There was a lot of uncertainty about how Kyler Murray’s rookie season would go after the Arizona Cardinals drafted him at No. 1 overall. Murray was an undersized prospect and only months before the draft had opted for football over baseball. He was coming into an organization that had just hired Kliff Kingsbury, who had never coached in the NFL before and was fired after a 35-40 record at Texas Tech. Kingsbury also was implementing his version of an air raid offense.
Eleven games into his NFL career, Murray has been proving his doubters wrong.
It’s easy to overlook how good Murray has been because the Cardinals aren’t winning many games — they’re 3-7-1 with a tough stretch coming up against the Rams, Steelers, Browns, and Seahawks. The Cardinals also play in the NFC West, where the 49ers, Seahawks, and Rams are all in the playoff hunt. Even though the Cardinals losing record may not reflect it, Murray already looks ahead of schedule. He even has a strong case to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award this season.
Murray is exceeding expectations that were pretty low to begin with.
Murray came into the NFL with a lack of talent around him. He inherited an offensive line that finished 25th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric, which measures how well they run block. They also finished 26th in sack percentage in 2018 with then-rookie Josh Rosen, who was sacked 45 times in 14 games last season. The Cardinals have allowed 36 sacks so far this season, tied for fourth-most in the NFL.
Aside from wideout Larry Fitzgerald, the receiving corps is quite young, too. That includes two rookies (Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson) and second-year player Christian Kirk, one of Murray’s old college teammates.
Murray is making it work, though. Unsurprisingly, Fitzgerald and Kirk are Murray’s favorite receivers this season, with a combined 101 catches, 1,101 yards, and six touchdowns.
More than that, Murray is showing steady growth as the season goes on. Comparing the first five weeks of this season to his last six, his numbers have gone up significantly.
- Murray, Weeks 1-5: 62.7 completion percentage, 1,324 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT, 80.1 passer rating
- Murray, Weeks 6-11: 66.7 completion percentage, 1,379 yards, 10 TD, 1 INT, 102.8 passer rating
Before he threw a pick against the Buccaneers in Week 10, Murray broke the NFL rookie record for consecutive throws without an interception.
On display in Canton: @AZCardinals @K1 jersey when he broke the @NFL Rookie Record for most consecutive passes without an interception. He surpassed @derekcarrqb & @dak for the longest streak of consecutive pass attempts without an interception by a rookie QB in NFL history. pic.twitter.com/XYkZ0KI4Dv— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) November 15, 2019
He also became the second rookie in NFL history with at least four 300-yard passing performances in his first 10 career games.
Twice this season against the 49ers, Murray has posted a QB passer rating of over 100. In fact, he’s the only quarterback to have done so against San Francisco’s defense, most recently in Week 11.
In that game, Murray went 24 of 33 for 150 yards and two passing touchdowns. He also showed how he can fit the ball into tight coverage windows, too — look at how perfectly he placed this pass to Fitzgerald in double coverage:
Double coverage? @LarryFitzgerald isn't worried about it. pic.twitter.com/IjJ9MS6kY0— Arizona Cardinals ⋈ (@AZCardinals) November 17, 2019
The former No. 1 pick is also doing great things with his legs so far this season. With 418 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, he’s second in the NFL in rushing yards among QBs, behind MVP candidate Lamar Jackson. Murray is the only player in the top 29 in rushing who hasn’t carried the ball at least 100 times; he has 67 rushing attempts.
His best run came in his second matchup against the 49ers. That game went down to the wire, and it looked like the Cardinals were going to pull out the upset. With 6:30 left in the fourth quarter, Murray had a beautiful 22-yard touchdown to give his team a 26-23 lead. Watch how he sells the zone read, even getting Nick Bosa to bite on it, before turning on the jets around the left end and into the end zone:
Seeing stars @K1 puts us back in the lead! pic.twitter.com/ifYHifGs9z— Arizona Cardinals ⋈ (@AZCardinals) November 17, 2019
He reached a top speed of 19.29 MPH on that score!
But when the 49ers got the ball back with just over two minutes to go, the Cardinals’ defense gave up a touchdown with 30 seconds left. The 49ers went on to win, 36-26.
The big problem is the Cardinals’ defense not doing Murray any favors this season.
The Cardinals are 29th in both scoring defense (28.8 points per game allowed) and yards per play allowed (6.1). It’s hard to win games if your defense keeps letting you down.
Never was that more apparent than in that Week 11 loss to the 49ers. Murray got his team a 16-0 lead early against the 49ers and that was erased by the third quarter. Two more leads were blown in the second half.
The rookie quarterback isn’t exactly happy with all the losing his team is doing, either. In college, he lost just three games combined as a starter at Texas A&M and Oklahoma, and he never lost a game as a starter in high school. He voiced his frustration after the Cardinals loss to the 49ers:
“I’m used to winning,” Murray said via ESPN. “I’ve always won, and then being in situations like when you go up 16 or you’re in position to win and you should win, it’s disappointing.”
The Cardinals are in good hands with a guy who wants to win as much as Murray.
This wasn’t supposed to be a playoff year for the Cardinals, but there is some promise with how good Murray is looking this early.
His numbers stack up favorably against every other rookie quarterback who has started at least two games:
- Murray (11 starts): 64.6 completion percentage, 2,703 yards, 14 TD, 5 INT, 91.2 passer rating, 418 rush yards
- Gardner Minshew, Jaguars (eight starts): 61.2 completion percentage, 2,285 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT, 92.8 passer rating, 236 rush yards
- Daniel Jones, Giants (eight starts): 63.0 completion percentage, 1,984 yards, 15 TD, 8 INT, 88.0 passer rating, 32 rush yards
- Dwayne Haskins, Washington (two starts): 58.2 completion percentage, 498 yards, 2 TD, 5 INT, 58.9 passer rating, 42 rush yards
- Ryan Finley, Bengals (two starts): 47.5 completion percentage, 282 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 52.8 passer rating, 69 rush yards
He is the only one of the group to have started every game, and he keeps improving each week.
He may not be getting as much attention as he should, but don’t be surprised if he ends up winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award when it’s all said and done. Even if a 3-7-1 start might not be how Murray thought his first season would go, the Cardinals are going to be just fine with the young QB at the helm.