The stage has never been too big for Kyler Murray.
But an NFL jersey might be — or at least that’s been the talk swirling around the Oklahoma quarterback, that his smaller stature would cost him in the perspective of future employers.
“I’m not going to lie, I see it everywhere,” the 5-foot-10 Murray said at the NFL scouting combine this week when asked about the size concerns. “Sitting in the meeting rooms with all the players, I’m just sitting here and I’m on the TV. You can’t really get away from it, but it is what it is.”
Murray, who last month chose football over a baseball career, is among the more intriguing stories of the 2019 draft class. He and Baker Mayfield, both undersized play-makers, won the Heisman Trophy as Sooners quarterbacks. Mayfield wound up being the surprise No. 1 pick last year by the Cleveland Browns, and there’s a distinct possibility Murray too could go at or near the top of the draft.
But Murray, who has drawn comparisons to Seattle’s Russell Wilson, is doing what he can to create some separation between his story and Mayfield’s.
“Bake’s success would be his success,” he said. “He did come from Oklahoma. That’s my guy. I wish him success, obviously. But again, I’ve got to do my thing. I’ve got to prove myself at this level. I hope he continues to do his thing. His success is his success.”
Whereas five quarterbacks were selected in the 2018 first round — Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson — this figures to be a more typical year at the position. At this point, the upper tier of quarterback prospects consists of Murray, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock, and Duke’s Daniel Jones.
“I knew before the season I could go to the NFL,” said Haskins, who set a Big Ten single-season record for passing yards (4,831) and eclipsed Drew Brees’ conference mark for passing touchdowns with 50.
“I just had to play. I played every game to get better, and I knew once I got through the season I put enough on film — threw for 4,800 yards, left some yards on the field, left some TDs on the field — I know I can get better. I have a lot of potential in front of me. I feel like I can make the jump.”
As it stands, most of the teams at the top of the draft are not quarterback shopping. The first five picks belong to Arizona, San Francisco, the New York Jets, Oakland and Tampa Bay. The Cardinals haven’t completely foreclosed on the idea of taking a quarterback — even though they used the No. 10 pick on UCLA’s Rosen last year — but it seems far more likely they would take Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa, or trade down.
The first team that clearly needs a quarterback is the New York Giants, at No. 6. They are deep into the season-by-season phase with Eli Manning.
It would seem the Buccaneers are in a prime trade spot, as quarterback-needy teams likely will have to leapfrog the Giants to get the player they want.
Among the other teams looking for a quarterback are Jacksonville, Washington and Miami, although that list figures to change depending on where free-agent Nick Foles winds up after leaving Philadelphia.
Lock saw his completion rate steadily improve in his four seasons at Missouri, topping out at 62.9% as a senior. A strong performance at the Senior Bowl kept his draft stock on an upward trend. He’s on track to be the second Missouri quarterback drafted (in any round) in the last 40 years, joining Blaine Gabbert, selected 10th by Jacksonville in 2011.
“I’m not a quarterback from California, I’m not from Texas, I didn’t necessarily go to Alabama, or some of the schools; I went to Missouri and I’m proud of that,” Lock said. “I can put on for Missouri and for myself and for Kansas City, Mo. Not typical of a Midwest kid to come out and be at the podium I’m standing at right now. That means a lot to me, and I think the Senior Bowl helped people see that a little bit.”
Jones earned most-valuable-player honors at the Senior Bowl and glowing praise from Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who coached the Manning brothers — Peyton at Tennessee and Eli at Ole Miss. Cutcliffe referred to Jones as a “cornerstone” of the Duke program.
One theory has the Giants taking Jones and letting him sit for a season behind Eli Manning. That learn-at-the-elbow approach has worked for a lot of teams, most recently in Kansas City, where Patrick Mahomes backed up Alex Smith as a rookie in 2017 and then earned league MVP honors as the Chiefs’ starter last season.
Jones indicated he’d be fine with that type of plan.
“I think there are still opportunities to compete, whether that’s in practice or whatever it is,” he said. “I red-shirted my first year at Duke, and went through a lot of that, and I think that was good for me at Duke, and I think it would be good for me in the NFL.”
Not surprisingly, the Giants are far from committing to any plan — at least publicly.
“There’s a million different models; there’s a million different ways to do this,” general manager Dave Gettleman said. “And you can cite a number of models where they have a veteran guy and they drafted a young guy, at some point in time the torch got passed, and away everybody went.”
Haskins (6-3), Lock (6-4), and Jones (6-5) are all considerably taller than Murray, but coaches and evaluators don’t appear to be too worried about that.
“I don’t know what the physical concerns are,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “Are you talking about the height? I think that’s been proven to not be as much a factor as maybe it was years ago. If you ask Russell Wilson or Brees, or the kid in Cleveland. I don’t know that it’s a true impact on the position or the performance.”