Kyler Murray

Why Cardinals chose Kyler Murray’s future over Josh Rosen

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Kliff Kingsbury has learned a few things in his four months on the job as an NFL head coach. This is one thing: “People just make sh— up,” Kingsbury said, calmly, in a conference room at the Cardinals training facility late Saturday.

I asked Kingsbury if he ever said at the combine that it was a “done deal” the Cards were drafting Kyler Murray first overall.

“No,” he said. “Never.”

I asked Kingsbury what he’d have said if GM Steve had told him a month ago the best thing for the team was to keep Josh Rosen at quarterback and draft Nick Bosa.

“I’d have said, ‘Let’s go to work,’ “ Kingsbury said. “That’s why I signed on here. I knew I was coming here to try and improve the offense. We were last in everything. Try to help Josh become a better player, more comfortable in the system, continue to build him. That was my job. If that was what we were going to do, that’s what I signed up for in the first place.”

“Biggest misconception about your role in this?” I asked.

“That I rolled here and was just like, ‘We’re taking Kyler Murray,’“ Kingsbury said. “First off … I don’t have that type of juice coming in the door. That wasn’t how it went down at all.”

This was an hour or so after the draft. Kingsbury and the man who hired him, Keim, sat together to discuss one crazy era of Cardinals football—the drafting of Josh Rosen 10th overall a year ago, the hiring of a coach who’d been fired at Texas Tech to pilot the franchise, the marginalizing of Rosen, the drafting of Murray, the unloading of Rosen to Miami, the drafting of three receivers to turn the Cards’ offense into Kingsbury’s personal Madden game.

I turned to Keim, who has put his GM career on the line with this coaching hire and this draft choice, and asked: “Did you seriously weigh the alternative of keeping Rosen and saying, ‘Sorry, Kliff, I’m not giving you your guy?’ “

“Absolutely,” Keim said. “That’s my job. All spring, your mind races with the different scenarios. At the end of the day, you had to look and say again, ‘What is really going to catapult us into being different?’ I’ve always been a visual guy and I’ve always had success evaluating quarterbacks when I trusted my instincts and my gut. I’ve missed on the guys that looked the part, smelled the part, you tried to invent and because all the things were connecting the dots. You scouted them and said, ‘Okay, they’re going to be a player because they look like this. I’m not saying that’s Josh Rosen. I’m saying I had my real success, guys I’ve loved that have been great NFL players, based on instinct.

“When I closed my eyes and I visualized Kyler Murray running around State Farm Stadium in red and white, for whatever reason, all I saw was just fireworks, excitement, a must-see [environment] where fans have to go and show up and see this thing. Him being the architect was a phenomenal fit for me.”

Interesting way to evaluate: scouting through visualization. “I either visualize them or I just have bigger balls than my brains,” Keim said. “I’m not scared to make a mistake. That could cost me my career but at the same time, to be great and to have success you gotta be willing to take chances—ones that you believe in.”

Clearly, that’s what this time in Cards history is about. Arizona took a chance on Kingsbury, and is taking another one on Murray. This is a franchise adrift, with a GM with his job on the line, a head coach the league looks at dubiously, and now a 5-10 quarterback the new coach has pined for since the kid’s sophomore year in high school in Texas. (True story: Kingsbury, then Texas Tech coach, offered 5-foot-5 sophomore quarterback Kyler Murray a full scholarship as a sophomore at Allen High in 2012.]

Keim said he didn’t study Murray thoroughly till after he studied the free-agent prospects. So it wasn’t till mid-March, Keim said, that he dug in on Murray tape. Until then, he said, there’s no way the organization would have made the decision to draft Murray—because Keim contractually has final say on the draft. “I was reluctant to study him because I knew what we had in Josh Rosen,” Keim said. “As I watched the first game, I watched the second game, I couldn’t put down the controller. All I wanted to do was keep watching this kid on tape. I don’t know if I wrote down ‘wow’ 100 times, or 500 times, but my hand got tired of writing it. In the time I’ve been doing this, I haven’t seen a guy who could throw like him and run like him. I’ve seen guys who could do one of each, but I’ve never evaluated a guy who possesses the skill set to do both things at such a high level. I was also studying guys that I was falling in love with, like Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams, really having to really weigh which player makes the biggest impact for us. It became crystal clear in the end it was Kyler Murray.”

Keim was adamant about Kingsbury expressing his opinion, then staying out of the way of the evaluation process. “The thing I respect the most about Kliff is he never once interrupted the process,” Keim said, with Kingsbury sitting across the conference table. “He never once came down and put his fist on the table and said, ‘I want Kyler Murray. I have to have him.’ I knew that he loved him as a player, but he allowed the process to take care of itself. To me, that was the only way we were going to get it right.”

So now, in the wake of drafting four players to help Kingsbury run his offense, let’s see where these Cardinals are. Kingsbury’s offense, a cousin of Mike Leach’s Air Raid scheme, will often run four wide receivers and one back; it’s important to have specific roles for the receivers, but in the case, say, of second-round receiver Andy Isabella from UMass, Kingsbury found a receiver who can be used in the slot, outside, and on Jet Sweep-type plays, because Isabella is experienced at all three roles. Kingsbury likely envisions an offense, at least at first, with Isabella and the ancient but still productive Larry Fitzgerald in either slot, with second-year wideout Christian Kirk and this year’s 103rd pick, 6-5 Hakeem Butler, outside on either side. And, of course, strong runner and receiver David Johnson should get 300 touches out of the backfield. There will be a consistent no-huddle element too, so some of these Arizona games will be survival-of-the-fittest track meets.

What’s different with Kingsbury’s system, his friends in coaching say, is how game-plan-specific his weekly plans will be. A sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2003, Kingsbury spent that season (New England’s second Super Bowl season) on IR with an arm injury, but soaked in the Bill Belichick philosophy about varying the weekly game plan. With Belichick, every game plan is a snowflake; no two look alike. And though Kingsbury’s passing offense will be the wide-open, four-wideouts-on-the-field-regularly scheme, he’ll be sure to tailor it to that week’s opponent too.

Kingsbury told me the system for Murray will be “very similar” as his Oklahoma scheme under the progressive Lincoln Riley. “His ability to escape the pocket, escape those D-lineman when they can’t get off blocks—it’s just unique. And to still be able to drop back and survey the field and still be able to get the ball out on time, get through his progressions … When you spread people out he’s a weapon in a bunch of different ways. That’s tough on defenses because if you want to rush him upfield and he takes off, good luck catching him. And if you sit back, he can still pick you apart. The way we spread people out, the tempo in which we play, he’s the guy who can really thrive in system.

“We’re going to play the game at times wider than probably most people do in the league. We’re going to use the entire field and make them cover five wides and the quarterback and that’s tough on defenses.”

I was really curious how Kingsbury, back in 2012, just having taken the Texas Tech head-coaching job, could have been so smitten with a tiny quarterback in Allen, Texas. “Well,” Kingsbury said, ”nobody could touch him, he could throw it from the pocket, the mechanics were great. He was the quickest player on the field. I just always believed that he could be great. I’d never seen anything like it on the field, a combination of that type of quickness and explosiveness and a true drop-back passer. So we developed a relationship through the years. He always knew that I believed in him and saw great things coming. It’s been a wild ride and crazy to see how it’s all turned out. I think everybody just assumed since he was undersized he couldn’t play at the next level.”

So here is Murray, at the next level, and at the next level after that. The highest level. The NFL.

This is going to be a great test tube football season in Arizona. In the NFL this year, no coach/QB combo platter will be under more scrutiny. A coach with a losing college record, and the first sub-6-foot quarterback to be drafted in the first round. And going number one overall! Kingsbury and Murray will be must-see TV, and must-see Keim visualization.

“I think both of us are competitive and have a chip on our shoulder,” Kingsbury told me. “What’s been said out there … “ His voice trailed off. He knows. “Now it’s time to go. We’ve heard all the talk and the talking’s done now. It’s about what we do from this point forward. When he came in here [Friday], we both kind of had that conversation and that mindset. That was more what our meeting was about.”

“Any celebrating that you finally got your guy after all these years of chasing him?” I asked.

“Not yet, no,” Kingsbury said. “There won’t be any celebrating till we win some games.”

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What should happen in first round of 2019 NFL Draft

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One to 32, here’s my best guess what teams from Tempe to Foxboro are thinking—and who they should be targeting in the first round.

1. Arizona: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma. I wouldn’t even consider offers, unless they’re ridiculously excessive. Picking Murray here just makes too much sense, with Kingsbury in love with him. GM Steve Keim has to figure, If I hired this offensive innovator as coach, and he wants Murray badly, why would we not give him what he wants? Even with a devalued Rosen going east (Washington and the Giants lead in the clubhouse, as I explain below), this is a move Arizona has to make.

2. San Francisco: Nick Bosa, edge rusher, Ohio State. Big pressure on the Niners to finally draft a pressure player on the line, after taking defensive linemen with their top picks in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and hitting big only on DeForest Buckner in ’16. Buckner, in 2018, was the first Niner to have a double-digit sack season in six years. Bosa’s been injured seriously in two of his last four football seasons, so he doesn’t come without risk. But he’s the right pick here.

3. New York Jets: Trade down. Multiple teams lust after Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, and if I had to bet, I’d put my money on GM Mike Maccagnan picking him here. He’s the cleanest prospect in this draft, and I think if the Jets auction the pick, they’d get three premier picks in return. I’d rather have the three picks—maybe two in the top 45 this year and another high pick next year—to get Sam Darnold a top receiver or tight end plus a building-block offensive lineman (Kansas State’s Dalton Risner?), at least, this year.

4. Oakland: Josh Allen, edge rusher, Kentucky. Jon Gruden picks Khalil Mack II, he hopes, and pays 30 cents on the Mack dollar for him. The best two edge players in the draft this year should be gone in the top four.

5. Tampa Bay: Trade down. That’s a strength of GM Jason Licht, who has done it two of the last three years. And because they don’t seem inclined to sign defensive tackle Gerald McCoy long-term (the Bucs have cap issues), and they could trade him, and they need multiple picks at reasonable prices. If they could deal down to a QB-craving team (Miami at 13?), Houston’s Ed Oliver or Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell could buttress a needy defensive front.

6. New York Giants: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri. Doubt GM Dave Gettleman will do this, or take any quarterback here. (In fact, I keep hearing Dwayne Haskins is sinking, and may be the fourth passer picked in this draft.) Gettleman seems to have more of a mind to fix his lines in this draft. But a franchise passer trumps all. Lock or Haskins should be the pick here—unless the Giants think it’s a lock that Lock will be there at 17.

7. Jacksonville: Jawaan Taylor, T, Florida. “I’ll be shocked if the Jaguars don’t go tackle here,” said one respected GM. Seems like Taylor is the most prepared to be a first-year starter, and could be plug-and-play at right tackle over Will Richardson, last year’s fourth-round pick.

8. Detroit: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa. Hmmm. Even after raiding Jesse James from the Steelers in free agency? Yes. Hockenson’s one the best blocking/receiving tight ends—and he’s passionate about the game—to come out of college football in years. Time for Matthew Stafford to have some easy completions.

9. Buffalo: Jonah Williams, T, Alabama. Odd. Bills haven’t taken a tackle in the last four drafts, and the last one they took high in a draft with an Alabama guy, the failed Cyrus Kouandjio, five years ago in round two. But they band-aided the wideout need in free agency (John BrownCole Beasley), and long-term tackle is still a major need position.

10. Denver: Devin White, LB, LSU. Vic Fangio froths at putting the best linebacker and a sure, physical tackler between Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Keep hearing Denver and a quarterback here, but it’s not what I’d do this year, this high.

11. Cincinnati: Multiple choice. I’d love to know what new coach Zac Taylor really thinks of Andy Dalton, and whether he believes one of these passers this year is a better option. Assuming Taylor is okay with Dalton, there’s a desperate need at tackle. I’d go Cody Ford, the Oklahoma tackle. Too high for him, but the need is acute.

12. Green Bay: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi. Pack should be able to scotch-tape tight end in 2019 with Jimmy Graham/Marcedes Lewis combo platter, so I’d go with a monster receiver Aaron Rodgers might actually learn to trust opposite Davante Adams. This is not the Green Bay way—the Pack traditionally waits to get a wideout down the line. Metcalf could break that mold.

13. Miami: Quarterback or edge rusher. Maybe new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea and GM Chris Grier have fallen in love with one of the passers. I’d lean that way if I were the Dolphins. But pass-rush is a major need, so I could see Montez Sweat or Brian Burns too. Either would be good here.

14. Atlanta: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston. Pair Oliver with Grady Jarrett, and Dan Quinn, finally, could have the kind of interior terrorism he’s yearned for since arriving in Atlanta. I understand they are mirror players. I also understand how difficult it would be for an interior offensive line to block these two.

15. Washington: Tackle or edge rusher or corner. Imagine being midway through the first round and having your pick of the corner market. Washington could have that, but the corner market is deeper than tackle, and thus a decent corner could be had on day two. If Dillard or Ford is on the board, I’d pick either. Keep in mind that Washington’s my favorite in the clubhouse to deal for Josh Rosen if the Arizona QB is traded.

16. Carolina: Montez Sweat, edge rusher, Mississippi State. The Usain Bolt of defensive linemen could well be gone by now, but he could drop a bit because of inconsistent college play, his minor heart condition, and the fact he’s a little stiff as a rusher. But post-Julius Peppers, Carolina should run this card to the podium in Nashville if Sweat is there midway through the round.

17. New York Giants: Depends on the first pick. If the Giants didn’t take a quarterback at six and Drew Lock is here, he’s the guy. If so, best available offensive or defensive lineman, such as guard/center Garrett Bradbury, who could compete to play opening day at a need position, center.

18. Minnesota: One of a number of offensive linemen, like Dalton Risner, T, Kansas State, or Erik McCoy, C, Texas A&M. If they don’t take the best available protector, I’ll be stunned. The line’s a major need. It got coordinator John DeFilippo fired last year.

19. Tennessee: Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama. Marcus Mariota needs an intermediate friend, and Delanie Walker, coming off an injury, will be 35 in August. Smith’s an opening-day contributor.

20. Pittsburgh: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan. When the Steelers lost Ryan Shazier to a spinal injury 16 months ago, they lost the heart of the defense. Bush isn’t Shazier, but he’d give Mike Tomlin the closest thing to Shazier they’ve had.

21. Seattle: Trade down. If the Seahawks hold the pick, it should be for a year-one starter on the offensive line like Bradbury, the center-guard. As it stands … Team most likely to trade down in round one: Seattle. Team with most urgency to trade down in round one: Seattle. GM John Schneider would rather trade on draft day than breathe, and he has but two picks in the top 120: this one and the 84th overall. Over-under on Schneider’s trade-downs on draft weekend: four.

22. Baltimore: Trade down. In Eric DeCosta’s first draft as GM, the safe thing to do—with just two picks in the top 100—is what is in DeCosta’s blood: Trade. If not, and if an explosive wideout like D.K. Metcalf is gone, the smart pick here would be a 10-year center—Erik McCoy of Texas A&M.

23. Houston: The best tackle. I don’t care who it is. The Texans have to get two good tackles in this draft. Andre Dillard, Cody Ford, Dalton Risner … one should still be here. If not, GM Brian Gaine’s got to trade down for value.

24. Oakland: Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama. It’s a great story, Marshawn Lynch being the billboard for his hometown Raiders. Rebel, rebel. Guess how many carries Lynch has had in the last four NFL seasons? It’s 408. Guess who turns 33 two weeks from today? Time marches on, and a guy who’s averaged 102 carries a year in the last four and who is ancient by running-back standards is maybe a complementary player this year. Raiders need a stud back, and I hear they love Jacobs.

25. Philadelphia: Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma. Incredible how similar picks 24 and 25 are. Eagles trading for DeSean Jackson, who will be 33 this year, and he starts a second act in Philly, like Lynch has done in Oakland. Jackson is the same height (5-10) and six pounds heavier at 175 than Brown, who should become the long-term deep threat for Carson Wentz.

26. Indianapolis: Best available front-seven player. Brian Burns still there? Good; he can learn from Justin Houston. Clelin Ferrell? Likely gone. Christian Wilkins? Excellent choice—a 315-pound space-eater who could free Darius Leonard to make even more plays in 2019.

27. Oakland: Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware, or Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame. I tend to think Adderley, because he’s a versatile player (three-year CB, one-year safety) who could fill the hole at safety next to Karl Joseph or plug at corner or nickel as well. Good weapon for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. The luxury of extra picks might make defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons tempting. He’d have been a top 10 pick were it not for his torn ACL in February.

28. Los Angeles Chargers: Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State. Derwin James and Abram in the back end for the next eight years? Sign me up for that.

29. Kansas City: Rashan Gary, edge rusher, Michigan, or best edge player available. Chiefs have gotten rid of their best three pass-rushers in the last 13 months—Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Dee Ford. If there’s one left in the round who can walk, chew gum, and get around tackles at the same time, GM Brett Veach will nab him.

30. Green Bay: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa, or best available offensive lineman. Keep hearing Fant was a distant second to Hockenson among the football people at Iowa, so that could give the Packers pause. They need a long-term tight end, and this could be a good spot to get one.

31. Los Angeles Rams: Best available offensive lineman … Chris Lindstrom, G, Boston College, or Elgton Jenkins, C, Mississippi State. The Rams have major long-term issues on their offensive line. The 2018 starters from center to left tackle—John SullivanRodger Saffold and Andrew Whitworth—will likely all be gone by opening day 2020. Reinforcements must come.

32. New England: Best corner, edge player or receiver. I’d take Greedy Williams, the corner from LSU. Serious top 10 prospect in October, and nothing happened to knock him down other than the fact that so many other corners are close to him in ability. Pats can dip into deep wideout/tight end market at 56, 64 or 73 overall, or with a trade. The tight end who might fit well is Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger—if the Patriots think he can block well enough in their scheme. He can stretch a defense.


The one trend I hear, talking to people around the league, backs up what Gil Brandt said at the top of this column: There is no chalk. Teams will understand the strength at edge rusher is very early, the strength at tackle is from 7 to 30, the strength at cornerback and receiver is 25 to 70, the strength at quarterback after Kyler Murray is in the eye of the beholder, and so that will affect when teams with major needs at those spots pick their guys.

I can see once-beloved players like tight Noah Fant, wide receiver A.J. Brown, defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons, corners Byron Murphy and DeAndre Baker, and defensive end Jachai Polite fall to the second round. I hear Dwayne Haskins could plummet, but that could be late-prep lying too.

It’s going to be fun. I say this every year: The NFL does a good job of building the suspense leading into the draft, and the NFL does a bad job helping teams prepare for the season. There are 115 days between the last day of the regular season and the first day of the draft. There are 90 days between the end of the draft and the start of most teams’ training camps. The NFL could easily cut out three to four weeks of draft prep (which is draft over-prep) and give teams more time with their draft choices, helping their readiness for the season. But you know why the league does this. It’s all about the hype machine. With ABC, ESPN and NFL Network doing the draft live this year, networks are paying for programming. Well-hyped programming, with some mystique. And that is what they shall get.

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Could Kyler Murray go No. 1 overall? Peter King thinks it could happen

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INDIANAPOLIS—It’s Kyler Murray’s Combine, followed by Kyler Murray’s Pro Day, followed by the spring of Kyler Murray Rumors, followed by, mercifully, the first round of the NFL Draft on April 25 and the official landing place of Kyler Murray.

Who, by the way, did nothing here over three days except measure taller than he was supposed to (by a whole quarter of an inch!), talk to 10 teams, and geek out over seeing the coaches he’s been watching on TV for years.

Until the defensive linemen ran fast on Sunday, the player who did nothing here was the mega-story. A lot of it was the size thing. “I’m just sitting here and I’m on the TV. You can’t really get away from it,” a bemused Murray said in his only media availability here, a 40-question, 20-minute session with reporters Friday.But this was more than the mania over 5-10 1/8. Murray’s fate and his story just hung over the whole shebang. “I don’t know any player who’s attracted as much attention at any Combine that I’ve ever seen,’’ Combine guru Gil Brandt said Sunday night. Kim Jones said on NFL Network on Saturday that people around the league believed “almost universally” that Murray would be the first pick in the draft, by Arizona. Draft analyst Tony Pauline reported Sunday that Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury was saying at the combine that Murray to the Cardinals is a “done deal.”

I don’t know enough about either of those reports to confirm them, and I do believe there’s a good chance the Cardinals take Murray number one. I can say five things about Murray and this draft after doing some legwork at the combine Friday and Saturday:

1. GM Steve Keim has final say on Cardinals personnel, including the draft. I would be shocked if today, 53 days before the draft and not having had a private workout nor a long conversation with Murray, that Keim has decided to pick Murray. “I don’t believe it for a second,” said Greg Gabriel, a veteran of 31 NFL drafts as a scout. “Could he have the lead in the clubhouse now? Sure. But nobody makes decisions like that this far out, without doing their due diligence.”

2. There are two Josh Rosen problems. Last year, Arizona traded third-round and fifth-round picks to move up five slots in the first round to choose the UCLA quarterback. So now, if they pick Murray, the Cardinals would have to dump Rosen after 13 shaky starts, and it’s a tricky proposition. “The danger is, you start to shop Rosen, and everyone knows you’re picking Murray,” said former NFL front-office man Mike Lombardi.

3. Rosen Problem 2: What could you get in trade for him? Miami (13th pick in the first round), Washingon (15), the Chargers (28) and New England (32) would be worth investigating … unless the compensation for Rosen has crashed. I asked Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who lives in Arizona and watched Rosen last year, what he thinks the value for Rosen is. “I would give a three for Josh,” Warner said. A third-round pick. Yikes. Saturday night, I asked a renowned NFL GM what he thought the value of Rosen in trade would. “Probably a three,” the GM said. “Not what the Cardinals would think his value is.” Scary, on the surface, for Arizona. But if you’ve decided you want Murray, and you’ve decided Rosen’s not your guy, you’ve got to move on, regardless what you get for Rosen.

4. Oakland coach Jon Gruden, picking fourth, loves Murray. He and GM Mike Mayock have gone out of their way to say multiple times that Derek Carr is their quarterback. Maybe they’re rock-solid on Carr, and maybe it’ll be a moot point if the Cardinals stay at number one. But with all their draft loot in the next two drafts (five first-round picks), and with Gruden’s crush on Murray, the Raiders bear watching.

5. Murray met with 10 teams in Indianapolis, but I wouldn’t read a lot into that. The usual suspects were among the 10 teams—Arizona, Oakland, the Giants, Jacksonville, Miami and Washington. But he also met with Detroit, Seattle and the Chargers. Detroit. Hmmm. Seattle: probably just fact-finding. I’m not sure of the 10th team. But as I said, don’t read too much into that.

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