Questions remain about Kyler Murray's lack of size, but Russell Wilson's experience is making it easier for the former Oklahoma quarterback.
Is he too short to be an elite NFL quarterback, or will his dynamic talent be enough to overcome the lingering prejudice against quarterbacks who stand under six-feet tall? Here’s Mike Mayock weighing in:
“He’s not typical and he’s too short and all those things. However, to me, he’s a winner. Doesn’t matter where you plug him in. He finds a way to win. … I think he’s the kind of guy that might develop more than people think.”
No, that’s not Mayock, the new Raiders general manager, assessing Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray from this week’s NFL combine — though, heaven knows, those questions were bandied about with abandon.
Actually, it’s Mayock, the NFL Network draft analyst at the time, assessing Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson before the 2012 draft.
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In one sense, there’s nothing new about the hue and cry over Murray, who shunned baseball to cast his lot with the NFL. He had the world waiting breathlessly on Thursday to see if he could crack the magical 5-foot-10 barrier at the official measurement ceremony. (All’s well in the world: Murray tipped the yardstick at 5-10 1/8).
The same morbid curiosity existed in ’12 over Wilson, who had scouts drooling over his throwing ability, his athleticism, his leadership, his smarts, even his hand size. But most of them just couldn’t get past the fact that he stood just 5-10 5/8. As Jon Gruden — then an ESPN analyst, now the coach of Mayock’s Raiders — said in Wilson’s “QB Camp” episode while mocking all the scouting reports on Wilson, to his face: “He’s too short, he’s too short, he’s too damn short.”
But here’s what’s new in 2019, and why Murray should shake Wilson’s 10 1/4-inch hand the next time they cross paths: In the ensuing seven years since the Seahawks used their third-round draft pick on Wilson, he’s torn asunder the popular wisdom about short QBs.
Now, Wilson hasn’t done this single-handedly, of course. Wilson’s role model was Drew Brees, who measured 6-0 1/4 and 213 pounds at the 2001 Combine. But that “6” rather than a “5” is like a key to the kingdom door that Wilson had to pick, or kick, open.
Which he did — and Wilson’s unequivocal success in Seattle, which included a Super Bowl title in his second year and more wins than any other quarterback of his tenure, has greatly weakened those stereotypes.
Notice I didn’t say removed them. If that were the case, there wouldn’t have been the breathless anticipation to see Murray’s vitals (he weighed 207, assuaging those who feared he’d be in the 190s, and had hands of 9 ½ inches, whatever the heck that really means).
Murray’s college credentials, which included a Heisman Trophy and a dazzling array of highlights for the reel, would have spoken for themselves. But if he had checked in at 5-9 15/16, and not just a tick over 5-10, you just know it would have been a deal-breaker for some teams. Fortunately, though, Wilson’s success has taught enough teams that it’s the content of a quarterback’s skill set, and not a few inches one way or the other, that will determine his success.
One hopes, anyway.
Asked this week if Wilson’s success would make it easier for a team to spend a top pick on Murray, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll replied, “It didn’t have anything to do with his height; it had to do with who he was and the player he was. We got over that part of it or we wouldn’t have drafted him.
“Were we affected by it? Yeah, we were, just because of the tradition. I don’t know if it was a mistake, but it was a hindrance, because he was a great player, obviously. Those guys that have played their whole lives at that height know what they’re doing, know how to do it. It shows by the way they play. That’s just how you’ve got to evaluate. Not everybody agrees with that. I think we’ve proven that. Russell has been a fantastic trendsetter, leader, in that regard.
“He’s not the only one — Fran (Tarkenton) was pretty good, too. You guys don’t remember George Mira, but he was a guy way back in the day. Eddie LeBaron even got smaller. There’s a lot of guys that have played — no, there’s some guys who have played. Not a lot of guys have made it all the way to the NFL level. It’s really the player, the person, and all that. We’re seeing a young guy coming up this year, he’s a very exciting football player that will challenge everybody’s evaluations.”
The irony, of course, is that Wilson’s success might just embolden the Arizona Cardinals, who own the No. 1 overall pick, to eschew their current QB, Josh Rosen, and go with Murray instead.
That’s the hot rumor, based on several factors — Rosen’s struggles (11 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, a 3-10 record) last year as a rookie starter, after the Cardinals traded up to move from 15th to 10th to nab him out of UCLA; the perfect fit for Murray in the offense of new Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury, who said last year as Texas Tech coach that he would draft Murray No. 1 if he could (and now he can); and the nebulous comment this week at the combine from Cardinals’ GM Steve Keim, who was asked whether Rosen is the Cardinals’ quarterback.
“Yeah. He is right now, for sure,” Keim said.
That “right now” reverberated around the football world and had many analysts predicting that the Cardinals will trade Rosen and draft Murray. ESPN’s Mel Kiper said he was moving Murray to the top spot in his next mock draft — Arizona’s spot.
That would, of course, place Murray smack-dab in the path of Wilson and the Seahawks twice a year in the NFC West. Perhaps someday Murray will give a commencement address at the University of Oklahoma and tell a story like Wilson did when he was the speaker at Wisconsin’s graduation in 2016.
“The summer before my senior year of college, I’m playing minor-league baseball. I called my football coach at N.C. State and said, ‘Hey coach, I’d like to come back for my senior year.’ He told me I wasn’t coming back. He said, ‘Listen son, you’re never going to play in the National Football League. You’re too small. There’s no chance. You’ve got no shot. Give it up.’
“Of course, I’m on this side of the phone saying, ‘So you’re telling me I’m not coming back to N.C. State? I won’t see the field?’ He said, ‘No son, you won’t see the field.’ Now this was everything I had worked for. And now it was completely gone.”
Wilson’s message to students, of course, was to follow your dream and don’t let others dictate your future. He transferred to Wisconsin, had a dazzling season, and then silenced all the doubters who said 5-10 was simply too short to play quarterback in the NFL.
They’re still saying it, in fact. But thanks to Wilson, there are enough who know it’s not true to ensure Kyler Murray’s name will be called very early on draft day.
Maybe even first.