Kyler Murray Is Worth the Cost for the Arizona Cardinals
After all the speculation, all the rumors, and all the potential smokescreens, the Arizona Cardinals have officially taken Kyler Murray with the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Now let the fun begin.
Clearly, this means Josh Rosen's time with the Cardinals is limited, and there is plenty of fallout from that happening. But there is no doubt that the Cardinals just landed an electric prospect who has the potential to turn this team around.
Let's take a deeper look at Murray and decipher why the Cardinals were willing to make such a bold move. Then we'll see what impact this could have on the Cardinals in 2019 and beyond.
A Statistical Star
If you make the blanket statement of "Team X gave up on last year's first-round quarterback in order to draft another quarterback first overall," you're going to scratch your head over this move. And you're not wrong because there is an opportunity cost in taking Murray with this top pick. But a look at Murray's college stats at least can help you grasp why they were willing to accept that cost.
Murray took full advantage of his time at Oklahoma, breaking the NCAA single-season record for adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) at 13.0. The previous record-holder in that department was his old teammate, Baker Mayfield, at 12.9 in 2017. Lincoln Riley might know a thing or two about developing quarterbacks.
That number also doesn't account for what Murray did with his legs. He racked up 1,001 yards rushing in 2018 (1,137 if you exclude yards lost on sacks) and 12 touchdowns, and that's a valuable asset to have in the NFL. Rushes by quarterbacks increased the team's Net Expected Points (NEP) for the drive 60.0% of the time in 2018, a truly massive number when you consider rushes by running backs did so just 41.2% of the time. Defenses will have to account for Murray as a runner, which should also help open additional passing lanes.
One concern that will always follow a quarterback who played in the Big 12 is level of competition. The conference's reputation is not for its defense, which risks tainting a quarterback's collegiate stats. But when Murray was tested by good defenses, he still came through.
In all, Murray played five games against defenses ranked in the top 50 in Football Outsiders' Pass Defense S&P+. In those five games, he had a 12.2 AY/A, easily the best mark among quarterbacks in this class. He certainly didn't have the toughest schedule overall, but his success against elevated defenses should alleviate concerns around his conference.
Additionally, we can compare Murray to another quarterback in this class -- West Virginia's Will Grier -- who faced similar competition. In total, the two faced eight common opponents in 2018. Here's how they fared against those common teams (with Murray playing one additional game because Oklahoma faced Texas twice while Grier faced them once).
|Against Common Opponents||Attempts||Yards||TDs||INTs||AY/A|
Kyler Murray is not a creation of the Big 12. He's a good quarterback who could be a force in the NFL.
The word "could" is a key there, and it's especially pertinent with the cost the Cardinals are paying to acquire Murray. There are some red flags in Murray's profile that are worth noting.
The big one is Murray's lack of experience. He left college with at least 10 pass attempts in just 19 games. That's the third-lowest number among first-round picks from 2000 to 2018 (though Dwayne Haskins in this class is even lower at just 15 games). That does matter.
There have been five first-round quarterbacks since 2000 who have entered the NFL with at least 10 pass attempts in fewer than 30 games and a final-year AY/A of 10.0 or higher. Here's that list along with how often they've finished as a top-5, top-10, or top-15 passer through the eyes of Total NEP in years in which they've logged at least 200 drop backs.
|Efficient but Inexperienced QBs||Top-5 Seasons||Top-10 Seasons||Top-15 Seasons||Total Seasons|
All of these guys were efficient in college, and the top four listed were the first overall pick in the draft. But Cam Newton is the only guy in this group with multiple top-10 finishes in Total NEP. We can't disregard concerns around Murray's experience just because he was electric when he did play.
Additionally, although Murray was elite against tough competition, he wasn't on the same level as Mayfield during his final year. Here's a comparison of their numbers against top-50 pass defenses along with how often they faced stiffer competition during their respective Heisman campaigns.
|Versus Top-50 Pass Ds||Games||Percentage of Pass Attempts||AY/A|
|Mayfield in 2017||7||49.5%||13.5|
|Murray in 2018||5||39.8%||12.2|
Mayfield faced a tougher schedule and performed better within that sample than Murray did. Mayfield also had 48 games of experience coming out -- 29 more than Murray -- and was only a year older than Murray when drafted.
This isn't to say Murray won't be good. Not even a little bit. Mayfield was about as bulletproof statistically as you can be. It's moreso to say that Mayfield's success in the pros does not mean Murray is a lock to succeed because the two are wildly different.
So, with that risk being stated, why did the Cardinals pull the trigger here? It's clear that continuing on with what happened in 2018 wasn't going to work.
The Cardinals ranked dead last in Adjusted Passing NEP per play, and you can't win in the NFL if you can't throw effectively.
Obviously, that's not all on Rosen. In fact, most of it probably isn't. Christian Kirk missed the final four games, left tackle D.J. Humphries missed the final seven, and the Cardinals' offense had the sixth-worst sack rate in the league. Rosen was set up to fail, and that's exactly how things transpired.
Rosen could very well go on to succeed wherever he gets dealt. He had an impressive resume coming out and is entering his age-22 season. But if the Cardinals weren't going to invest heavily in the offensive line, then it would be foolish to expect Rosen to suddenly flip the switch within the same offense. Murray and his elusiveness may be better able to bail the line out when they fold, and that's exactly what the Cardinals need based on the current roster.
Josh Rosen's not a bad quarterback. He was just in a bad situation last year. But the Cardinals just got a guy who may be able to succeed even in that bad situation.
Murray showed in Oklahoma that he can thrive in a great environment, something he will not have in Arizona. There's no doubt that the road in front of him is going to be difficult. With the traits Murray flashed on his way to becoming the first overall pick, though, if anybody can claw the team out of this hole, it could be him.
Rushing quarterbacks add expected points with their legs, and Murray's passing stats at Oklahoma were historic. The upsides if he winds up hitting his ceiling are tremendous.
That's why Arizona made this move, and that's why it's defensible, even with a potential quality quarterback already on the roster. Arizona still has plenty of work to do to solidify the team around Murray, but as long as they do that, this pick has the potential to be one that rights the ship in a hurry.