Although the 2019 NFL season is nearly finished, that doesn’t stop those who cover the league to speculate on what’s to come in 2020.
Forecasting future success is all the rage. It fuels the likes of fantasy football and mock draft season alike.
Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a breakout star.
In the case of Cardinal quarterback Kyler Murray, even before we know the outcome of this weekend’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award, the young 22 year old’s second season has already been predicted.
That’s because the blueprint has be laid and math checks out.
Or so we think.
The trend to which I am referring is that of the second season MVP boom, made famous by quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes.
On the surface, the theory checks a lot of boxes in relation to the young Arizona quarterback.
Like Murray, both Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes are world class athletes at the position. While their skillsets aren't identical, each brings an elite level of escapibility in the pocket while also possessing well above average (or even elite) arm talent.
Simply put, all three signal callers are electric quarterback talents capable of carrying their respective teams.
But that’s not where the comparisons end, as each individual was heavily doubted and scrutinized during the draft process.
Mahomes played in a soft defensive conference in a “college offense” that would never translate to the NFL. Lamar Jackson was asked to switch positions, and Kyler Murray was far too short to be taken seriously.
In the cases of both Mahomes and Jackson, those pre draft doubts likely caused their eventual first round slides. Mahomes famously slipped by several quarterback needy teams, while Lamar Jackson was the final pick of the first round in 2018.
Yet Kyler Murray, despite all the questions, somehow managed to go number one.
What a blessing, right?
Ironically enough, it was the breakout play of Patrick Mahomes (and to some extend Deshaun Watson) that supported Arizona’s theory in taking Murray first overall. The Arizona Cardinals essentially passed on Mahomes (due to their lack of aggressiveness) back in 2017. The following year, with both Lamar Jackson and Josh Rosen available after the first nine picks, resulted in the Cardinals choosing to trade up for the latter.
We all know how that worked out.
To remedy those errors, not only did Arizona embrace the mobile quarterback phenom, but the team hired a college coach that specialized in coaching such talent.
So, as we look ahead to 2020, why is it so hard for me to buy into the notion that Kyler Murray can bolt his way to MVP success come year two?
Well, it has essentially nothing to do with Kyler Murray the player.
Both Mahomes and Jackson, liked mentioned previously, saw their draft stocks slip that eventually landed them on playoff teams. Prior to the 2017 Draft, the 2016 Kanas City Chiefs went 12-4 with one of the youngest rosters in football. The following year the 2018 Baltimore Ravens would finish 9-7 following what was a three year rebuild effort.
While likely frustrated at the time, each drafted quarterback would go on to greatly benefit from franchise stability.
Kansas City head coach Andy Reid is sixth all-time in wins, and has a .618 winning percentage in the regular season. Raven’s head coach John Harbaugh sports a 2013 Super Bowl ring to go with his .615 winning percentage.
Both are likely, one day, bound for the NFL Hall of Fame.
But it doesn’t stop at head coach, as each organization is known to be among the best in the NFL at evaluating personnel while managing the cap.
So yes, the year two jump to MVP dominance was unexpected in both instances. But once you do a little digging, all each organization how to do was matched the excellence of their young quarterbacks and success would shortly follow.
Success in the form of two number one playoff seeds (2017- KC, 2018 - BAL).
As we circle back to Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, are the similarities still as indistinguishable as the media would like you to believe? Do you believe the Cardinals, as a football operations department, can match the excellence of Kyler Murray?
Let me tell you what I see:
I see an organization still sporting a bottom tier NFL roster in all of football.
I seen an organization that has blundered the cap to the point in which they had the second most dead money this past season.
I see an organization that has struggled, mightily, to draft and develop capable talent.
I see an organization that, when they are able to hit on a draft pick, enivtably allows said player to leave in free agency.
I see an organziation still firmly in the basement of the ultra competitive NFC West (1-5 2019 divisional record).
Speaking of the West, I see three Super Bowl level coaches now residing in the division (none of which make their home in the desert).
My apologies, as this is not a hit piece on the Arizona Cardinals. If you’re here, reading this article, you’re likely fully aware of what franchise you choose to follow. But in the case of Kyler Murray and his inevitable year two jump, external determining factors must be taken into consideration.
Which is why, unlike Mahomes and Jackson, the comparison I generally turn to with regards to Murray in 2020 is that of Cam Newton.
Newton, like Murray, was asked to take over a dismal Panther’s operation. An operation who too was saddled with the number one overall selection (2011) after trading up a season prior for a young quarterback.
In their first season, both Murray and Newton lost the same number of games (10) while individually turning in historic rookie campaigns. Come year two, while somewhat improved in terms of personnel, Carolina still only managed seven wins.
It wasn’t until year three when Newton and the Panthers were able to put it all together in the form of double digit wins. The 2013 Carolina Panthers were 12-4 and began a three year stretch of playoff football that eventually capped off in a 2015 Super Bowl loss to Denver.
Like Cam Newton, Kyler Murray knows now that he can’t do it alone. Nor should he be asked to do it alone.
But when you’re not drafted into stability, that is unfortunately what is often expected of the first overall pick.
What I will say is, should Murray eventually achieve MVP and post season success, those achievements should be viewed very differently than that of Mahomes and Jackson.
Murray, like Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer before him, would be elevating a historically poor franchise. A franchise that has never boasted long, sustained success. The team currently owns the longest championship draught in all of professional sports.
For Kyler Murray to change that, we would need to replace the names of Mahomes and Jackson to that of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
Franchise changers and franchise saviors.