Could Kyler Mur­ray make it as an NFL QB?

Heis­man can­di­date is an un­der­sized passer, has a bud­ding base­ball ca­reer

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Jori Ep­stein

When Tony Dungy sees Kyler Mur­ray, some­thing feels fa­mil­iar.

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

Dungy thinks back 25 years.

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

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

But would Ward, who in­stead be­came a first-round NBA pick with a 12year ca­reer, sign if the Vik­ings risked the se­lec­tion?

“It was re­ally a co­nun­drum,” Dungy said.

It’s a co­nun­drum Mur­ray has re­vived.

Clearly, Mur­ray has proved elite in

two sports.

The Oak­land Ath­let­ics drafted the 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. His 11.9 yards per pass at­tempt leads the na­tion; his 70.9 com­ple­tion per­cent­age se­cond. Mur­ray’s

205.72 pass­ing ef­fi­ciency rat­ing is the best the NCAA has ever seen.

Those num­bers are one rea­son he is fa­vored to win the Heis­man (at least ac­cord­ing to a USA TO­DAY Net­work sur­vey of vot­ers and Ve­gas) over Alabama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa and Ohio State’s 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 10-12 years, long­time quar­ter­back agent Leigh Stein­berg says. He’s some­one a team wins be­cause of rather than sim­ply with. And when he’s thrown mul­ti­ple in­ter­cep­tions in a hos­tile road en­vi­ron­ment, a fran­chise quar­ter­back com­part­men­tal­izes fail­ures, adopts a quiet mind and el­e­vates his play to se­cure a vic­tory.

Mur­ray has shown teams can win be­cause of him. Ok­la­homa’s 12-1 record came de­spite a de­fense al­low­ing 32.4 points per game (96th best in the FBS) and 448.1 to­tal yards (108th).

Ad­ver­sity? Take Ok­la­homa’s lone loss, when Mur­ray en­tered the fourth quar­ter down 45-24 against ri­val Texas. Mur­ray threw for a 19-yard touch­down, ran 67 yards for a se­cond, and com­pleted a 35-yard pass on a third drive to set up a run­ning back for a game-ty­ing score. The Soon­ers lost 48-45 on a field goal as time ex­pired.

That leaves longevity, per­haps the big­gest ques­tion for the gen­er­ously listed 5-10, 195-pound dual-threat quar­ter­back. 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 Big 12 quar­ter- backs Patrick Ma­homes and Baker May­field and Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons Drew Brees (6-0) and Rus­sell Wil­son (5-11) as ev­i­dence Mur­ray’s stature wouldn’t pre­clude NFL suc­cess.

“The game has evolved,” said Mur­ray’s fa­ther, Kevin, who helped Texas A&M beat Heis­man dual-sport ath­lete Bo Jackson in the 1986 Cot­ton Bowl. “And so has the quar­ter­back po­si­tion.”

Mur­ray’s abil­ity to read, process and de­liver are “crit­i­cally im­por­tant traits” teams look for, Kevin Mur­ray says.

“He flat knows how to play,” said Stein­berg, whose clien­tele have in­clud- ed Ma­homes and Troy Aik­man.

“If a team could over­look the size sit­u­a­tion, they’d have a pro­to­typ­i­cal player.”

Gil Brandt agrees. Brandt, who spent 29 years as the Cow­boys’ vice pres­i­dent of per­son­nel, calls Mur­ray “prob­a­bly as a good a run­ner/passer com­bi­na­tion as any quar­ter­back I’ve ever seen.” He’s cer­tain scouts are writ­ing re­ports on Mur­ray.

Draft an­a­lyst Dane Brugler projects Mur­ray a top-50 pick, de­pend­ing on which teams in the mar­ket for quar­ter­back buy in to Mur­ray’s skill set.

ESPN draft ex­pert Mel Kiper Jr. said Wed­nes­day that if Mur­ray were three inches taller, “he’d be the No. 1 pick over­all hands down. Then he would have a big de­ci­sion to make.”

In­stead, Kiper says, Mur­ray would fall to Round 2. ESPN draft ex­pert Todd McShay in­sists he’d go in the first.

“It’s more about quick twitch, guys that can get the ball out, move,” McShay said.

“And he does that as well as any­one in the coun­try.”

But will teams risk a draft pick on a

5-10 quar­ter­back with a guar­an­teed A’s con­tract?

Su­per­a­gent Scott Bo­ras, who helped Mur­ray ne­go­ti­ate with the A’s for an­other col­lege foot­ball sea­son, says 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’s base­ball con­tract hasn’t stopped the NFL from hop­ing.

He told Tim Te­bow on 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.”

Soon­ers coach Lin­coln Ri­ley has told in­quir­ing NFL minds sim­ply that Mur­ray “loves foot­ball.”

“That to me is an in­di­ca­tion he has a chance,” said Brandt, who per­suaded

1964 Heis­man win­ner Roger Staubach to pri­or­i­tize the pigskin over base­ball.

It’s a chance Dungy didn’t pull off in

1994 with Ward, who said by phone he’d have cho­sen the NFL if a team com­mit­ted a first-round draft pick to him.

Go­ing the route of Bo Jackson or Deion San­ders and play­ing both sports would seem pro­hib­i­tive. Nei­ther were quar­ter­backs, which comes with time de­mands way be­yond other po­si­tions. Still, Dungy won­ders what if. “I per­son­ally thought he would be Joe Mon­tana,” Dungy said. “If guys put the ball in the end zone in ma­jor-col­lege foot­ball, they can put the ball in the end zone in the NFL.

“Any­one who’s that dy­namic and has pro­duced that much of­fense,” Dungy con­tin­ued, “you’re go­ing to have to take a look at.”

BEN QUEEN/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Soon­ers quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray has ac­counted for 51 touch­downs this sea­son.

The Ath­let­ics made Kyler Mur­ray the ninth pick of the MLB draft and signed him to a $4.66 mil­lion guar­an­teed con­tract.

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