Bluffing? Maybe not as Jon Gruden echoes NFL's curiosity over Kyler Murray

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist

MOBILE, Ala. — Kyler Murray may not be at the Senior Bowl this week, but the idea of Kyler Murray as lightning rod draft prospect has most definitely made roll call.

Jon Gruden made sure of it.

The Oakland Raiders coach rarely disappoints when he talks about quarterbacks. He once again made good on that reputation when he made an off-the-cuff remark Tuesday about having to reassess his “prototype” size for NFL quarterbacks – at least partially because of what Murray did at Oklahoma in 2018.

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In what is shaping up to be the dominant quarterback discussion in this draft cycle, Gruden echoed a reality check that now faces a few quarterback-needy NFL teams in this draft. With a 6-foot Drew Brees putting passing records into another galaxy, and a 6-foot Baker Mayfield taking the league by storm, and a 5-10 Russell Wilson representing a bad draft miss by so many franchises, is it time to redraw the silhouette of the league’s quarterback archetype?

More specifically with Murray – who will measure under 5-10 at next month’s NFL scouting combine – are teams too obsessed with “prototype” height at the position?

Kyler Murray has Jon Gruden’s attention, even though the Oklahoma QB isn’t at the Senior Bowl, where Gruden is this week evaluating prospects for the 2019 NFL draft. (AP)
Kyler Murray has Jon Gruden’s attention, even though the Oklahoma QB isn’t at the Senior Bowl, where Gruden is this week evaluating prospects for the 2019 NFL draft. (AP)

“I used to think that a lot until I saw Drew Brees twice a year in Tampa, then I met Russell Wilson coming out of N.C. State, and now I’m watching this kid Murray at Oklahoma,” Gruden said. “I’m putting away all the prototypes that I once had. I used to have a prototype for hand size, height, arm length, all that stuff. We’re looking for guys that can play and do a lot of different things. They come in all shapes and sizes nowadays.”

That was no throwaway comment. Not with Gruden and the Raiders coaching the Senior Bowl’s North team, which features Duke’s Daniel Jones, who has (thus far) drawn the most praise from personnel men in the early going this week.

If you created a quarterback in a laboratory and were insisting on checking off the measurables, Jones would be what came out of the process. He measured in at 6-5 and 220 pounds, with long arms and big hands. The kind of numbers that draw eyeballs on a practice field and become the fodder for the first-round pick conversation that will follow Jones for the next few months.

But having the quarterback conversation with a handful of talent evaluators at the Senior Bowl this week, two basic realities haven’t changed. First, it’s going to be considered a middling quarterback draft, with draft position largely driven by need rather than talent. Second, Murray is an absolute wild card who is fast becoming the most intriguing evaluation of the entire NFL draft.

As one AFC personnel man said of Murray this week, “It’s going to come down to a consensus on a staff and whether you’re willing to create a special category for him. We didn’t do that for [Russell Wilson] and we probably should have. We had A’s across the board on [Wilson] except for his size. But that height really pushed us off him even though we had a great report on him. One of the best that year of any kid. … Pretty much everyone was in that same boat on him. [5-foot-10] at quarterback just wasn’t happening when we went around the room.”

Right now, the “special category” conversation is the undercurrent on seemingly every personnel evaluation shared on Murray. Is he special enough to smash the accepted norms at the position?

If he’s in the category that Gruden mentioned – somewhere on the Brees/Wilson continuum – then the answer is likely going to be yes for some franchise. But as a second AFC personnel man noted this week, Murray’s evaluation is likely an even more aggressive reach than other “small stature” quarterbacks.

“Drew played a lot of games [at Purdue],” he said. “Russell Wilson played a lot of games in college. Baker [Mayfield] played a lot of games. The tape for Murray is just so much smaller – maybe good and bad. What does he look like year over year? How much growth is there? He might be at his ceiling right now or he might be an even better player than he is right now. Do we even know what a ceiling looks like for a player like him? There’s no way to even begin to know that, other than guessing and projecting from the beginning of his season to the end.”

North head coach Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders instructs players during practice. (AP)
North head coach Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders instructs players during practice. (AP)

Despite the questions, both AFC personnel men said they believe it’s a virtual certainty that Murray goes in the first round, thanks to a combination of talent, offensive changes in the NFL, lack of elite quarterback talent in the draft class and even simply a fear of missing out on a player who could end up being similar to Wilson or Mayfield. Both noted that there are also a wealth of young offensive coaches across the league who may be more willing to roll the dice on new ideas, new players and more aggressive spread offensive schemes, factors that all favor the draft stock of a player like Murray.

As for how the quarterback class is shaking out in the early going, there may be only three first-rounders in the class. There appears to be a hammer-lock expectation that Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins will be the first quarterback selected, possibly with the first pick, if he can generate enough heat to entice the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars or Denver Broncos to consider an “all-in” push to the top of the draft for his services. Barring something catastrophic, Jones has a consensus among personnel men as a likely first-round pick. And the third is Murray, who is looming over the evaluation process of basically every quarterback needy team.

But as one league evaluator also pointed out, with the influx of so many young quarterbacks into the NFL the past few seasons – and with so many of them showing promise since arriving – the likelihood of someone taking an aggressive gamble on a player of Murray’s stature in the top half of the first round seems like a dubious prediction at this point.

The bottom line: Everyone is trying to figure out what Murray is. And that’s why he’ll never be far from any draft conversation. Including the ones unfolding at a place like the Senior Bowl. Murray may not be a physical part of this draft process this week, but as Gruden showed, he’s also never off anyone’s mind, either.

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