When Kyler Murray went down on the turf against the Patriots in Week 14 of the 2022 season, it felt almost like anything that could have gone wrong with the Arizona Cardinals did go wrong.
Fortunately, the NFL is a place where while athletes do tear ligaments, it’s not a career death sentence like it used to be.
However, as many have done research over the years (shoutout to Sarah Barshop of ESPN for the inspiration for this article) there is a noticeable impact in three statistical categories which we will cover below.
Some of these quarterbacks listed went on to have successful seasons and others ended up struggling to regain what they’d lost.
From this, we can project a bit more about how Kyler Murray might look when he comes back from his injury as well as why Arizona might take their time with his return.
Without further adieu, Here’s what we can guess about Kyler’s 2023 season:
#1. His yards per rushing attempt will go down by a whole yard (at least)
Carson Palmer: 3.1 to 1.0
Robert Griffin III 6.8 to 5.7
Donovan McNabb: 6.6 to 4.7
Joe Burrow: 3.8 yards per rush to 3.0
Deshaun Watson 7.5 to 5.6
Even Tom Brady, who ran so little that he hit a thousand rushing yards only over a 20+ year career in the NFL saw his yards per rush attempt go from 2.6 to 1.5.
It might not seem significant, but it shows that Quarterbacks usually lose a step or don’t run for as many yards as they did before. In the case of Kyler Murray, who ran the ball 67 times in 2022 for 418 yards, he had a whopping 6.2 yards per rush attempt.
If Kyler Murray’s 2022 is stretched out dropping 1 yards per rush attempt, that’s 538 yards.
It might not seem like a huge difference but it’s a drop-off for Murray of over 100 yards on the season with his legs...and that’s a best case scenario. It might be closer to 200 if he’s more Watson/Griffin III and those are not just explosive plays and clutch yards but also picking up 4th down plays and red zone looks.
The vast majority of guys didn’t return to form—but that said, many were in the position of “running for their lives” behind bad offensive lines as a reason why their rushing yards were a bit higher in those seasons, but none truly returned to form.
Either way, Murray’s rushing will likely take a step back when he returns
2. Kyler’s number of sacks taken per game should increase in 2023
McNabb went from 21 to 44 sacks.
Palmer from 9 sacks to 25 sacks.
Griffin III from 30 to 38.
Burrow from 32 to 51 (with his sack percentage going from 7% to 8%)
And Deshaun Watson from 19 in 6 games to (whole season would have been 51 sacks) to a whopping 62 league leading sacks the following season. It increased for each guy.
Kyler Murray, in these projections, would go from around 2.2 sacks a game to at least 3, and if extrapolated that would be close to 50 sacks for the 2023 season should he play in its entirety.
Sacks are drive killing plays, and this indicates that there’s probably a lot less immediate ability to escape pressure for quarterbacks and they take a sack more often than they are able to extend a play.
That said—many of these teams did see their starting quarterback get the team back to the postseason that year, which shows that sacks aren’t an end-all-be-all.
But it will be something to watch with Murray behind a line that just added Paris Johnson Jr. but lost their starting left guard, center and is adapting to a new scheme—even with the fact that unlike the others, he’ll be given more time to get right versus starting Week 1.
One strange thing in all of this is the factor that none of these quarterbacks above that I have listed went into new offensive schemes with new head coaches and new playcallers the following season.
They all ended up having some consistency, which makes Kyler’s case all the more unique and might take some adjusting
3. The number of Interceptions should increase for Murray
It might not be by a huge margin, but every QB’s INT total increased across the board with a few exceptions:
McNabb’s INT numbers went from 6 to 7 following his ACL tear, but others fared differently:
RG3: 5 INT to 12 INT
Brady: from 8 INT to 13
Watson: from 8 to 9 INT
Bradford: from 4 to 14 INT.
Joe Burrow and Carson Palmer were ones who beat that trend, improving on their interception ratio the following year, with Burrow going from 1.8 INT/ game to 1.1 and a Super Bowl appearance and Palmer to a NFC Championship game.
Most didn’t see a dramatic increase in INT/game, but there’s definitely a continuing trend here, as it wasn’t just more INT’s in total but in their Interception %, too.
So here’s the conclusion...post ACL quarterbacks are not running as much (or for as many yards) taking more sacks and getting rid of the ball quicker to avoid a hit, which is turned into more turnovers.
Kyler Murray did put up his lowest interception total of his career in 2022, granted, while he wasn’t really throwing the ball deep, we can expect that % to likely move up next year.
The overall trend of these quarterbacks might seem...rough.
Projecting Kyler Murray for more sacks and interceptions and less rushing yards seems like a difficult pill to swallow.
There is a silver lining, however, as multiple quarterbacks on this list started Week 1, made the playoffs the following season and had good years. What was the ultimate reason for that?
I think it’s tied to one other statistic:
For each of the quarterbacks who had good seasons the following year, their passing yards/game increased from the year before. Watson is a good example here, as well as Carson Palmer’s magical Cardinals’ season.
For some it did significantly (a la Joe Burrow) and the ones who it didn’t like RG3 or Sam Bradford ended up struggling to gain ground and get back to form.
The key to increasing passing yards, I believe, isn’t just in terms of quarterbacking, but in adding pieces at wide receiver as well (Will Fuller and Ja’Marr Chase stick out here).
Another way Murray could be an outlier is tied to Bradford, too...when does he play will be different from these other QB’s who all were ready to play by Week 1.
After tearing his ACL in the 2013 season, Sam Bradford re-tore that same ACL in the preseason and missed the entire following year of football. It feels like he may have been rushed back (same with Griffin III), and the Cardinals aren’t seeming likely to do this with Murray.
Which is a good thing, in my opinion.
Time will tell but most likely this quarterback will be given more of a chance to come back strong than some of these other guys who got re-injured or fell from grace. So that’s the good news for Cardinals fans.
However, if anyone is banking on evaluating Kyler Murray and his 2023 status based on his post-ACL season, they’re going to be in for disappointment, especially given that what seems to be the one area that these quarterbacks find a way out of a slog of a return year, the passing improving, will run into both a new scheme and a lack of proven weapons following the release of DeAndre Hopkins.
Personally—I think that it’s unfair to use this upcoming year as an evaluation for Murray given that he IS likely to struggle with these conditions. I believe the team should choose either to commit to him now (a la trading down even if you have the #1 pick and passing on a quarterback) or commit to moving forward knowing that amidst a rough season there might not be much Murray can do outside of keeping healthy and showing he can play in multiple offensive schemes.
It’s a tall task for Murray, frankly, not an impossible one, but it’ll be a heavy load carrying what appears to be a bad Cardinals team later in the 2023 season.
As well as a challenge for new offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, to find a path for success or else Arizona really might find themselves in position to have a legitimate choice as to the future of the position.