Just one season removed from his offensive rookie of the year win, Kyler Murray has a vocal section of the Cardinals fan base questioning whether he’s the guy to take the team to the next level. Despite leading Arizona to within one game of the playoffs, a game they likely would’ve won had he not been injured, is the criticism of Murray justified?
With all the hype surrounding Murray when he was the number one selection in the 2019 NFL Draft people seem to think that he can single handedly turn the franchise into a winner. After all isn’t that what winning quarterbacks do?
CAN KYLER MURRAY GET A SECOND
Following hot on the heels of the Josh Rosen experiment that saw the Cardinals go 3-13 and secure the number one overall pick, the hype train around Murray was already at fever pitch when he took the field for the first time. And for three quarters of that game, an eventual tie with Detroit, it wasn’t pretty.
With just 105-yards of total offence against lowly Detroit it looked like it was going to be a long season. But then something amazing happened. Murray led the Cardinals to 21 points in the fourth quarter and overtime putting up 282-yards of offence.
And from that moment on the pressure was all on Kyler Murray
He finished his rookie campaign 5-10-1. A decent improvement, but nothing special. With passing stats of 349/542-64.4%-20-12 he was an easy offensive rookie of the year winner.
A big leap was expected, with some claiming Murray an outside shot of being league MVP? Now hold on a second. This, obviously, is based on Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson winning MVP in their second seasons, but they both played on championship calibre teams.
They weren’t coming from the basement with a team that had won just 3 games the season before they arrived. When Mahomes was drafted the Chiefs were 12-4, and the Ravens were 9-7 when they selected Jackson.
Mahomes joined a team that had the 7th ranked defence conceding 19.4ppg, while Jackson’s Ravens were ranked number 6 with 18.9ppg. How were the Cardinal’s defence the year before Kyler Murray was selected? 26th. That’s right 7th worst. Conceding 26.6ppg.
So let’s not go pretending a QB could solve all of the Cardinals problems.
KYLER MURRAY ACTUALLY HAD A GOOD 2020
In his second season, Kyler Murray’s numbers actually improved quite dramatically in part due to the addition of DeAndre Hopkins. Murray’s stat line for 2020: 375/558-67.2%-26-12. His completion percentage rose by 2.8% and his touchdown percentage by 1%.
That completion percentage was enough to rank Kyler Murray 10th in the league in just his second season.
Now all of this isn’t to say that Murray is without his faults because that’s clearly not true. There are games where he takes the first, shortest read far too often. Look at the San Francisco or Carolina film and you will see a QB taking the easy option too often. His average depth of target(ADOT) is 8.3 yards, 18th in the league.
So there is a balance Murray needs to find between being reckless and being more aggressive. In four games last season Murray’s ADOT was under 7 yards per pass. You can still win those games, as the Cardinals did against the 49ers, but the game becomes much harder.
So while there are great signs from Kyler Murray the big parts he needs to improve on are those big downfield chunk plays that change games. Not just because they put up the points, but because they make the defence play deeper, and open up the middle of the field more.
The chunk plays make the short and medium game much easier. But sometimes those guys aren’t wide open and you have to take chances, and that is where Kyler Murray needs to trust his receivers more.
The addition of AJ Green, although on the backend of his career, will help with that. Green’s career ADOT is 14.1 so expect to see a lot more verticality to the Cardinals offence in 2021. And expect to see Kyler Murray start delivering more of those big time throws.
But please remember it’s only year 3 for Kyler Murray and while strides will be made in 2021, there will still be inconsistencies and mistakes. It’s part of the growing process, a process that has had a great first two years.