Kyler Murray and his Rookie of the Year Season

On February 1st, 2020, Kyler Murray became the second player ever on the Arizona Cardinals to win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year honor, beating out A.J. Brown and Josh Jacobs. While the Cardinals would still only finish the season with five wins (two more than the season prior), Kyler’s impact on the team was much more significant.

Within just one year, Murray was able to transform a historically bad 2018 Cardinal’s offense that finished last in points and yards per game into a team that ranked 16th in scoring. While this may not sound like much, it is pretty impressive considering how bad they were in the previous year and how much Kyler was able to elevate the pieces around him.

In this article, I’ll take a look at a couple of traits that make Kyler so special and projects him as a potential top ten quarterback. I will finish with where I think Kyler needs to improve to take that next step in year two.

Strengths

Off-Script Ability

As you can see from the clips that I gather above, one of Kyler’s greatest strengths is his mobility. In this new age of pass-heavy offenses, all of the top quarterbacks, such as Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Russell Wilson, are able to move out of the pocket and create their own offense when the confines of the offensive scheme are not working.

Kyler’s lateral quickness and burst to evade defenders are elite. I use the word elite sparingly, but I truly mean it in this instance. What his offense lacks in the offensive line’s pass blocking and the wide receiver’s separation, Kyler is able to make up for with his ability to extend the play by using his legs.

For example, in this play against the Falcons, Kyler is met with immediate pressure from the right edge (poor offensive line play).

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However, with his elite elusiveness, he is able to step up into the pocket and spin around the edge rusher to avoid being sacked.

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Finally, he finds a safe launch point to reset his feet and quickly find a receiver open downfield.

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Here is the full play in the video. This a pretty special ability that very few NFL quarterbacks are able to do.

Kyler is also able to accurately throw on the run. In the clip below, he is throwing this ball from practically a full sprinting position.

Also if you look very closely, Kyler uses some eye manipulation to move the cornerback and free up his wide receiver.

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That is some nuanced quarterbacking.

Deep Ball Accuracy

In addition to his off-script abilities, Murray’s deep ball accuracy as a rookie was fantastic. He ranked sixth in deep-ball completion % for all quarterbacks in 2019. He was consistently able to hit his wide receivers down the field for explosive plays.

In the clip below, Kyler is able to accurately deliver a ball down the field off of his back foot while facing pressure. This ball is placed over the cornerback, but away from the safety help towards the sideline.

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This next clip showcases the tremendous arm strength that Murray has. Even though he is back peddling with an unstable base, he is able to throw this ball about 50 yards down the field to Larry Fitzgerald, who unfortunately drops it.

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Scrambling

Kyler Murray had 544 rushing yards, which ranked 2nd in the NFL for all quarterbacks. Kyler may not be the runner that Lamar Jackson is, but he is very much a dual-threat in his own right and arguably the second-best ball carrier among the quarterbacks. He has the long speed and elusiveness to threaten defenses on the ground. With this skill set, Kingsbury was able to incorporate some read option and designed quarterback runs into the playbook.

Struggles

Holding Onto the Ball Too Long

In the 2019 season, Murray was sacked the most times in the NFL at 48 sacks. This was partly due to the terrible offensive line play he dealt with, but also because Kyler often held onto the ball for far too long. While the off-script ability is one of his best traits, it is also one that gets him into trouble.

Murray is a gamer. He is always looking to make a big play down the field. As a result at times, he forgets his internal clock telling him to just “throw the ball away”.

In the clip below, Kyler is rolling out of the pocket and is looking downfield. However, he completely ignores #42 running towards him for the sack. He needs to have the spacial and situational awareness to throw the ball away in this situation.

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This is not a huge issue yet, but Murray will need to learn to differentiate when to try and wait for the big play and when the play is dead. With his small frame, he will not want to keep taking unnecessary hits if he wants a long NFL career. This struggle will improve with experience and in-game nuance.

Interceptions

Kyler Murray had 12 interceptions in the 2019 season, which was tied for 11th most in the NFL. Now, in reality, I don’t think that his interception total is a huge issue, especially for a rookie quarterback that is still learning his offense and adjusting to the speed of the professional game. I also think Kyler was victim to quite a bit of bad interception luck, but some of them were his fault and ultimately it is an area that he could definitely improve upon to take that next step.

For this article, I went back and looked at all of Kyler’s throws and interceptions. From what I saw, a majority of his interceptions are simply caused by Murray staring down his receiver and completely disregarding the defender who is covering underneath.

For example on this pick-six, Murray has tunnel vision for Fitzgerald. He makes it pretty obvious where he is going to throw the ball.

As a result, he fails to see #24 underneath, who intercepts the ball for a touchdown.

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Here is the full play:

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Looking Ahead To 2020

In his rookie year, I actually saw a lot of the same struggles that Deshaun Watson went through in Kyler Murray. As a result, I could definitely see Murray taking a similar step up in production and efficiency in his 2nd year as Deshaun Watson. Another full offseason learning Kliff Kingsbury’s offense will help further develop Kyler’s mental aspects of leading an offense.

I believe that the Cardinal’s should make it their goal to surround Murray with fundamental pieces through the draft and free agency. The Cardinal’s should look at the recent Super Bowl winners for inspiration on how to build around a young talented quarterback. They need to bring in a legitimate number one wide receiver (CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy) to take over for the aging Larry Fitzgerald and an offensive tackle with Marcus Gilbert and D.J. Humphries set to be free agents. If they can add an elite playmaker on the outside and solidify the offensive line, this offense could see another jump possibly into a top ten offense in the NFL.

The continuity of the offensive staff and scheme along with possibly adding talent to the offensive will hopefully help push Kyler into taking that next step. Cardinal’s fans should be excited about his future.


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