Similarities aside, Cards hope Kyler Murray can mirror Lamar Jackson
TEMPE, Ariz. — Bruce Arians is an NFL old head but a progressive thinker of football.
The former Arizona Cardinals head coach saw the receiving abilities in Cardinals draft pick David Johnson and didn’t confine the running back’s unique skills to only running back duties.
In hindsight, Arians was also thinking out of the box with his now-year-old evaluation of last year’s 32nd overall draft pick, Lamar Jackson.
Arians told Bickley & Marotta before last year’s draft that he would use the Cardinals’ No. 15 overall pick to select Jackson, pairing the dual-threat Heisman winner with a dynamic running back in Johnson.
“I think he can really spin it,” Arians said in April while joining 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “When he pulls the ball down and runs, man, the only guy I’ve seen like that is Michael Vick. This guy breaks the game open with his legs. You put him back there with David Johnson and a lot of good things can happen.
“I think he’s a very intriguing prospect.”
If you’re buying the Baltimore Ravens quarterback’s brief career trajectory, then current Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray’s potential ascent appears similarly promising.
In the first game of Jackson’s second NFL season, the quarterback completed 17 of 20 passes for 324 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in a 59-10 win over the Miami Dolphins. He rushed just three times for six yards.
“Not bad for a running back,” Jackson told reporters afterward.
A nearly flawless performance followed an offseason full of dichotomous evaluations of Jackson, who as a rookie threw the ball 170 times and rushed 147 more, completing 58% of his passes.
Some analysts viewed him as a talented athlete but raw for his position. Others saw past the numbers, realized he was a rookie and believed his instincts as a passer would catch up to his arm talent quickly.
Back in 2015, Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury, then a coach at Texas Tech, first caught Jackson in action during the bowl season. He watched the Music City Bowl featuring a Texas A&M squad he previously coached and a Louisville team led by Jackson.
The then-freshman ended up passing for 227 yards and rushed for another 226, scoring four total touchdowns.
“He lit it up,” Kingsbury said. “I was like, this is an absolute freak. I actually called my agent and I said, ‘I got your next guy.'”
Jackson now faces Kingsbury and Murray in Week 2 of the NFL season.
Murray is the 2019 No. 1 pick who came out of high school the same year as Jackson. He was a high-profile dual-threat prospect then and now faces the same stigma as the other Heisman-winning quarterback with jets.
Those skeptics caged in old-school thought believe that mobile quarterbacks can’t succeed.
Regardless of whether you’re in the camp that believes Jackson and Murray are comparable athletes, it’s true that the opposing signal-callers can help break such stereotypes.
“I think he’s his own player, and I’m my own player,” Murray said. “I got things to work on. I’m sure he feels like he has things to work on.
“The ability to run is definitely changing the game. He’s a great player. He’s got great legs, great speed. I think it makes the game interesting.”
Murray can only hope to follow in Jackson’s footsteps by quickly proving doubters wrong.
The rookie’s single NFL game played so far at least mirrors Jackson’s career arc that’s a year older.
Murray got off to a horrendous start through three quarters against the Detroit Lions last Sunday before rallying his team from 18 points down. He finished with 308 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 29-of-54 passing.
The rookie rushed three times for 13 yards.
Kingsbury said that it wasn’t a single game of experience for a rookie. The head coach truly believes the value of Murray’s first outing went beyond that.
“He grew up a lot when you’re talking about being a professional quarterback,” Kingsbury said. “That’s what your job is: It’s going to be rough at times in this league … and you just have to keep battling. I don’t know in his career if he’s ever had to stay in a game like that to that end and find a way to bring it back when it’s bad as it could’ve been.
“I mean, he’s had games where he’s had to come back but never when it’s just been bleak the entire time. I think he grew up a lot. He understands now what it takes to perform at this level and I think he’ll be better moving forward.”
— The Cardinals will give right tackle Justin Murray his second career start in place of Marcus Gilbert, who was ruled out of the year with an ACL injury. Murray started Sunday against the Lions just a week after being claimed off waivers by Arizona.
— This week’s signing, offensive tackle Jordan Mills, will presumably add depth behind Justin Murray for as the Cardinals continue to mull their in-house options.
— Kingsbury on being just four years older than Cardinals veterans Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs: “It makes me feel like a slouch, honestly. Every day to go out there and watch them do what they do, it just inspires me honestly. If they can go out there and put their bodies through that and do that, I can get up early and study some film.”