On the night he became the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, Kyler Murray wore a pink, three-piece, pinstripe suit with white Nikes (and a pink swoosh, of course) that he said was inspired by an outfit Leonardo DiCaprio wore in “The Great Gatsby.”
It was pretty sweet.
And it’s about only the 99th most unexpected thing to occur in the past year to turn a supposed too-short-for-the-NFL, backup college quarterback and would-be Oakland Athletics farmhand into the king of the draft.
The publicity machine that is the NFL is so massive that by the time the Arizona Cardinals called Murray’s name as the top pick, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Oh, they could have grabbed one of these monster defensive linemen, or traded the pick, but Murray had been the much discussed option.
Still, a year ago, maybe no one saw this coming, including Murray. At the time, he was an outfielder on the Oklahoma baseball team, about to be drafted No. 9 overall in the Major League Baseball draft, where he’d sign a $4.6 million deal, including a $1.5 million signing bonus, with the A’s.
He could have gone directly to the A’s farm system and tried to work his way to the majors. Instead he wanted to take a shot at playing quarterback at OU, where he backed up Baker Mayfield after transferring from Texas A&M. The A’s said fine, they’d assume the risk and figured they’d get him to spring training in 2019.
“This guy is fun to watch play football,” A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane said at the time. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Indeed, he was. In fact, Murray was more than just fun, he was brilliant.
Stepping into a storied program and following a Heisman Trophy winner who had led the Sooners to the college football playoffs and become the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft is not easy.
Murray made it look that way, though.
He completed 69 percent of his passes and threw for 42 touchdowns against just seven picks. He also rushed for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns. He led OU back to the playoffs and won his own Heisman. And he did it with agility and daring and smarts and talent.
He’s also short by traditional NFL quarterback standards, so even as he was tearing up the college game there were doubts about whether he could translate that to Sundays.
A couple other things happened too, though, far from Murray.
In the NFL, the league was overtaken by Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, whose game is built on athleticism and creativity. As a first-year starter (he was a backup as a rookie), Mahomes burst on the scene and threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. He led the Chiefs to the best record in the AFC and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Mahomes is 6-foot-3, but the style of play turned heads.
So, too, did the style of coaching that was done in Los Angeles by Rams coach Sean McVay, a 33-year-old who represents what many believe is the future of the NFL – innovation, analytics, etc. In just his second year, he led the Rams to the Super Bowl.
With the winds of change sweeping through football, the Cardinals stumbled to a 3-13 record. They decided to fire coach Steve Wilks, who had come from a defensive coaching background.
It sought a McVay clone – young, personable and offensive-minded. Maybe even someone with a nice beard. Maybe even someone who was friends with McVay.
Just such a person was available, a 39-year-old named Kliff Kingsbury, who’d briefly been a backup NFL quarterback and most recently the coach at Texas Tech. He’d just been fired in Lubbock for not winning enough, but no one ever doubted his offense, a variance of the Air Raid that changed college and later professional football.
And he had something going for him … he’d coached Mahomes in college at Tech.
Arizona hired Kingsbury … which stunned the NFL, because when was the last time a guy who was fired in college football for going 35-40 and had no NFL coaching experience gets a head job?
It didn’t matter. On Jan. 9 Kingsbury was in. And then on Jan. 14, Murray declared he was entering the NFL draft and eschewing baseball. Sorry, A’s.
Since Arizona had the first pick, speculation began that the Cardinals would take Murray, who seemed to fit the style that Kingsbury’s offense calls for at quarterback.
It was complicated, though. Just a year prior Arizona had used the 10th overall pick on Josh Rosen, a quarterback out of UCLA. Rosen was more of a traditional, pro-style QB – 6-4 and at home in the pocket. He wasn’t great as a rookie – 55.2 percent completion rate, more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (11). His offensive line, however, was terrible and the Cardinals had few weapons to work with.
In the old NFL, a team would have ridden Rosen for years, giving him a chance to develop, especially with a new coach. These days, it’s win now or move on. A shot at an elite quarterback is almost never passed up.
Still, there’s the matter of Murray’s height. Just how tall was he? Some said 5-8. Some said 5-9. Some wondered what constituted tall enough? Finally, at the NFL scouting combine, Murray measured in at 5-10¼ and that was close enough to the 5-10½ that Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson measured before the 2012 draft.
And so suddenly it all opened up … a new style of football … a new way of thinking in the NFL about the height of players and the background of head football coaches … and finally a No. 1 draft pick suit inspired by a character from a book/movie about climbs through social circles and the American Dream itself.
If you saw all of this one coming 12 months ago, you should write your own novel.
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