The good news for the rest of the league is that, once Kyler Murray becomes regarded as a bona fide superstar, no other team will be able to lament passing on him in the draft.
Unlike 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes and 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson, Murray became the first player off the board last year. And he could be the third straight second-year quarterback to win the game’s top individual regular-season honor.
Despite a tough draw for Week One — a trip to Santa Clara to face the defending division and conference champions — Murray didn’t flinch. It helped that the Cardinals gave the 49ers a couple of competitive games in 2019. This year, with Murray’s help, they finished the job.
He did it with his arm and his legs. But for a couple of shotgun victory formation kneel downs, Murray would have become the only player from the opening Sunday of 2020 with 100 rushing yards. As a passer, his numbers weren’t spectacular. But with a player like Murray, the raw passing stats don’t reveal how effective a thrower he can be.
Plenty of short passes drove down the yards per attempt to a mere 5.75, one of the key metrics for determining passer rating. A deflection near the line on an RPO led to an interception, an outcome far less egregious than an inaccurate throw or a bad read. A second touchdown pass was reversed via replay review because DeAndre Hopkins‘ knee hit the turf before the ball crossed the plane.
As a result, anyone who didn’t watch the game will look at Murray’s 78.1 passer rating and sneer. Anyone who did watch the game will look at his performance and smile.
Murray combines speed, agility, and awareness like no other player. He always knows where he is, where everyone else is, how his movements mesh with theirs, and what he needs to do to avoid being blown up, sir. Remember the various quarterbacks like Mike Vick and Mark Sanchez who couldn’t or wouldn’t slide? Remember the countless quarterbacks who have claimed they can’t turn off their competitive juices when there’s another yard or two to gain?
Murray has none of that. Instead, he has a lightning-fast hook slide that he’ll use anywhere, even when moving laterally after gaining only a couple of yards. Once he knows there’s no escape, he hits the deck, and then he moves on to the next play.
After a long scramble allowed him to convert a third down and 17 in the second half, Murray broke into the open along the left sideline, looked around, saw Richard Sherman bearing down, and skipped out of bounds. Unlike other quarterbacks (including the other quarterback playing in the same game) who would be inclined to drop a shoulder or otherwise keep moving forward.
Murray’s ability to flip the switch so quickly in either direction is uncanny. And it’s already made Murray one of the most dynamic and impressive quarterbacks in football.
The question is whether anyone will notice. Of all the games played on Sunday, Arizona sending San Francisco to 0-1 after last year’s 13-3 stands out as the most significant. Few may agree with that. And few who simply look at the stats will agree that Murray’s performance was every bit as impressive as the much larger numbers put up by quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson, focusing instead on how many passes Hopkins caught.
Yes, there’s a very long way to go this year. But the Cardinals will be one of the most exciting teams in football. On Sunday, they were — even if only they and the 49ers realized it.