BakerMania: Kyler Murray’s draft stock getting a boost from Baker Mayfield
Has the positive experience of the Cleveland Browns drafting Oklahoma Sooner Baker Mayfield led to a positive buzz for this year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Kyler Murray?
It seems unbelievable, but one season after the Cleveland Browns drafted Baker Mayfield, a guy under six feet tall is projected to be the first overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft by many respected analysts – including Mel Kiper Jr., who represents the gold standard for draft analysts, as well as NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones.
But hold on a moment. There are any number of biases that Murray faces. How about the short bias? Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Johnny Manziel flopped as a quarterback because he was only 5-foot-11? Well, maybe the alcohol and drugs might have been a contributing factor too. But supposedly a quarterback cannot make it in the NFL if he is shorter than six feet tall. It’s probably true that a quarterback the height of Drew Brees can not throw the ball the same way as Ben Roethlisberger. Specifically, someone like Brees has to move laterally to avoid the rush but also to reduce the possibility of having passes batted down by tall pass rushers.
Height also came into play in 2018 when the Cleveland Browns made Baker Mayfield the number one pick of the draft despite standing only six feet tall. Many analysts preferred taller quarterbacks like Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen. But just because Mayfield succeeded does not mean that height is no longer an issue. We need to see Murray actually do the things that shorter quarterbacks like Brees and Russell Wilson can do, like moving laterally to get out of the way of defensive linemen and throwing accurately while on the move. But it does seem after Mayfield’s great success, the concern about height has mostly evaporated. That is going too far the other way. Murray owes Mayfield for making that concern go away or at least diminished.
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Another bias is the Big 12 bias. For years, draft experts have warned us not to get too excited by quarterback stats in the Big 12, and it’s true. They just have a style of play that leads to gaudy passing stats. Vince Young, Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy come to mind as guys who had huge numbers in Big 12 play, but were not as successful in the NFL. There is a reason for it. The style of play is such that teams go for up-tempo, big passing attacks, and they put up numbers. It does not mean that all Big 12 quarterbacks are bad, but it does mean you have to understand how their style of play will translate to the NFL.
For one year anyway, Mayfield has destroyed the Big 12 bias because of his success in the NFL. Perhaps for the moment he has demolished the bias. For the most part, analysts seem willing to believe that one Heisman quarterback from Oklahoma must be about the same as another. But Mayfield’s success doesn’t mean that the team, the system and the coach have become less relevant. We should probably still take numbers from the Big 12 with a grain of salt.
Now, how about the running quarterback bias? Conventional wisdom is that we hate running quarterbacks and prefer pocket passers, right? The main objection is that the career of a running quarterback is usually shorter than the career of a pure passer. Do we want to have this guy take 10 extra hits per game? A lot of people have done it in college, but very few have successfully taken the punishment at the NFL level.
Russell Wilson, it must be admitted, is able to do that, but it is very rare for someone to be as small and durable as Wilson. Namely, nobody else has ever been that good, although perhaps young Lamar Jackson of Baltimore might be willing to challenge Wilson’s reputation as one of the top running quarterbacks in the NFL.
Nowhere was there a better running quarterback coming out of college than Jackson, who will probably eclipse Wilson’s records and add 1,000 yards on the ground next year. Had he wanted to make the NFL as a running back, he would probably have been right up there with Sony Michel, Phillip Lindsay, Saquon Barkley and Nick Chubb. Moreover, Jackson has a Heisman in his trophy case just like Murray. Yet Jackson was selected with the 32nd selection in 2018, rather than the top overall pick. Is Kyler Murray that much better than Jackson, and he is really so good that we will forgive him for being a running quarterback?
How about the experience bias? Bill Parcells used to say that a college quarterback needs to have started three years and won 23 games in college to be a premier NFL prospect. Mayfield had 42 wins. Murray had 14. Quarterbacking is not just about running fast and throwing the football, it’s a complex skill. The development of a quarterback probably requires actual game reps over an extended development period. Hard to imagine that Murray can just skip two years and make it in the NFL. Manziel did this experiment and the results were not particularly good in his first year in the NFL.
Murray elected to not run the 40-yard dash, nor did he participate in the throwing drills. The presumption is he is at an elite level. Is it true? If so, why not prove it? Maybe it had to do with the recent weight gain he had. A human body that can run a 4.4 might slow down if it gains five to seven percent additional body mass, as Murray may have done for the Combine. The NFL does not know how fast Murray is at the new weight. The reason he did not run the 40-yard dash may be because he has lost a tick or two.
The “small hands bias” says that a quarterback, especially for a cold weather team, needs to have big hands. 9.5” inches is about the minimum necessary for a quarterback, and so Murray has not aced that by any means. In short, he hasn’t done much at the Combine
The first round draft pick, and especially first overall, is supposed to be the guy that ticks off all the boxes. He has got to have talent, athleticism, pocket passer, size, speed, hand size, and a good Combine report. Murray aces talent, athleticism and speed. He has many of the stats we want to see but not as many of them as we want. His height and weight are marginal, hand size is marginal, Combine skills are not fully known, and he simply has not had the three years of starting experience that we would like to see for an NFL starter.
Let us also not forget that this is the greatest sports story of the football off-season. Here’s an immensely talented athlete giving up the chance to be a Major League Baseball player in order to try the NFL draft. He has not gotten any better over the off-season, it’s just that the hype has become more intense. If in January he was a guy that maybe had a chance to break into the first round, nothing has happened that now elevates his status to the first overall draft pick.
It will be terribly tragic if he goes to Arizona. That’s the team that is ready to give up on Josh Rosen at 22-years-old after only one year of experience. There is a credible chance that Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury might want to install elements of a college style offense at the pro level. But for Murray’s sake, let us hope that does not happen.
Can he play in the NFL? Yes, of course. Is he as good as Mayfield? It’s not completely crazy, but it is much more likely that he will struggle because of his lack of experience, especially if he winds up on a bad team. That should be reflected in his draft status. Perhaps we will see a slide similar to Aaron Rodgers, who slid all the way to 22nd overall in 2005. It probably benefited Rodgers to sit behind Brett Favre for a few years, and that might help Murray as well. However, if he slides too far, he might decide that playing center field for the Oakland A’s is still an option.
Mayfield might have elevated the expectations for another smallish Oklahoma quarterback. However, these expectations are probably too high.