Here's why Kyler Murray could indeed go first in the NFL draft

NFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — Kyler Murray is squarely in play for the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

Maybe you didn't see it when Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim awkwardly walked into a "for now" qualifier when he talked about Josh Rosen as the team's starting quarterback. Or perhaps you didn't buy it when Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury nonchalantly mentioned that Rosen knows "it's a business" and that speculation is "all part of the process."

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But now? More than 72 hours into the NFL scouting combine process? Too many data points are lining up, and it screams that Arizona is absolutely mulling over Murray at No. 1 — and likely also the mechanics of a potential Rosen trade market. Consider some of the other pieces of information we have about Murray …

First, he's meeting with the Cardinals at the combine. And just from a baseline standpoint, if you have a quarterback like Rosen in place — drafted 10th overall last year, no less — you aren't burning a meeting with another highly regarded quarterback who is coming off the board in the first round of this draft. Particularly when Kingsbury already knows Murray from recruiting him on the Texas high school football circuit just a few years ago. And even more so when it adds to the potential of rubbing Rosen the wrong way, which could already be happening, depending on who you believe about Cardinals photos being stripped off Rosen's Instagram account.

So, yeah, the whole meeting between the Cardinals and Murray is either a real indicator, or a remarkably involved ruse that doesn't appear to have included Rosen in the planning and execution.

The second piece of data? Murray is doing virtually nothing at the combine. Which can be taken two ways. Either it's the Lamar Jackson situation from 2018, where representatives wanted to make sure he had the most ideal situation to show his tools to NFL teams. Or this is Murray and his representation knowing he has a legitimate shot at the No. 1 pick in the draft and not feeling the pressure to showcase him to a wide array of suitors more than once.

I believe it's the latter. I think Murray has a very real shot to go No. 1 overall. I also think when Kingsbury previously said he would take Murray No. 1 overall several months ago, he was being honest about a player who he once worked to recruit at Texas A&M. And I think he took the Cardinals job knowing Murray was heading to the football draft and realizing the opportunity would be there to get a quarterback who is the perfect fit for his offense.

Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray could go No. 1 to the Cardinals in the NFL draft. (Getty)
Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray could go No. 1 to the Cardinals in the NFL draft. (Getty)

Let's be honest: Murray and Kingsbury have the same agent: Erik Burkhardt of Select Sports. If you think there haven't been conversations about pairing up Murray and Kingsbury between that trio of men, you have a giant jellybean for a brain. Particularly when there is one glaring, obvious aspect in all of this: Murray is not only a more natural fit than Rosen to run Kingsbury's offense, Kingsbury actually recruited Murray for that very purpose at one point in his career.

Which brings us back to the Cardinals and the larger picture: If they’re going to gamble on Kingsbury because they’re intrigued by his offensive mind, why would they shortchange the wager by refusing to go a little further and pluck the quarterback Kingsbury is demonstrably most comfortable with?

If you're the Cardinals, there's a strong argument that you not only could take Murray, but that you should, if only because it fits perfectly with the dice roll you just took on your head coach. And make no mistake, the future of this franchise is 100 percent leveraged on Kingsbury's offense working. Which means it's 100 percent on Kingsbury's relationship and development with his quarterback.

Does that mean that it can't work with Rosen? No. But this is the NFL, and when you gamble like this, you take the best shot possible, with the tools that best fit. There's a far stronger argument for that tandem being Kingsbury and Murray than Kingsbury and Rosen. Especially when you consider that of last year's five first-round quarterbacks, Rosen was arguably the least impressive of the bunch, which also included Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Jackson.

So what does that mean next? It means Murray has to show out at his pro day on March 13 and interview well with the Cardinals brass. After that? Well, the league's annual meetings in Phoenix begin on March 24. It's the perfect place to gain traction on trades that need to happen before the draft.

If Rosen is going on the trade block and he isn't already there by the end of the combine on Monday, the next opportunity to make something happen will be in Arizona later this month. Mark that on the calendar because Murray is absolutely in play for the No. 1 pick in the draft. If (and when) that reality turns from consideration into action, it means Rosen's suitors will be lining up at the end of this month.

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