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Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray has a challenging load as a 2-sport star, but the MLB draft could make his path clear

He’s been tasked with replacing two Heisman winners, but baseball money might be on the table this summer.

UTEP v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

The recruitment of Kyler Murray to Texas A&M was pretty fascinating. Despite his frame (measured at 5’10, 178 at a Nike SPARQ combine), Murray was a three-time state champion QB with a 43-0 record from the DFW powerhouse Allen Eagles.

Murray was a dead ringer for the departing Johnny Manziel:

There was one hang-up: Murray was also a prized baseball prospect.

Texas A&M was balky on allowing its next QB to split time in another sport, but a well-timed visit to a rival school and accompanying tweet convinced Kevin Sumlin to encourage Murray’s efforts on the diamond.

Year one went awkwardly, with Sumlin juggling Murray and fellow five-star Kyle Allen before both chose to transfer. Murray got four starts and some action in a few other games in which he threw 121 passes for 686 yards at 5.7 YPA with five TDs and seven INTs. He also ran the ball 53 times for 335 yards at 6.3 per carry with another score. Citing frustration and the departure of OC Jake Spavital, Murray hit the market.

Oklahoma welcomed Murray and allowed him to play baseball. Things were pretty quiet as the hero Oklahoma wanted Murray to replace stayed for two more seasons. Now Baker Mayfield is moving on to the NFL.

Aiming to replace a three-time Heisman finalist and three-time Big 12 champion is a serious undertaking.

Of course, that’s just one of Murray’s duties this spring. The other has been moonlighting as OU’s starting centerfielder and clean-up hitter.

The busy RS junior is practicing football in the morning and playing baseball in the afternoon and evening.

Because of his speed and hitting ability (currently .279, but among the team leaders in homers and stolen bases), Murray is regarded as an exciting middle-defender prospect ahead of June’s MLB draft, and his stock seems to be quickly rising.

A pick anywhere near No. 36 would likely come with a seven-figure signing bonus, based on 2017 figures.

This raises two concerns for Lincoln Riley’s football team.

The first is whether Murray will even be available this fall. If he’s drafted, would he take a million dollars over another year of amateurism? There’s not much question about which sport offers a better future for Murray. Not only would baseball likely pay him more (and sooner) than the NFL can, but at 5’10 (maybe), the chances of Murray finding an NFL career are dimmer. So one hope in Norman is that he’ll provide a bridge between Mayfield and the next QB before cashing in on baseball.

The other concern is whether Murray can play QB at a championship level while developing a career in a completely different sport.

Last year, the Sooners overcame S&P+’s 101st-ranked defense and nearly won the Rose Bowl thanks to S&P+’s No. 1 offense. It was a historic effort by Riley’s offense, keyed by Mayfield and returning starters at all five OL spots, FB, and TE.

In 2018, Mayfield is gone, as are center Erik Wren, LT Orlando Brown, FB Dmitri Flowers, and TE Mark Andrews. But three starters are back along the OL, along with top WRs Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb and star RB Rodney Anderson. The Sooners have the weapons, but are accustomed to an insanely high level of play behind center.

Meanwhile, their woeful defense loses its two leading tacklers (LB Emmanuel Beal and DE Obo Okoronkwo), talented linemen Du’Vonta Lampkin and D.J. Ward, and three senior DBs, including both starting safeties. Oklahoma will have to have an immensely successful offseason to stay the top team in the Big 12.

There is obvious upside to Murray taking over in an offense that’s surprisingly run-centric, considering it’s overseen by a former Mike Leach disciple.

OU is built largely off the inside zone run game and counters, the latter of which often use the QB as a run threat ...

... or as the featured runner:

Mayfield was an effective runner, but he didn’t have Murray’s speed and quickness. It’s easy to imagine Murray turning 150 carries or so into something close to 1,000 yards. Health is a major factor when it comes to Murray’s carries, though. He’s already splitting time in two sports and enduring a punishing offseason workload.

Perhaps the bigger concern is how well Murray could handle the passing game without giving the sport his full attention.

While the Oklahoma spring game was played in 30 MPH winds that made evaluations of arm talent specious, there were some other concerns.

In particular, how comfortable he was against the blitz. Because Oklahoma is replacing its starting center, QB, and LT, there are bound to be some growing pains in setting protections, picking up blitzes, and handling edge rushers.

While this came against a back-up tackle, the lack of awareness by Murray couldn’t have been exciting to those who want to see him finish 2018 healthy.

Throughout the spring game, he was hesitant in making progressions and not always delivering crisp, on-time passes. He can sharpen his skills in fall camp, but he’ll likely miss some time over the summer in 7-on-7 drills, and the Sooners will likely be keen to do what they can to get fellow former blue-chip QB Austin Kendall up to speed.

Then there were plays like this:

A favorite way for many defenses to deal with spread-option squads is to send overload blitzes at the back, so that the QB gets a keep read from the first defender, only to pull it and find another defender blitzing. Murray doesn’t seem to see that coming here and pulls the ball, only to have to try and pick his way between the tackles.

Riley could scheme up plans to protect his QB, but he didn’t have to worry about things like that with Mayfield, an active participant in planning and adjusting on the field. There’s a wide gulf between the level of signal-calling available to the fifth-year senior and the two-sport Murray.

Murray has always been a brilliant athlete and smart about getting value from his talents.

Soon, both he and Oklahoma will have to make bets on 2018.