TAMPA — Kyler Murray is as athletic as they come. Before winning the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma and becoming the NFL draft’s No. 1 overall pick, he was a five-tool baseball phenom who was drafted eighth overall by Oakland.
In a league where measurables are highly valued, Arizona’s rookie quarterback is listed at just 5-foot-10, but his 4.3-second 40 speed more than makes up for it.
Murray is the latest example of the NFL’s quarterback evolution. Mobility is the new norm.
In Baltimore, the Ravens have molded an offense around Lamar Jackson’s dual-threat ability to build a Super Bowl contender. Before Murray, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield made his name at Oklahoma with his ability to use his arm and his legs. Murray’s successor with the Sooners, Jalen Hurts, could be the next in line — and potentially be on the draft board for the Bucs next spring.
“It’s going to continue to evolve and go that way in my opinion,” Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I’ve always said it you’re the best player on the field in college, there’s a good chance you’re going to be one of the best players in the NFL. You’re seeing some of that I think.
“Lamar is a great example when you build it around a guy and you give him stuff that he’s very comfortable with at a high level and don’t try to pigeon-hole him into a certain offense, you can have great results.”
The Bucs struggled to stop another mobile quarterback last week, allowing five touchdown passes to Russell Wilson in a 40-34 overtime loss at Seattle. Bucs players see Murray as a bigger speed threat in a 1 p.m. game Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
“He’s faster than Russell Wilson,” Bucs outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul said. “I know that for a fact.”
Murray averages 5.6 yards per rushing attempt compared to Wilson’s 4.6. Wilson did most of his damage in the pocket last Sunday, using his feet to buy time for his receivers to get open on quick routes.
What’s been most impressive about Murray is his ability to mistakes and turnovers.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of luck involved in this game, but he’s doing a good job of not putting the ball in harm’s way,” Kingsbury said.
In his first four games, Murray threw four interceptions and was sacked an averaged of five times a game. In five games since, Murray has no interceptions and is being sacked just 1.8 times. He enters Sunday having thrown 172 consecutive passes without an interception, the NFL’s longest current streak. He has 56 straight rushing attempts without a fumble.
He’s also getting the football out quicker, lowering his average time-to-throw to 2.65 seconds, a faster mark than other mobile quarterbacks like Jackson, Wilson and Houston’s Deshaun Watson.
“It’s a very simple system and he’s a very bright kid, and they’re not fumbling the ball,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “[I am] very impressed. He’s a real fast Russell Wilson.”
Not coincidentally, the Cardinals have won three straight against sub-.500 teams, two capped by Murray-led fourth-quarter drives. He played arguably his best game last week, completing 71 percent of his passes and recording a 130.7 passer rating in a 28-25 loss to 8-0 San Francisco.
“I’m just really proud with the way he’s handled everything,” Kingsbury said. “That’s a lot to have thrust upon your shoulders as a young person and on young players in this day and age. and the way he’s handled it and owned up to it when things haven’t gone well, it’s been awesome to see and his teammates have recognized that and its going to pay dividends as we continue to build this thing.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.