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A Matter of Feet and Competitive Fire

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College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl - Alabama v Oklahoma Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Disclaimer: this article aims to provide greater insight as to why I believe Kyler Murray is the top player for the Cardinals in the 2019 NFL Draft. If you are sick and tired of reading about Murray, this article is not for you, so please don’t waste your time.

The first thing that football coaches hope to discover during tryouts are players with quick feet—-that’s why they set up rope and cone drills.

Then, when the live scrimmages start, coaches hope to discover players who have a competitive fire in their bellies.

The ultimate dream come true for a coach is to discover players who combine quick feet with competitive fire.

It seems that every year I find myself touting a player that the majority of others on the Cardinals’ fan boards dismiss with disdain and vitriol.

In 2017 that player was Stanford RB/slot WR Christian McCaffrey.

I used to get goosebumps watching his Stanford games and dreamed of seeing McCaffrey go from the Cardinal to the Cardinals.

When I started writing about McCaffrey here was the pushback:

  • He’s too small.
  • He won’t be able to take the pounding.
  • He’s a 2nd rounder at best.
  • We already have David Johnson.
  • We don’t need him.

If you recall, in 2017 it appeared to be the Swan Song for QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald and quite possibly HC Bruce Arians—-and I thought which one player in the 2017 draft could make the most profound difference?

For years I have been imploring the Cardinals to draft a legitimate RAC slot WR to go opposite Larry Fitzgerald.

At the 2017 NFL Combine, Christian McCaffrey not only ran a 4.48 40 and a blistering 6.57 3 cone, he put on an absolute clinic from the slot, running sharp, precise routes and catching every ball in his radius and then turning each catch upfield in a flash.

It turns out that the Cardinals at #13 never had a chance to draft McCaffrey because he was snagged by the Panthers at #8. The majority of draft pundits didn’t have McCaffrey as a top 10 pick, but when the pick was made Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock were lauding the pick with great enthusiasm.

My first choice that year was QB Patrick Mahomes, but I thought that there was no way he would make it to #13. Yes, I loved Mahomes’ arm strength, but it was his feet that had me so ecstatic. I likened him to Fran Tarkenton—-the scrambling Houdini of QBs back in the 1970s.

I still can’t believe that Mahomes wasn’t taken in the top 5...that the Bears chose Mitchell Trubisky over him and worst of all, that the Cardinals didn’t make a move to trade up.

When the Cardinals wound up selecting Temple EDGE Haason Reddick, I was very happy, again, primarily because of Reddick’s quick feet. He ran a 4.52 40 and 7.01 3 cone at the Combine—-numbers that were in the same ballpark as Von Miller’s and Dee Ford’s.

Much to my dismay, the Cardinals moved Reddick inside and didn’t try to develop him as a classic 34 OLB. Yes, they switched him over to OLB after Markus Golden got injured, but by then he had to learn the position from scratch.

I still believe that Haason Reddick can be a stud 34 OLB. Dee Ford didn’t get his feet wet as an edge rusher until his 3rd year with the Chiefs.

But, the way LB coach Bill Davis was talking it seems even the new staff is projecting Reddick as an ILB. Dang.

Last year, my top choice for the Cardinals was QB Lamar Jackson. I believed he was the most dynamic and electric QB in the draft. Again—-look at the guy’s feet. And he didn’t even run the 40 at the Combine or on his pro day, but to me it was moot point. Watch the tape. The dude can kick it into turbo drive.

The pushback again was:

  • Not a strong enough passer.
  • Won’t hold up physically in the NFL.
  • Had a poor throwing performance versus Mississippi St. in his bowl game.
  • He’s a 2nd rounder at best.

When the Cardinals traded up to #10 I hoped and prayed it was to take Lamar Jackson.

When the pick of Josh Rosen was announced, I felt like the Cardinals drafted the wrong QB.

When I had done my own scouting on Josh Rosen, I was turned off by a few aspects of his game and his persona. I found watching his UCLA tapes very frustrating because he left so many good opportunities out on the field. I was concerned too about his arm strength on passes to the far end of the field. Then, when I watched some of his post-game interviews, I saw one that was Cam Newton post Super Bowl-esque. Rosen just sat there and moped and only offered one word answers to the questions. Right then, I crossed him off my own board and I can see why two teams in the top 10 last year had crossed him off their boards.

Then when Rosen was interviewed after being taken by the Cardinals at #10, I thought he looked and sounded like a naive fool, as he kept ranting about how he was going to make every team regret not taking him and how he was going to win multiple Super Bowls. I said to myself, well let’s see how competitive he is when he gets in there, especially now that he put a bull’s-eye on his back.

Frankly, I was surprised at how mature and poised Rosen was during training camp. I hated that coaches were swathing him in bubble wrap. And when he got his first taste of action, I thought he handled it well—-not great—-but well enough.

As the season progressed, I thought Rosen’s fire and interest waned. I didn’t see the same kind of bravado he displayed on draft night. Fans have argued ad nauseum about the awful coaching, poor blocking, dropped passes, etc. But, here’s the thing that concerns me about Rosen. He seems to make things more difficult for himself because he wants to strike big downfield every time he drops back. The fact is, even when not under pressure, Rosen consistently missed the mark and far too often threw into coverage. Even simple short passes were an adventure. But—-that was also the case at UCLA.

Yes, Rosen stood in there and took a beating. And he never wanted to come out of the game. But, I was hoping to see him fight back much more strongly than he did and as the games rolled by it became clear that the fight was waning.

When Kyler Murray struggled in the first half versus Alabama, as an Oakland A’s fan I became more hopeful that he would stick with baseball. But the competitive spirit I saw from him in that second half playing against top NFL caliber defenders under the brightest of lights was so impressive that I shifted my hopes completely over to the Cardinals.

What makes Kyler Murray so special, isn’t just his strong, accurate arm and leadership ability, it’s his superior feet. In fact, I would call his feet elite. When Bama took away his first and second passing options, Murray used his feet to turn negative plays into big positives by bolting the pocket or scrambling to extend the play.

I also watched in admiration as Murray consoled and encouraged his teammates on the sidelines throughout that second half—-there was no quit whatsoever.

Then in his post game presser, Murray was clearly heartbroken, but he had the grace and poise to put things in proper perspective. That too I found special and exceptional.

But now I am getting the same pushback on Murray as I did with McCaffrey and Jackson. Yet—-when a player has the feet and the competitive fire—-watch out.

As a rookie in 2017, McCaffrey gained over 1,000 yards and 7 TDs in rushing and receiving combined. Last year, he doubled that with over 2,000 yards combined and 13 TDs. If you have watched McCaffrey he is as tough as nails and is relentless.

Lamar Jackson took a floundering Ravens team and injected a high dose of adrenaline into their offense which, in winning 6 of the last 7 games, turned their entire season around. Sure, he had some rookie glitches, but he had defenses on their heels and he won games—-and that’s what matters most.

After struggling in the playoffs for three quarters under relentless pressure form the Chargers, Jackson fought back in the fourth quarter and tried to lead a furious comeback. This is what winners do.

Kyler Murray is going to be a dreaded nemesis for NFL defenses because they are going to have to change their normal game plans to try to stop him.

It’s the feet and the fire—-and not only does Murray have them both—-he has quicker feet than McCaffrey and Jackson, plus a stronger and more accurate arm. Put Murray with a good defense like Jackson has in Baltimore, and unlike the dreadful defense that Murray had at Oklahoma, and Murray should help his team win a ton of football games.

I think that Murray is the most talented QB prospect I have seen since Patrick Mahomes and I would rank him on a par with Mahomes.

It was significant to learn from Lincoln Riley that Murray’s 5’10” height was never was a consideration in the team’s play calling. Murray had only 5 batted passes for the season, playing behind a line that averaged 6’4” and 314 pounds.

It is also significant that according to reports Murray is now up to 206 pounds. When Russell Wilson went to the Combine, he was measured at 5’11’ 204 pounds.

What Lincoln Riley argues is that Murray uses his lack of height to his advantage in that he rarely ever gets hit because of how quickly he reacts in the pocket and because when he scrambles he has the smarts to scoot out of bounds and/or slide to avoid contact. Plus, Murray is coming into the NFL at the perfect time when QBs basically can only be hit in the numbers, which for a 6’5” defensive lineman poses a significant dilemma.

With Kyler Murray his wizardry is a matter of feet and competitive fire, not inches.