NFL OR MLB?

Heis­man fa­vorite Mur­ray might find him­self with big de­ci­sion to make

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - USA To­day

When Tony Dungy sees Ok­la­homa quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray, some­thing feels fa­mil­iar.

A Heis­man Tro­phy-cal­iber player, se­lected in the first round of a pro sports league other than foot­ball, lead­ing his team on a ti­tle run in col­lege foot­ball?

Dungy thinks back 25 years. He was the Vik­ings’ de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and was scout­ing draft prospects. Heis­man win­ner Char­lie Ward was light­ing op­po­nents up for 3,032 yards and 27 touch­downs to land Florida State the na­tional ti­tle. Dungy told then Vik­ings coach Den­nis Green to pur­sue Ward.

‘‘As a de­fen­sive coach at the time, I’m think­ing, ‘Man, I would not want to play against this guy and all the headaches he would pro­vide,’ ’’ Dungy told USA To­day.

But would Ward, who in­stead be­came a first-round NBA pick with a 12-year ca­reer, sign if the Vik­ings risked the se­lec­tion? ‘‘It was re­ally a co­nun­drum,’’ Dungy said. It’s a co­nun­drum Mur­ray has re­vived. Clearly, he has proved elite in two sports. The Ath­let­ics drafted Mur­ray, an out­fielder, ninth over­all and signed him to a $4.66 mil­lion guar­an­teed con­tract that al­lowed him to play one more year of Soon­ers foot­ball.

So far in that sea­son, no one has posted more than Mur­ray’s 51 touch­downs (40 pass­ing, 11 rush­ing) or his 4,945 to­tal yards of of­fense. He leads the na­tion with 11.9 yards per pass at­tempt and is sec­ond with a .709 com­ple­tion per­cent­age. His 205.72 pass­ing ef­fi­ciency rat­ing is the best in NCAA his­tory.

Those num­bers are one rea­son he is fa­vored to win the Heis­man (at least ac­cord­ing to a USA To­day sur­vey of vot­ers) over Alabama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa and Ohio State quar­ter­back Dwayne Hask­ins on Satur­day in New York.

But do they make Mur­ray a po­ten­tial NFL fran­chise quar­ter­back?

Let’s de­fine that.

A fran­chise quar­ter­back is the per­son an NFL team will build around for 10 to 12 years, long­time quar­ter­back agent Leigh Stein­berg said. He’s some­one a team wins be­cause of rather than sim­ply with.

Mur­ray has shown teams can win be­cause of him. Ok­la­homa’s 12-1 record came de­spite a de­fense that al­lowed 32.4 points and 448.1 yards per game.

An­other fac­tor is longevity, per­haps the big­gest ques­tion mark for the gen­er­ously listed 5-10, 195-pound Mur­ray. Is Mur­ray durable enough to sus­tain big hits, com­mit­ted enough to shun his base­ball op­por­tu­nity and go all-in for foot­ball?

NFL an­a­lysts point to Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons Drew Brees (6-0) and Rus­sell Wil­son (5-11) as ev­i­dence Mur­ray’s stature wouldn’t pre­clude NFL suc­cess.

‘‘He flat knows how to play,’’ said Stein­berg, whose clients have in­cluded Pa­trick Ma­homes and Troy Aik­man. ‘‘If a team could over­look the size sit­u­a­tion, they’d have a pro­to­typ­i­cal player.’’

But will teams risk a first-round draft pick on a 5-10 quar­ter­back with a guar­an­teed A’s con­tract?

Base­ball su­per-agent Scott Bo­ras, who helped Mur­ray ne­go­ti­ate with the A’s to play an­other col­lege sea­son, said his client was ‘‘fully aware he could play in the NFL’’ when sign­ing.

‘‘This man has a con­tract,” Bo­ras told USA To­day. ‘‘He will be in spring train­ing with the Oak­land A’s. That’s the com­mit­ment.’’

Mur­ray, how­ever, told ESPN last week­end that he’d dis­cuss his fu­ture with his fam­ily af­ter the Soon­ers’ play­off run.

‘‘Weigh out the op­tion of what the NFL thinks of me,’’ Mur­ray said. ‘‘Right now, my fu­ture is al­ready kind of planned out, but we’ll see what hap­pens.’’

BRETT DEER­ING/GETTY IM­AGES

Ok­la­homa quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray leads the coun­try with 11.9 yards per pass at­tempt.

AP

Heis­man fi­nal­ists Dwayne Hask­ins of Ohio State (from left), Kyler Mur­ray of Ok­la­homa and Tua Tago­v­ailoa of Alabama pose with the tro­phy Fri­day.

BY JORI EPSTEIN

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