“Honestly, I want to be the best that ever played the game,” Kyler Murray remarks with a grin, seemingly relieved he can now reveal his true aspirations. It’s only been a matter of months since Murray sent the United States into a frenzy when he confirmed he would snub the $18.66million (£14.5m) on the table from the Oakland Athletics after being drafted No 10 overall in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft.
A precocious talent, Murray has revelled in being able to excel at both football and baseball throughout his childhood to a now unprecedented level. Even if the Arizona Cardinals have a dramatic change of heart when they pick No 1 in the first round of tonight’s NFL draft in Nashville, Murray will merely fall a couple of picks, meaning he will become the first athlete to ever be picked in the first round of both sports.
Representing a major coup for the NFL, the 21-year-old has emerged as one of the world’s most exciting athletes since switching from Texas A&M to Oklahoma in 2016. Initially a dominant force in high school at Allen, amassing a formidable 43-0 record, three state championships, 186 touchdowns and a staggering 14,000 yards over three seasons.
His success predicated on his searing pace, Murray’s head coach with the Sooners, Lincoln Riley, has revealed his former signal caller could match wide receiver and ex-teammate Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown, touted as the most explosive player in this year’s draft, over 40 yards in practice. Such is his devastating speed, his opponents have been left gasping as it hits them unexpectedly.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever played again in my life,” Big 12 defensive player of the year Charles Iminu told the Move The Sticks podcast. “He can throw that thing just as well as he can run.
“I think Kyler is just better (than Cleveland Browns quarterback and 2018 No 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield) because he can run it.
“The first time we played him it was an option play: I’m pretty close, but not too close, he was playing so slow and then boom, it was like lightning. He hit the sideline so fast, tip-toeing for those extra yards.”
Scouts are mostly delirious with Murray’s potential then, yet hesitation is only natural in the process. Talent, of course, is not sufficient in itself to thrive in the NFL, with the arduous months leading to Nashville seeing Murray’s character scrutinised, his leadership potential examined with lengthy interviews, as well as his past delved into.
Work ethic should not be a concern to any team fortunate enough to secure Murray’s services though, as documented by his former high school offensive coordinator Jeff Fleener, who was staggered to learn the quarterback studied film “three to four times” more than anybody else.
Yet one red flag remains, through no fault of Murray’s own, standing 5 feet 10 inches, based purely on his frame, the 21-year-old would be an outlier should he thrive in the NFL. He will become the shortest ever quarterback to be drafted in the first round, yet the previous requisite of standing 6 feet tall to succeed as a signal caller now appears defunct.
Conveniently for Murray the highest paid quarterback in the NFL right now, Russell Wilson, measured almost identically. Furthermore the league has now evolved to such an extent that it is less about the athlete’s height and more about his ingenuity and durability. Can Murray’s speed and decision making enable him to be elusive enough to avoid the paws of 300-plus pound defensive lineman? Is he able to showcase a variety of throws, perhaps with shades of Patrick Mahomes, to maintain momentum during drives? With the run-pass option here to stay, the time feels right for Murray to succeed.
“I’ve done it my whole life (playing both football and baseball),” Murray explained. “I touch one field and do my thing, then touch another field, and it’s time to go on that field.
“Now I’m spending all my time on football I hope to make a tremendous stride.”
The hard work starts now for Murray, with lofty expectations only enhanced by himself, yet with his journey so nearly diverted elsewhere, tonight marks the start of something truly special, no matter how it eventually turns out.
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