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Deface or Embrace?

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Arizona Cardinals Off-Season Workout Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Can local media and fans shape the national perception of their most visible professional athletes?

You bet they can.

Case in point:

Seemingly, at the 2017 NFL Draft, from the very second that the Bears traded up one spot from #3 to #2 (giving up the #3, #67, #111 picks, plus a 2018 3rd round pick) to the 49ers in order to select Mitchell Trubisky, the first QB taken in that draft, an inordinate hoard of Bears media and fans expressed their deepest and most profound disdain for the trade —- and for the prospects of Michell Trunisky.

Imagine what it must have been like for Mitchell Trubisky when he arrived at the Bears headquarters for the first time to know that he was already considered a persona non grata by an inordinate number of the Chicago media and fans.

While it is vogue for athletes to claim that they don’t “listen to the negativity of media and fans”, the reality is it is virtually impossible not to hear a chorus of boos and to see the obvious contempt in the faces of the fans.

It is an extraordinary 20 year old young man who is able to assimilate well into the NFL under such adverse circumstances as to already be hearing the persistent boos from day-one naysayers.

All players have self-doubts. We all have them. Michael Jordan always conceded that his fear of failure was his primary motivation.

Kyler Murray came into the NFL as the #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Despite being a 1st Team All-American, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading Oklahoma to a Big 12 Championship in his lone season as a full-time starting QB in college football, many pundits, media and fans questioned whether Kyler could be an effective NFL QB because of his diminutive size, because, according to some pundits like Charlie Casserly, Kyler did not interview well at the 2019 NFL Combine, and because of Kyler’s potential to change his mind at any time and go back to being a centerfielder in the Oakland A’s organization.

History of QBs Taken #1 in NFL Draft since 2001

Nick Carroway said the opening chapter of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

Being drafted #1 in the NFL can be considered a rebirth of sorts —-

Almost always the #1 pick in the NFL Draft is headed to the worst team in the NFL and in the the case of #1 pick QBs, they are often burdened with the onus of been looked upon as the savior of a failing franchise who needs to come right in and lift the team out of its doldrums.

Think of the clear advantages that Patrick Mahomes had upon his entry to the NFL. Mahomes, in retrospect, should have been the #1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns.

At that time the Browns were once again the worst team in the NFL.

But, because Patrick Mahomes was traded up for by the Chiefs, a playoff team that already had a Pro Bowl QB in Alex Smith (the #1 pick of the 2005 NFL Draft), Mahomes’ entry into the NFL was an ideal one wherein he could redshirt behind Smith for a year, master the playbook, adjust his game to the speed and physicality of the NFL and then take over the reins a year later behind an excellent, playoff-tested offensive line and two superstars to throw to in TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill.

Conversely, Kyler Murray’s initiation to the NFL as the day one starter under a rookie head coach behind an offensive line that was the worst in 2018 while his top two targets were Larry Fitzgerald and Damiere Byrd —- plus, playing opposite one of the worst defenses in the NFL —- would have been especially daunting for any young QB.

For Kyler Murray to have emerged as the NFL’s 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year, despite the low hand he was dealt, is near miraculous.

For Kyler Murray to receive a Pro Bowl nod in year two and for the first half of his second season be in the discussion for league MVP is also a tremendous feat.

#1 QBs Since 2001 1st 2 Year Stats:

  • 2019 ARZ-Kyler Murray —- 13-18-1, 7,693 yds, 46-24 TD-int passing, 1,363 yds, 15 TDs rushing
  • 2018 CLE-Baker Mayfield —- 12-17, 7,552, 49-25 passing, 272, 3 TDs rushing
  • 2016 LAR-Jared Goff —- 11-11, 4,893, 33-14 passing, 67, 3 TDs rushing
  • 2012 IND-Andrew Luck —- 22-10, 8,196, 46-27 passing, 636 9 TDs rushing
  • 2011 CAR-Cam Newton —- 13-19, 7,920, 40-29 passing, 1,447 22 TDs rushing
  • 2010 STL-Sam Bradford —- 8-18, 5.676, 24-21 passing, 89 1 TDs rushing
  • 2009 DET-Matthew Stafford —- 3-10, 2,802 19-21 passing, 129 3 TDs rushing
  • 2007 OAK-JaMarcus Russell —- 6-11, 2,796, 15-17 passing, 131 1 TD rushing
  • 2005 SF-Alex Smith —- 9-14, 3,765, 17-27 passing, 250 2 TDs rushing
  • 2004 NYG-Eli Manning —- 12-11, 4,805, 30-26 passing, 115 1 TD rushing
  • 2003 CIN-Carson Palmer* (years 2-3)—- 17-12, 6,733, 50-30 passing, 88 2 TDs rushing
  • 2002 HOU-David Carr —- 7-20, 4,605, 18-28 passing, 433 5 TDs rushing
  • 2001 ATL-Michael Vick —- 9-7-1, 3,721, 18-11 passing, 1,066 8 TDs rushing

Notes:

  • Andrew Luck had the highest winning percentage his 1st two seasons, but the Colts had a playoff caliber roster when they tanked for Luck with Peyton Manning injured in 2011.
  • Only 1 of these #1 QBs has won a Super Bowl: Eli Manning (2)
  • Only 3 #1 QBs since 2001 have started in a Super Bowl: Manning (2), Newton and Goff.
  • Kyler Murray has the 3rd highest passing yards (7,693), behind Luck (8,196) and Newton (7,920).
  • Kyler Murray has the 2nd highest rushing yards and TDs behind Newton.
  • Kyler Murray has the 2nd highest combined TDs (61) behind Newton (62).
  • Kyler Murray is tied with Luck for the 2nd highest number of TD passes (46) behind Mayfield (49). Carson Palmer had 50, but it was in years 2-3. He backed up Jon Kitna his rookie year.
  • Kyler Murray is #1 in TD/int margin of +22.
  • Kyler Murray is 2nd in combined yards behind Newton.
  • Kyler Murray and Cam Newton are the only #1 pick QBs since 2001 to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
  • Andrew Luck is only #1 QB to make Pro Bowl his first two years.
  • Kyler Murray, Jared Goff, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton only #1 pick QBs since 2001 to earn Pro Bowl berths during first two seasons.
  • As we can see, only Andrew Luck won significantly more games than he lost his first two seasons. The vast majority of #1 QB picks had losing record their first two years.

Kyler Murray is in some pretty elite company here and has performed at or near the top of the majority of categories (despite playing through injuries that he later conceded were hampering his ability to run and throw) when compared to the others and yet there has been a persistent criticism of him on social media, on the radio talk shows and print media from fans and pundits that, at times, imo, has been absurd —-

Like the post-game article after Kyler shined in his return to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas where Kyler won three state championships and the 2018 Big 12 Championship. Despite leading the Cardinals to a fabulous 38-10 prime time win over the Cowboys, a local talk show host sounded the alarms because Kyler was missing passes early in the game —- and never once wrote anything positive about the game while making the point of the article to question Kyler’s throwing ability.

Like Kyler being tagged as “Gurmpy Cat” by Arizona media.

Like Kyler being criticized for wearing an A’s hat as a Sun versus Warriors game.

Like Kyler being criticized for not doing his off-season training in Arizona.

Like Kyler being questioned about his off-season work ethic.

Like Kyler being criticized for not hiring Jordan Palmer or any other QB trainer this off-season (when Kyler has been trained his whole life by a QB coaching guru, his father, Kevin Murray).

Like Kyler not donning Suns paraphernalia while cheering on the team during the playoffs.

Like Kyler being criticized for wearing a Cardinals’ woolen cap during the sweltering days of the mandatory mini-camp.

Yet, what’s fascinating is that when Kyler gets a lower than expected ranking in some of these highly subjective off-season ratings (like recently being ranked the #15 best NFL player under 25 by PFF), some Cardinals’ fans are quick to offer their disapproval:

I completely agree with Burd’s Eye View —-check out this ranking:

https://www.pff.com/news/nfl-top-25-under-25-2021-nfl-season

But, as I expressed to Burd’s Eye, the negativity that some local media and fans have created around Kyler certainly can’t be helping his national image.

One will argue that no player should be beyond criticism or reproach —- yes, sure —- but, let’s face it, Kyler Murray is an easy mark because he doesn’t look or act at times like the proto-typical franchise QB. Kyler is diminutive, introverted and tongue-tied when having to process the emotional import of a bitter loss.

Can you imagine Bengals’ media and fans being openly critical and cynical about Joe Burrow if he puts up numbers similar to Kyler’s 2020 stats and helps to lead the once cellar-dwelling Bengals to an 8-8-1 record while playing in the tough AFC Central?

No way, right?

Well, here’s what someone close to Kyler has to say:

“I know he’s been working really hard this offseason to try and take that big jump. I thought, not having an offseason last year, rolling into season two, he made huge strides, and then we expect him to make the same (strides) this season.”

“He definitely is very confident right now. He’s mastered our system. You can see the leadership qualities continuing to emerge. And so we’re all just really excited to have him here and watch where this thing could go with him as our leader.”

So sure, media and fans can critique Kyler all they want, but, you won’t find cynics and skeptics among the coaches who have to get their defenses ready to defend him:

“You can’t simulate the speed that Kyler has on the football field,” Robert Saleh said. “... You have to defend the entire field and they do as good a job as anybody in football making you do that.”

Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said, “There’s a responsibility when you’re dealing with special talents like that (Kyler Murray). I told the guys we had a Barry Sanders rule: You can’t relax until you’re on the bus. It’s just part of the deal.”

Ron Rivera with regard to trying to defend Kyler Murray: “He gives me anxiety.”

If only some of the more critical Cardinals’ media and fans could view Kyler Murray from the opposite sidelines...

Instead, ironically, from their own...

Where we all as fans are close enough to embrace him.