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Friday Focus: Kyler Murray, QB (AZ)

Graphic by Pat Pryor

Written by: Alexander Amir

Kyler Murray has been the talk of all football since last September. He took over for Baker Mayfield as the starting QB for Oklahoma, and led them to the #4 team in the country with a Heisman Trophy-winning season. He was then the top storyline of the NFL Draft, all the way from his Combine measurements to becoming the #1 overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals. Now, as we approach training camp, Murray presents an intriguing fantasy football case considering his unique talents and current ADP. Let’s take a look at what his season could look like in 2019.

Best-Case Scenario

Scrambling QBs have always been a really big plus in fantasy football, and you can look as recently as 2018 for proof. Lamar Jackson, since taking over as Baltimore’s starter in week 11, posted 16+ ESPN fantasy points every week aside from week 11, when he had 15.9. Now, you might be thinking that 16 points isn’t great for a QB, and you’re right. But Jackson averaged an absurd 17 carries per game and a very respectable 4.7 yards per attempt. His throwing was atrocious, as he completed 58% of his passes while averaging a measly 6.7 yards per attempt, along with a 6:3 TD to INT ratio.

Now, Kyler Murray is superior to Lamar Jackson in every aspect. He is quicker and more elusive, and is a significantly better passer. While Jackson is proof that a rushing QB with absolutely no passing ability can be moderately successful, pass-first QBs with scrambling ability have proven to be extremely valuable fantasy assets. Two of Russell Wilson’s three best fantasy seasons came in the only two years that he had over 100 rushing attempts (his best fantasy season was in 2017 with 95 rushing attempts). Cam Newton has not thrown for over 4,000 yards since his rookie season and has surpassed 25 passing touchdowns just once — yet he’s had four Top 5 fantasy finishes in the past seven years. Dual-threat QBs have proven to have a huge leg up in fantasy football, and Kyler has a chance to join them.

My best-case scenario for Kyler Murray this season is similar to Robert Griffin III’s 2012 Rookie season line, which placed him 5th amongst fantasy QBs with 21.3 average fantasy points per game. That RG3 season featured a lot of rushing attempts and a higher-than-expected yards per pass attempt:

Worst-Case Scenario

I don’t really think there’s a statistical comparison for Murray’s worst-case scenario because I think it could arise for two different reasons. First, which is still my biggest concern, is injury. Murray is tiny, and I think his 207 lb Combine weight is not his actual playing weight. I worry that when he gets to the NFL he won’t be able to escape contact with the same ease that he did in college. I don’t know how many hits he will be able to take in the NFL, and he will definitely be taking hits.

Kyler’s injury concern stems a bit from his supporting cast as well. Last year’s offensive line was absolutely decimated by injuries, with only player, Mason Cole, to start every game. Current projected starters Marcus Gilbert and Justin Pugh, for example, have documented injury histories. Murray benefited from an outstanding offensive line at Oklahoma, playing with a clean pocket very often. He won’t get that same protection in the pros, and I wonder how much that will affect his game. Additionally, outside of Larry Fitzgerald he is playing with a trio of young wide receivers in Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, and Hakeem Butler. Murray will be relying on them to be productive pro-receivers in order to make the passing game click.

My general worst case prediction for Murray is one that sees a spike in interceptions due to increased pressure, a low yards per rushing attempt due to poor blocking, and a relatively low yards per pass attempt due to Arizona’s receivers’ ability to separate.

Realistic Prediction

I expect Kyler’s season to be much closer to the best-case scenario. I think Kliff Kingsbury’s innovative offensive mind will keep defenses on their toes for at least one season, and Kyler will put up a ton of points rushing and a fair amount of points passing as defenses try to adjust to his capabilities. I personally don’t see a long term future for Murray in the league, but I do think his rookie year is an outstanding opportunity for fantasy owners.

This is my rough estimate for Kyler’s 2019 stat line:

This would give Kyler roughly 308 fantasy points per ESPN Standard Scoring, which would have made him last year’s QB8. I think the Cardinals will get back to having a run-heavy offense featuring David Johnson, which will limit Kyler’s opportunities to throw the ball. But this approach will also help mitigate the transition to a stronger, faster NFL with a worse offensive line, and will keep Kyler upright.

Kyler’s current ADP is QB8, which is exactly where I pegged his stats to be (I swear, I just looked at the ADP now after doing the projection). I’m a big believer in waiting to draft a QB, until later rounds, especially in such a deep QB class like this one, that I would not take Kyler in the 7th round where he’s currently being drafted. However, if you can get Kyler roughly 2-3 rounds later, I would pull the trigger. I would be very comfortable pairing him with someone like Dak Prescott (ADP 11th round, finished as a top 10 QB three years in a row) or Kirk Cousins (ADP 13th round, finished as QB13 last year, three straight top 10 finishes before that). Something I even experimented with in my mock drafts was drafting Kyler back-to-back with another QB like Cam Newton or Phillip Rivers. If Kyler does play up to his projection, someone like Newton or Rivers could be a nice trade piece.

Murray is one of the most intriguing fantasy football players this year. His season could end in a hurry with a bad injury, but he could also explode onto the scene with absurd yardage totals.

Bottom line: Don’t overdraft, but take advantage of the upside by pairing him on your team with a safe, veteran QB.

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