They embraced each other before he walked to the stage, and as the team rolled out its news release on his selection, Murray made it clear he wanted to make more history.
"I want to be the best ever to play this game,” he said.