Does Kyler Murray's Height Actually Matter?
After first dominating the headlines by turning his back on the Oakland Athletics, Kyler Murray's name remained front and center heading into the NFL Scouting Combine due in large part to one small matter... the matter being that he was small. Some speculated that he was 5 feet, 7 inches tall, a height that would mean an NFL career as a kick returner or lightly used satellite back at best.
But these fears were put to rest at the NFL Combine, when Murray measured 5-foot-10. Not exactly Brock Osweiler height, but something to work with. Of course, ensuring that the drama continues around this young man, some are speculating that he faked his height somehow, and we will have to wait for his Pro Day on March 13 for a "true" measurement.
But it really doesn't matter. If we assume that he lands in the right spot, dedicates himself to his craft (something that Charley Casserly heard may be an issue) and masters a playbook, Murray's height will not hold him back. Not at all.
If we were talking about a player who had achieved nothing in college, it would be easier to expect a 5-foot-10, 207-pound quarterback to struggle in the NFL. But this does not describe Murray's collegiate career. He sat behind Baker Mayfield for Oklahoma in 2017 (Mayfield is, of course, another shorter quarterback who seems to have dispelled the myths about his height holding him back so far in his pro career), but when he assumed the starter role in 2018 he was sensational. He completed 69% of his pass attempts, finishing with 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns with only 7 interceptions.
Murray's yards per attempt mark of 11.6 is the third highest in the PlayerProfiler database, while no player has a higher College QBR than Murray's 95.8. Here's how he compares to the other "small" quarterbacks currently plying their trade in the NFL.
As we've already established, Murray is smaller than every other starting quarterback in the NFL, and if he were 6-feet-2 then we wouldn't be talking. Greg Cosell, a man who knows a thing or two about talent evaluation, notes that Murray "lacks the desired height/weight/bulk profile for the position."
But Greg doesn't leave it there. He cites plenty of Murray's strengths, namely his "outstanding foot quickness and lower-body mechanics," the fact that he "made the far-hash/deep-out throws with little effort," and that he showed flashes of "working through his progressions with quick eyes." Aren't these note traits all NFL teams would like to see from their quarterbacks?
So, what are the major supposed obstacles that Murray's height will force him to face?
Under the Gun?
John Elway, when speaking about Murray prior to the draft, mostly spoke in praise of Murray, noting that "The one year he played at Oklahoma was great there and shows he’s a great athlete."
However, Elway did stress that Murray may find it difficult operating a "pro style" offense with much of the quarterback's time spent under center, rather than out of the gun. He said, "The height from shotgun doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does if you’re coming out from underneath center all the time because by the time you get back there the pocket a lot of times is caving on you. That’s where height does matter a little bit more."
While Elway was no doubt telling the truth -- and who am I to question John Elway with regards how to play the quarterback spot -- this argument is a little bit stuck in the old school. Of course, NFL teams will want to operate under center some of the time, but the trend towards favoring the gun is a growing one. Over the last three seasons, NFL teams operated out of the shotgun on average 61% of the time, according to Sharp Football.
Six teams eclipsed the 70% mark, with the Detroit Lions spending three quarters of their time in the gun. The idea that Murray would be trapped under center down after down seems highly unlikely. It is noticeable, however, that the team with the first overall selection and most closely linked to Murray, the Arizona Cardinals, spent the third-least time in the gun between 2016-2018, with a 52:48 preference in favor of going under center. But even if they don't take Murray, with Kliff Kingsbury as their head coach, I'd expect this number to rise steadily in 2019 and beyond.
Seeing the Full Picture
Playing out of the shotgun would, as Elway alludes to, assist Murray in being able to see as much of the field as possible. Being under center could also lead to another "disadvantage" for Murray, namely that he wouldn't be able to see over his linemen. Yes, I'm struggling with the fact that I just wrote that.
Offensive linemen are the big hulks that teams entrust with protecting their star asset, namely the quarterback. They are, on the whole, taller than the average quarterback. If Murray were to stand directly behind, say, New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, then you bet that Murray would be obstructed. Ramczyk stands a towering 6-foot-7. He plays on a Saints line whose average height is 6-foot-5. Imagine those behemoths all standing in a line in front of Murray. They'd block out the sun as much as they'd block pass rushers.
Expect the offensive lines of the NFL don't all stand in a line when pass blocking. They fan out, in an attempt to create as wide and solid a pocket for their quarterback as possible in order for him to safely make the right play. Plus, it's not as if Murray is a statue when waiting to pass. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2018 with 12 rushing touchdowns.
Cody Ford, one of Murray's primary blockers last year, noted that "One thing I had to worry about, being a tackle, was ‘don’t give up the inside.' Make sure that these D-ends don’t get up the field, also."
Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't we told constantly that Tom Brady hates pressure up the middle? So, would it be correct in assuming that maybe his offensive tackles are committed to not giving up the inside? Doesn't sound like a massive change of philosophy would be required in tasking players to block for Murray.
For the record, the average height of the Sooners line that blocked for Murray last season was 6 feet, 4 inches. Russell Wilson played behind a Seahawks line that stood an average of 6-foot-4, Mayfield's protectors were the same average height, and Brees was blocked by a group just one inch taller.
Tip of the Iceberg
So, maybe Murray is able to just about peek past his pass protectors enough to spot an open receiver down the field. Just maybe. But will it matter if his passes will get batted at the line due to his height?
Well, if it does matter, it will certainly be a new problem, as it hasn't affected him before. Murray had a grand total of five passes batted down in 2018. Five.
The NFL leader in batted passes last season was Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings, with 17. He had six in one game alone. Cousins is a 6-foot-3 quarterback, and of the quarterbacks to lead the NFL in this category since 2012, none have been shorter than Cousins. Blake Bortles has twice paced the NFL, with 20 in each of the 2015 and 2016 campaigns, and he is 6-foot-5.
Gil Brandt points out that, of the shorter quarterbacks to attempt to make a living in the NFL over the last few years, Wilson has never ranked in the top 10 in most batted passes in a single season. He also sends some love the way of former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, a giant at 5-foot-11, who saw just one of his 258 career pass attempts tipped.
Richard Johnson of SB Nation writes that "Whether you're 5'10 or 6'5, batted balls will happen sometimes." It is a reality of the position, and it is not something that will hurt Murray any more than it will the average quarterback.
Murray is already a controversial character in the NFL despite never taking a snap and much of the controversy (if not all of it) is not of his making. He will be highlighted, poked and prodded at any available opportunity because that is the nature of the business he is entering. But his height, which he cannot control (although the tin foil hat brigade would have us believe he can) is not a matter to mark him as someone who will fail at the highest level.
"His unrefined footwork and ability to read coverages," according to Steven Ruiz, are more likely to hinder his progress. But we won't be able to judge them until he's on a team and in a camp while working with NFL coaches.
Until then, let's take the high ground, and leave the height out of it.