Here's why NFL teams don't view MLB as a threat for Kyler Murray

Charles RobinsonNFL columnist

Kyler Murray has options. But if you believe some NFL executives, they’re not as good as the rest of us might think.

In a football evaluation that is just beginning for the Heisman Trophy-winning Oklahoma quarterback, a few NFL teams shared an interesting early opinion after Murray declared for the league’s draft on Monday. Simply put: Despite being selected ninth overall by the Oakland A’s in the first round of the 2018 MLB draft, Murray’s budding baseball future isn’t nearly as secure as many are assuming.

“We’ve spoken to some people [in Major League Baseball] and honestly, he was a little bit of a surprise pick in terms of where [the A’s] took him,” one NFL executive said. “Obviously that opportunity is there for him right now, but from what we understand from the [MLB] people we’ve spoken to, he was definitely taken a little bit prematurely.”

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Said another executive, “He was over-drafted [by the A’s], so there’s some skepticism in terms of him being a slam-dunk major league player. You guys see the [ninth] pick and assume he’s got this long baseball career ahead of him. That’s not guaranteed at all. And right now, today, I think there is probably more evidence that a football career is his better guarantee.”

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray declared for the NFL draft on Monday. (Getty Images)
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray declared for the NFL draft on Monday. (Getty Images)

Those assessments weren’t meant to be knocks on Murray, mind you. They are merely one of the first baseline pieces of information being gathered as Murray enters the NFL draft process. As it stands, he has until Thursday to withdraw his name from the 2019 selection pool, although teams don’t believe that’s a threat.

What’s clear at the moment is that NFL teams are extremely early in their evaluation process of Murray, which won’t kick into high gear until the Thursday deadline for withdrawal expires. That hasn’t stopped some initial poking from teams.

The first pressing question from some executives? Whether Murray and agent Scott Boras were yanking the NFL’s chain in hopes of inspiring the A’s to cough up more guaranteed money than the $4.66 million contract that has already been signed.

After all, Boras was quoted by the NFL Network in December, indicating that Murray was destined for a baseball career.

“Kyler has agreed and the [Oakland] A’s agreed to a baseball contract that gave him permission to play college football through the end of the collegiate season,” Boras said. “After that, he is under contract to play baseball. That is not a determination to make. It’s already done.”

That quote was delivered despite Murray winning the Heisman Trophy and already indicating that he was still interested in continuing his football career. So naturally, the first question some NFL executives had when they reached across the aisle to their baseball counterparts was whether an MLB career (and ensuing success) was as guaranteed as Boras seemed to think it was. The answers: No, sticking with baseball wasn’t as sure as Boras made it sound. And yes, Murray appeared to have a long road ahead before he could even think about his baseball career panning out.

So much so that some NFL executives have come away believing that MLB evaluators view Murray as a very raw baseball prospect, over-drafted by A’s executive Billy Beane in a dice roll that Murray’s baseball fundamentals will eventually catch up to his elite athleticism.

It’s worth noting that Murray’s brief stint in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer of 2017 produced a .170 batting average and 21 strikeouts in 47 plate appearances. That’s a tiny sample size for any prospect and hardly represents anything lasting, but the strikeouts point to Murray’s bat-to-ball skills being a sizable part of his developmental process.

Basically, NFL teams learned that Murray isn’t a Bryce Harper-level prospect whose success is simply a matter of “when” and not “if.” That’s important to know when evaluating Murray as an NFL prospect while simultaneously wondering if baseball is going to be an ongoing threat over the next few months.

Some NFL franchises aren’t as worried about Murray’s baseball career as they might have been a few months ago. Once the deadline expires for Murray to potentially withdraw from the NFL’s 2019 pool, they’ll lean hard into the fundamentals of their own sifting process. And there is plenty to do there, with teams already taking umbrage with some of the early draft assessments.

“Whoever is saying he’s a top-10 pick or whatever, that’s just complete bulls—,” one evaluator said. “It’s way too early to know that. Everyone basically delayed their evaluation on him because of baseball and him having one year as a starter [at Oklahoma]. This kind of season wasn’t really anticipated by anyone and if they’re saying otherwise they’re lying. The Oakland A’s drafted him and didn’t even know this was coming. If they had, they never would have agreed to let him step on a football field again.”

If Murray stays in the NFL draft as expected, a lot of attention is going to be given to his height, weight, frame, hand size, arm length and how all of those measurables could translate into his NFL durability and reliability. When it comes to the most pressing initial digits, height and weight, one NFL team told Yahoo Sports it has already been told by an A’s source that Murray’s height will measure between 5-foot-9 1/2 to slightly under 5-10 and his weight will likely come in around 190 pounds.

The nitpicking won’t end there, of course. While Murray unquestionably has an NFL arm and elite-level athleticism, every franchise will do a deep dive on his fundamentals and comparable players, from what kind of offense he’ll need to run in the NFL, to how much refinement is left ahead as a passer, to where he sits on the league’s Russell Wilson/Baker Mayfield/Drew Brees continuum. And despite the difference in era, don’t be surprised to hear Doug Flutie’s name in evaluations, either.

The Athletics’ spring training begins Feb. 15. It remains unclear if Kyler Murray will report and follow a career in baseball. (Getty Images)
The Athletics’ spring training begins Feb. 15. It remains unclear if Kyler Murray will report and follow a career in baseball. (Getty Images)

“[Murray’s] size — he would be considered small as an NFL corner,” one executive said. “But Baker setting the world on fire after coming out of Oklahoma and Murray having a lot of success in that same system and under that same staff kind of set the table of expectations. I think he’s a far better athlete than Baker, but he’s also not as refined as a passer. His body type isn’t as thick as Baker, but Baker is good at avoiding contact and [Murray] might be even better when it comes to that.”

Of course, all of this will be chopped and debated and argued for at least the next month, as Murray heads toward a set of February reporting dates that will sort out his future fairly quickly. The A’s have asked him to report to their spring training, which begins on Feb. 15 in Mesa, Arizona. Conversely, Murray will surely be invited to the NFL’s annual scouting combine for testing and workouts, which is slated to kick off on Feb. 26. Where he turns up next month will answer lingering questions. Until then, NFL teams appear confident about where it’s heading.

“Unless the A’s give him more money, his NFL contract is almost certainly going to outstrip the [$4.66 million] he’s getting in baseball,” one executive said. “It really just comes down to what does he want to do and where are his prospects better.”

In that respect, the NFL thinks it knows the answer. And it’s not Major League Baseball.

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