When the Arizona Cardinals chose quarterback Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in April, it signaled an organizational shift. And it was a big roll of the dice.
The risk was compounded by the fact that the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury, a college coach with a losing record and no NFL coaching experience, and traded away the QB they moved up in the first round to draft in 2018, Josh Rosen.
Skeptics abounded about Murray coming out of the University of Oklahoma, mainly because of his small stature. At barely 5 feet 10, there was really no current precedent for him. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is 5-11, but he is considerably thicker than the more slight Murray.
Wilson is also a magician, a Super Bowl champion, the MVP frontrunner and a likely candidate to someday wear a golden jacket.
Murray has answered skeptics with some outstanding play through the first nine games of his pro career.
The most important thing the Heisman Trophy winner has shown is that the stage, the pressure and the speed of the game have not overwhelmed him. He looks comfortable and poised nearly every Sunday.
Of course Murray is a rare athlete; he is the only person to ever be drafted in the top 10 of both the NFL and MLB drafts. The Oakland Athletics selected him No. 9 overall in the 2018 MLB draft.
But Murray chose football over baseball, and so far, it looks like he made a smart choice.
That athletic ability will serve him very well if he can keep from taking any big hits, which is always a concern. It’s even more of an issue because of Arizona’s porous offensive line.
But unlike other quarterbacks before him, such as Robert Griffin III or Vince Young, Murray doesn’t rely on his running ability to save him. He has other cards to play.
First and foremost, Murray is accurate. He also has big arm strength, but accuracy rules in the NFL. It’s the one tangible skill that often separates most average quarterbacks from the very good and great ones.
He’s completing 64.2% of his throws, but when judging accuracy, you have to watch the tape. Some quarterbacks have artificially high completion percentages due to a high ratio of risk-averse throws, namely bubble screens and dump-offs to running backs.
Murray can throw it on a rope on intermediate and deep passes. He gets rid of the ball quickly, which is almost as important as accuracy. His TD-INT ratio of 9-4 is good for a rookie, and his QBR of 55.3 ranks 14th in the league.
To add a little more context, remember that Murray has a bad offensive line. He has little help from his running backs, as it’s the quarterback who leads the team with 313 rushing yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
David Johnson (3.9 yards per carry) has performed poorly. Chase Edmonds (5.1 average) has given a jolt to the running game, but it’s a small sample size, and he’s dealing with a hamstring injury.
And Murray certainly doesn’t have a stud No. 1 receiver. Future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald (485 yards) leads the team in receiving, but at age 36, it’s clear he is slowing down. Scottsdale product Christian Kirk is talented, but he’s had a lackluster season, averaging just 9.7 yards per catch with zero touchdowns in six games. He’s missed time with an ankle injury.
All this is to say that Murray is having success despite having very little help. The team has a 3-5-1 record, and that’s not going to get much better this year. The NFC West is a beast of a division.
If the Cardinals can give Murray a better offensive line and surround him with better weapons, the excitement in the desert will be justified. He could be a Pro Bowl QB — or better.
The decision for GM Steve Keim to draft Murray and give up on Rosen was risky, but it was, without question, the right one. And Cardinals football is relevant once again.