Cardinals Can’t and Won’t Pass on QB Kyler Murray at No. 1 in 2019 NFL Draft

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File - In this Oct. 27, 2018, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray maneuvers during the team's NCAA college football game against Kansas State in Norman, Okla. The Oakland Athletics remain hopeful of seeing Heisman Trophy winner Murray in their baseball uniform when spring training begins next month. While the Oklahoma quarterback declared for the NFL draft last week, the prized outfielder could report to A’s spring training in Mesa, Arizona--and he has an invite to big league camp. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

The Arizona Cardinals aren’t fooling anyone by saying they don’t know where the organization stands with the first overall pick. 

“We are not done with this process,” general manager Steve Keim said, per Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith. “We have not made a decision on the first overall pick. There are a number of players in my opinion, and our scouts’ opinion, and our coaching staff’s opinion, that warrant being the first overall selection.”

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is the correct choice. Every other option is wrong, because an organization doesn’t pass on a projected franchise signal-caller if the position isn’t settled. And the position is not settled in Arizona despite Josh Rosen being last year’s 10th overall pick. Rosen is a talented young option, but Murray is a superior prospect with better ties to the regime’s current setup. 

To Keim’s point, yes, a number of players are worthy of consideration. Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Kentucky’s Josh Allen are potential defensive cornerstones. The Cardinals scheduled visits with Bosa and Williams, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero

Of course, the team met with Murray and his agent, Erik Burkhardt, last week, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Keim pushed back against the report since the agent’s presence seemingly indicates the Cardinals are already sold on the reigning Heisman Trophy winner as the first overall pick and ready to negotiate. The general manager called the report “false,” per Darren Urban of the team’s official site. 

“The fact that I don’t know what we’re doing but everybody else does? That’s concerning,” Keim said, per Kyle Odegard of the Cardinals’ site. 

Keim may not know who will sit upon the Iron Throne once Game of Thrones comes to an end, but he certainly has an inkling of what he plans to do with the first selection. The gamesmanship is unnecessary. Other organizations already have an idea of what Arizona is doing, especially after Murray canceled a predraft visit this week with the Washington Redskins, per the NFL Network’s Steve Wyche

A year ago, quarterback Baker Mayfield famously told his agent, “I’m not going later than [the fifth overall pick].”

The Cleveland Browns made Mayfield the first pick in the 2018 draft. 

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 14:  Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners and Kyler Murray #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners warm up before the game against the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl on October 14, 2017 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Ima

Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Washington currently owns the 15th overall pick, and Murray is arguably the draft class’ top talent. His rise runs parallel with the one Mayfield experienced. Neither former Oklahoma quarterback was seen as the No. 1 overall pick during the season despite Heisman Trophy-winning seasons. Both are considered outliers because of their size. Yet, evaluators couldn’t deny their skill sets upon closer inspection. 

The public perception didn’t necessarily reflect team-by-team realitieswhich is exactly why it’s easy to call Keim out for his earlier falsehood. Browns general manager John Dorsey knew exactly who he wanted with the first overall pick six months before Cleveland made its selection. 

“On the record, he knew in October,” The MMQB’s Albert Breer said during an appearance on 92.3 The Fan’s Bull and Fox (via WKYC’s Matthew Florjancic). “He knew in October that Baker Mayfield was going to be the best player in the next year’s draft, which is interesting to me because I don’t think there were a ton of people that saw him that way.

“I think a lot of people still looked at him with curiosity, ‘Is this guy a product of the Oklahoma system and the air raid? Is he too short?’ All those questions were there, and I just thought it was interesting because Dorsey had so much conviction on the guy, and obviously, we see now that conviction was pretty well-founded.”

Obviously, the situation is a little different because a lot of the Murray hype is built on one major factor: Kliff Kingsbury being hired as the Cardinals’ new head coach.

“Kyler is a freak,” the former Texas Tech coach said six months ago, per KAMC’s Eric Kelly. “… I just think the world of him and what he can do on the football field. 

“I’ve never seen him have a poor outing. Not one. Which, at quarterback, is impossible to do, but he’s done it. I’d take him with the first pick of the draft if I could.” 

Brad Tollefson/Associated Press

Keim couldn’t have been sold on the two-sport star that early in the process, because he had no way of knowing Kingsbury would become the team’s next head coach after only one year of Steve Wilks. Besides, Murray didn’t make his intention to concentrate on football clear until February.  

But the idea a general manager doesn’t know what he plans to do a week before the draft even as he weighs all options is nonsense. Keim should listen to other franchises interested in the top pick. That’s part of the job. However, there is no offer that could sway a team from acquiring a landscape-shifting quarterback prospect. 

Murray is deserving of the selection, too. His standing isn’t simply based on Kingsbury’s wishes and scheme fit. This isn’t a case where a team falls in love with a prospect and overdrafts him. Murray is the complete package, even if he’s smaller than ideal. 

The 5’10”, 207-pound signal-caller delivers the football accurately to all three levels of the field, consistently works beyond his first read and excels from the pocket. 

The first-team All-American finished first in the draft class with a 96.6 quarterback rating on passes 10-plus yards downfield, per Pro Football Focus. His accuracy actually increased from 59.8 percent on open 10-plus-yard throws to 61.4 percent for open 20-plus-yard throws, according to PFF

The idea Murray is another athletic run-first quarterback is ridiculously misinformed. According to Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson, the 1,000-yard rusher finished first overall in the nation with 12.3 yards per pass attempt and a 138.6 quarterback rating when working from the pocket. His adjusted completion percentage of 75.7 ranked seventh overall. 

Like any quarterback under 6’4″, Murray must find throwing lanes. At Oklahoma, he played behind a massive front with four blockers expected to be drafted next weekend. Defenders batted only five of Murray’s passes, which tied for the least among the top four quarterback prospects, per NFL Research

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Scheme is less of a factor after the success Mayfield experienced as a rookie and Kingsbury’s background as an air raid disciple. Even so, Murray received a 90 grade for his passing from PFF when he worked beyond his initial read. The undersized gunslinger displays an innate feel for working the pocket and creating downfield opportunities. 

Once his raw throwing ability and dynamism as a runner are factored into the equation, everything points toward Murray being an elite talent, even if the Cardinals didn’t sit atop the draft order. 

But they do.

An argument can be made Arizona lacks a quality roster and shouldn’t waste another premium pick on a quarterback prospect. Rosen struggled mightily as a rookie because he didn’t have the talent around him to make his life easier, but this doesn’t apply to Murray because he’s not just a distributor; he’s a playmaker in both phases.

Also, the Cardinals approached the offseason aggressively, adding right tackle Marcus Gilbert, guard J.R. Sweezy, tight end Charles Clay and wide receivers Kevin White and Damiere Byrd along with a slew of defensive free agents. The roster, as a whole, is much improved. 

Months of preparation doesn’t disappear once the team is on the clock. Arizona is already sold on Murray as its future franchise quarterback. 

“I’ve heard since the combine, resolutely, staunchly, that they are all in on Kyler Murray,” CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported earlier this week. 

Murray doesn’t come up short in any meaningful area, which makes him the absolute right choice for the Cardinals, even if they’re not willing to admit it publicly…yet.

          

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.

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