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'There's star quality there. But you don't really know': NFL talent evaluators try to figure out exactly what to make of Kyler Murray

The Washington Post

The evaluation process for this year's NFL draft intensified this week, with scouts, front office executives and coaches in Mobile, Alabama, to scrutinize the players on hand for the Senior Bowl.

But the most intriguing draft prospect was nowhere to be seen. For now, there's plenty of guesswork and conjecture involved for NFL talent evaluators as they try to figure out exactly what to think about Kyler Murray, while Oklahoma's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback contemplates his future.

Will it be baseball or football for Murray? Those in the NFL have no way of knowing, with Murray declaring himself eligible for the draft after having already been chosen ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics last summer. But while Murray mulls his options, quarterback-needy NFL teams must begin to formulate opinions about how he fits into this draft class and what they think his chances of success are.

Would Murray be a certain first-round pick if he commits to football? Opinions vary, it seems, at this relatively early point in the pre-draft process.

"I'm not sure anyone can say at this point," a personnel executive with one NFL team said. "You love the talent. There's star quality there. But you don't really know. There are a lot of variables right now."

The executive said that if he had to, he would guess that Murray would indeed be selected in the opening round if he opts for football over baseball, given that it only takes one team to love him and that quarterbacks only become more valued as the draft process moves along.

"Those guys," the executive said of quarterbacks, "generally go way closer to the upper end [of the range of expectations] than the lower end."

Five quarterbacks were chosen in the opening round last year: Baker Mayfield by the Cleveland Browns, Sam Darnold by the New York Jets, Josh Allen by the Buffalo Bills, Josh Rosen by the Arizona Cardinals and Lamar Jackson by the Baltimore Ravens. Mayfield, Darnold, Allen and Rosen went in the top 10. The Ravens traded up to take Jackson with the final selection of the first round.

That was regarded all along as an unusually strong quarterback class. This year's has not been as celebrated. That could help Murray as teams evaluate him alongside fellow draft-eligible quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State, Drew Lock of Missouri, Daniel Jones of Duke, Will Grier of West Virginia and Ryan Finley of N.C. State.

Murray succeeded Mayfield both as Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman winner. Murray is as dynamic as a player gets. His speed as a runner is otherworldly. He is an accomplished passer. But questions remain, particularly about his size.

"We need accurate height, weight, hand size," said Bill Polian, the Hall of Fame former executive of the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts. "The height matters. And the thickness matters. Your comparison is Russell Wilson. If he's shorter than Russell Wilson, that would give people pause. But he's a much better passer and he's probably faster as a runner than the kid in Baltimore. So if the height and the weight check out, you're at least talking about somewhere in there, late first round to early second round. That's where [Jackson] went."

Oklahoma listed Murray at 5 feet 10 and 195 pounds. To be even more precise, the school says that its strength staff measured Murray, in socks, at 5-9⅞ before the season.

That's not the traditionally statuesque NFL quarterback. But it's not the traditional NFL any more, in many ways. Offensive concepts have trickled up from the college to the pro game. Quarterbacks who can move well and improvise creatively are more the norm than ever before. Traditional notions about quarterbacks are fading. But they haven't disappeared.

"It will be interesting to see," one veteran agent said on the topic of whether Murray's style will translate to NFL success.

Teams might wonder not only if Murray can thrive in the NFL, but whether he can last.

"It's hard to play outside the pocket in the NFL," Polian said. "It's hard to last in your career playing that way. We've seen that. If he's under 200 pounds, it's hard to last in your career that way. The way offense is now played probably negates the height issue somewhat. But Drew [Brees] is 6 feet. Russell is probably 5-11. If he's 5-9, that's a different kettle of fish.

"You're talking about having to try to find entirely different passing lanes and windows in the NFL. In the spread offense in college, things are different. Everything is all spread out and the passing windows are different. But he's really fast. He's a shifty runner. He can really throw the ball. The passing skills are exemplary. He's accurate. There's a lot to like. The answer is: Stay tuned."

The A's reportedly have not given up on their bid to convince Murray to stick with baseball. What Murray decides is his priority will go a long way toward determining his attractiveness to NFL teams. Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson once managed to be two-sport stars in football and baseball. But it's unlikely that an NFL franchise would sanction a dual-sport existence for its quarterback, and interested teams probably will want to hear from Murray that he's all about football.

"That's a huge 'if,' " Polian said. "I don't think playing the quarterback position, you can play two sports. You just can't. . . . It starts with the commitment. The entire conversation starts with that. If he wants to play both, that's a very poor risk."

First published by The Washington Post

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