INDIANAPOLIS — Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray will measure and weigh in at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday. Spoiler alert: He will be short, and he will probably be slim.
And if you’re really smart, like San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, you won’t care. Shanahan equated playing quarterback while vertically challenged to accomplishing new feats on the slopes or basketball court.
“I don’t think anything’s happening different,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “You just see one person do it, and other people realize things are possible. You watch, like, snowboarding and stuff, and people never thought you could do more than whatever two 360s is — a 720. And then all of a sudden someone does three of them, and then a year later, 10 of them do that. So, yeah, we’d all like tall guys with the biggest arm in the world who can run faster than everyone and who know how to play quarterback. You haven’t seen those all over the years.
“But when Drew Brees is as good as anyone who’s ever played the game, he’s a smarter one. And it goes by percentages. The odds are, if you’re taller, it should be easier. If you’re faster, it should be easier. If you’ve got a better arm, it should be easier. But like I’ll say about every single position, there’s no absolutes at anything. So if guys can throw and play the position, they don’t have to dunk. And if they can jump, they can be small and still dunk. Everyone gets too big into — odds are, the taller that you are, the easier it is, but short guys can play, and that’s being proven over and over again.”
Brees is short. Baker Mayfield is short. Russell Wilson is short. If Wilson, at a shade under 5-foot-11, isn’t too short to play quarterback, then does too short exist? If Murray is a full inch shorter than Wilson, is that suddenly too short to play quarterback? What exactly does that inch accomplish? Can a 5-foot-11 quarterback see over 6-foot-6 offensive linemen better than a 5-foot-10 quarterback?
Those who judge quarterbacks by height act like there’s an impenetrable 6-foot-6 wall that stretches from sideline to sideline on the line of scrimmage. Offensive linemen move. They disperse. The New England Patriots teach their offensive tackles to redirect offensive linemen behind the quarterback, removing four players from the quarterback’s sightline. Quarterbacks can roll out. If they’re accurate enough, they can throw between defenders.
Murray had only five batted passes in 2018.
And what injury are we concerned about Murray suffering from being too slight? Is he going to internally combust when he takes a hit? Are we worried about broken ribs? A broken collarbone?
Murray has withstood hits his entire life. And given his prowess as a passer, he almost certainly won’t run as much in the NFL as he did in college.
New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman talked about height when answering a question about former NFL linebacker Sam Mills. The premise applies to Murray, though.
“It’s a big man’s game,” Gettleman said Wednesday. “You can talk about it all you want. The game’s changing and everybody’s going crazy about all the stuff the college guys are doing. Bottom line is it’s a big man’s game. So, if you don’t have size, if you’re missing a PQ, a physical quality so to speak, instincts — you have to have what I call a compensating factor. And the compensating factor a lot of times is instincts.”
Murray has the best combination of speed and throwing ability out of any quarterback prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft. He will be likened to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, but those comparisons aren’t really fair. Murray is a much better passer than Jackson.
Murray is more of a combination of Jackson and Mayfield. He’s slight and fast like Jackson and short like Mayfield. He’s not quite as accurate of a passer as Mayfield, but he has the athleticism to make up for it.
He rated well across the board in Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics. He was second among draft-eligible players in adjusted completion percentage and adjusted completion percentage against the blitz. He was first in adjusted completion percentage against pressure and seventh in adjusted completion percentage on deep passes.
Perhaps the biggest test Thursday will be his hand size. Wilson and Brees can still sling the ball because they have massive hands for their frames. Murray’s hand size is unknown.
Jackson and Mayfield were both first-round picks. Murray will be too. And the team that isn’t scared off by Murray’s height could benefit from his “compensating factors,” as Gettelman would say.