The worlds of the NFL and MLB are ones largely dominated by giants, arenas in which the adage “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” tends not to apply.
There are exceptions, but in the NFL, from the Goliath-like quarterbacks to the hulking pass rushers hunting them down, bigger is habitually viewed as better. In MLB, only two of the last 10 MVPs have been under 6 feet tall.
All the more curious then, that a 21-year-old standing at just 5-10 and weighing only 195 pounds is one of the hottest topics of both sports.
Yet a glimpse at Kyler Murray’s incredible high school and college career in football and baseball shows why his future has been a subject of such intense debate.
After going 42-0 at Allen High School in football-crazed Texas, Murray moved on to Texas A&M, only to transfer to Oklahoma after a disappointing 2015 season. Transfer rules wiped out his 2016 and in 2017 he backed up now-Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield, whose jump to the NFL set the stage for a phenomenal 2018 for Murray.
His baseball season produced a batting average of .296 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs, enough for the Oakland Athletics to select him with the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft that June, allowing him to return for one last football campaign with Oklahoma and begin his pro baseball career in 2019 in a move the A’s now appear poised to regret.
Murray completed 69 percent of his passes for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns with just seven interceptions while running for more than 1,000 yards and another 12 scores.
Showcasing a scorching arm and unerring accuracy, frightening speed combined with elusiveness in the open field and the ability to complete high-difficulty throws on the move, Murray led Oklahoma to a 12-2 record and the College Football Playoff semifinals and won the most prestigious individual award in college football, the Heisman Trophy, after which talk of him eschewing baseball for football grew.
The highest single-game passer rating (348.0) in the FBS since at least 1996.
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) September 30, 2018
Despite the best efforts of the A’s, he declared for the NFL Draft in January, a decision backed by Oklahoma’s most famous fan, legendary professional wrestling commentator Jim Ross.
“He’s an amazing athlete, I think he’s a natural born quarterback,” Ross told Omnisport. “He’s obviously an outstanding all-around athlete being drafted by baseball as well but I think he’s a football player. His skill set is extraordinary.”
There are plenty of skeptics of Murray’s apparent path. Playing in the NFL carries a significantly higher injury risk and, with no salary cap in MLB, baseball would give him the greater long-term earning potential. However, Murray would likely have to work his way up through the minor leagues before featuring in MLB, while in the NFL he would have a professional contract right off the bat and a quicker path to stardom and potential endorsements.
It is the prospect of more money up front that Murray’s high school coach Tom Westerberg believes has influenced his change of heart.
“I think it all has to come down to money,” Westerberg told Omnisport. “I thought he could play baseball for quite a long time. Football careers have a tendency not to last real long but you get quite a bit of money up front in the football side of it, in baseball a lot of guys don’t go straight from college right into playing on a professional team. They work their way up and I don’t know if that’s the road he wanted to take.”
Ross agrees, adding: “The intangible answer would be ‘where’s his heart?’, I think his heart is on the football field. That’s my take on it from being around him, he comes from a football family, a family of great athletes. I just think that if his heart’s where I think it is, football is his choice.
“Mathematically speaking, football is the way to go. He’s a first-round draft pick as a quarterback in a year where there’s not a great overabundance of quarterback prospects. He’s going to be able monetize his football skills immensely. Just looking at the money, football is his answer, but I happen to believe it is also his true passion.”
Quite a ride for @TheKylerMurray:
June 4 – No. 9 pick in MLB Draft
June 15 – Signs with A’s, announces he will return to OU to play football
Aug. 22 – Named OU’s starting QB
Dec. 8 – Wins OU’s 7th Heisman
Jan. 14 – Declares for the NFL Draft
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) January 14, 2019
Height will be the main knock against Murray, but the stage is unlikely to be too big for him, having thrived in front of massive crowds in high school.
“He got into some state championships, I guess it was his junior year I think it set the record for Texas state championships,” Westerberg said. “I think it was 54,000 at our state championship. He’s played in some pretty high [stakes] games in front of a lot of people so I knew when he got to college that wasn’t going to be very different.”
The doubters who believe Murray is ill-equipped to succeed in the NFL will persist, but holes in the argument that he is too small are easy to find. Russell Wilson is 5-11 and has led the Seahawks to two Super Bowl appearances and largely avoided injury. Drew Brees is just an inch taller and has put together a Hall of Fame resume.
And Ross feels Murray is perfectly positioned to flourish in a league where a player blessed with similar physical tools and improvisational skills, Patrick Mahomes, is poised to win the MVP.
“I don’t put a lot of credence in that [height critique], the game’s changed in that respect,” Ross said. “When you’ve got to find a quarterback the first step is his instincts. He just avoids a lot of contact and no defense has ever prepared to play a quarterback that’s faster than Kyler Murray.”
Deion Sanders, who played in the NFL and MLB, and former Washington Redskins great Joe Theismann are among those to suggest Murray is making a mistake, and there is still time for another change of heart. Murray is scheduled to report for spring training with the A’s next month, but at this point he is more likely to appear at the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Feb. 26.
Should he do so, the writing will be firmly on the wall for his baseball career and, for Westerberg, Murray’s appearance at the Combine could well be the start of a road to some humble pie for those to have questioned him.
“He has the tendency to prove a lot of people wrong quite often, you tell him he can’t do something, he’s going to prove that he can,” Westerberg explained. “I think in the back of his mind, a lot of people don’t think he can make it in the NFL because of his size.
“He’s going to set out to prove quite a lot of people wrong.”