Last September, FanWide asked if there would ever be another multi-sport star? The gold standards in this regard have long been the inimitable Bo Jackson and the flashy Deion Sanders. Russell Wilson and Tim Tebow have tried to join the club, with mixed results. Usain Bolt looked decent on the pitch when he gave soccer a shot, but a contract dispute prevented him from fully pursuing what might have become an interesting career. And then, of course, there was Michael Jordan, whose brief foray into baseball didn’t exactly pan out.
The reason we’re revisiting this idea now is Kyler Murray, who was mentioned in the previous article mentioned above and was just drafted first overall in the NFL Draft. The Oklahoma quarterback made his mark on sports history when he was selected, becoming the first athlete to be drafted in the first round of both the NFL and MLB drafts. He was picked ninth overall in the MLB Draft just 10 months ago, by the Oakland Athletics. Following that selection, Murray received permission from Oakland management to play out his senior year in college football and certainly made the most out of the opportunity. In his final season, he totaled 5,362 yards and 54 touchdowns and was awarded the Heisman Trophy.
This stunning season was all Murray needed to give up the diamond for the gridiron. Murray opted to enter the NFL Draft (forfeiting most of his MLB signing bonus in the process), and sure enough, the Arizona Cardinals selected him with the top overall pick. Along the way, though, many questioned Murray’s decision – among them the great Joe Theismann. Himself a former quarterback, Theismann argued that the 21-year-old would find football life difficult. “I think that he should choose baseball,” Theismann said. “I think that he would struggle in the NFL.” Theismann also questioned Murray’s height, as well as his ability to pass from the pocket under heavy pressure.
But are such questions fair? Will Murray indeed regret his decision to choose football over baseball? That’s a possibility, yes. Then again, it’s also far from a sure thing. The NFL has seen plenty of draft busts, from Paxton Lynch and Johnny Manziel recently, to Matt Leinart and Jake Locker years back. But there have also been plenty of success stories, and players who have thrived despite legitimate doubts and concerns. Russell Wilson, who as mentioned also flirted with two different professional sports, is a good example of the latter. Incidentally, he happens to be perhaps the strongest comparison to Murray among current NFL quarterbacks. The two are similarly sized, both are exceptionally mobile for the position, and both faced questions because of relatively small stature and vaguely unconventional style.
Unlike Murray’s detractors, Wilson himself believes the former Sooner can succeed on the gridiron. “Kyler’s one of those players that can electrify a football field,” Wilson has said of Murray. “I think he can also do the same thing in baseball too. I think no matter what he decides, he’ll do great.”
One thing Murray has going for him is that there seems to be a place now for mobile quarterbacks in the NFL. Wilson, again, is a prime example. And though they’re all bigger, the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, the Panthers’ Cam Newton, and the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, in addition to a few others, also use their legs about as well as their arms. In other words, Murray won’t necessarily be an outlier in the league; he might, in fact, be perfect for where the pro game is headed. Plenty of teams appear to be making an effort – sometimes by way of college-inspired offensive sets – to implement a more free-flowing, high-scoring style of play. This at least creates an environment in which Murray is positioned to succeed.
Murray is also more than “just” a running quarterback. He has a cannon of an arm, perfect for throwing deep balls and hitting tight windows, and all without sacrificing his deadly accuracy. Really, he passes every bit as well as he runs, and that’s exactly the requisite combination for a good quarterback in today’s game. On top of that, Murray also has a reputation for playing smart. He reads a game well, limits turnovers, and seems to have an inherent feel for the moment.
Another point in favor of a successful transition to the NFL is that Murray will be playing for former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, someone well-versed in using a dual-threat QB. Kingsbury’s protégé at Tech, Patrick Mahomes, was the NFL’s MVP last season, and it stands to reason that the rookie coach will be able to harness Murray’s physical gifts, too – this time at the pro level. (Not for nothing, Kingsbury actually tried to recruit Murray in college!) In all likelihood, the new head coach will be looking to install a high-octane offense with the Cardinals, and thus take full advantage of Murray’s natural skillset.
Aside from the tired questions about his size, the only real strike against Murray might just be the current state of the Cardinals. The team was woeful last season, winning just three games. Even if Murray is as good as advertised, odds for the upcoming NFL season are going to spell doom for the Cardinals. Indeed, it’s a good bet that even five or six wins will be a stretch. It’s simply going to take more than a rookie quarterback (and some other interesting draft picks) to turn this franchise around. The question may become how well Murray his able to handle what’s likely to be a lot of losing in the early going. If he can overcome adversity, focus on his own game, and do his part for a sustainable rebuild, he’ll be well on his way to a successful season. If it gets to him, and he starts to press or lose his edge, questions about long-term viability will arise quickly.
There is no doubt that Kyler Murray’s NFL journey will be one of the league’s biggest storylines. As to whether or not he picked the right sport, only time will tell. All we know for certain is that he’s talented enough to have earned the decision, and we should certainly give him a chance to thrive with his choice.