Optics of Kyler Murray, Nick Bosa draft picks are positive for Cards and 49ers

Oct 30, 2019, 10:34 AM | Updated: 11:24 am
Kyler Murray and Nick Bosa went first and second overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. They meet Thursday ...
Kyler Murray and Nick Bosa went first and second overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. They meet Thursday as the Cardinals host the 49ers at State Farm Stadium (AP photos).
(AP photos)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Look at how the Arizona Cardinals kicked off the 2019 NFL Draft with eight games of hindsight, and it makes sense.

It also looks like the right decision.

They were right to pair first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury with the player who could most enhance his offense. Back before the draft, however, eventual No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray came with risks.

What if his height limited him? What if his running ability led him down a path of too many injuries?

What if another top prospect ended up having a better career?

Halfway through Murray’s rookie year, those concerns that weren’t enough to spook Arizona have faded. As the Cardinals prepares to face the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, the fork in the road they took back in April still makes you wonder.

San Francisco used the No. 2 overall pick on Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, the likely top draft choice for many other NFL teams had they been in the Cardinals’ position.

“I loved him,” Kingsbury said last week. “Loved him as a player, would love to go to the club with him. He’s one of those guys.

“Yeah, he’s going to have fun wherever he’s at and he’s an absolute beast on the field. Being around him, had a couple dinners with him, one of our favorite players in the draft, obviously, on and off the field.”

Like Murray, Bosa hasn’t disappointed.

He has a team-high seven sacks for a 49ers defense that is leading the NFL in fewest yards allowed per game (224.4) and is second in points allowed per game (11.0).

The rookie finished with three sacks in a 51-19 win over the Panthers, including this extended play where three Carolina blockers didn’t do enough to keep Bosa off of quarterback Kyle Allen’s back.

Bosa’s performance earned the him the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award on Wednesday, and it comes just a few weeks after Murray took home the offensive version of the weekly honor for Arizona.

“For a big guy, (Bosa) can get every cleat in the ground like Von Miller, like Chandler Jones, like Miles Garrett, like those guys with those loose hips and those loose ankles,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Tuesday. “They can rush and turn the corner and not lose speed and not lose power. Lots of those guys have those great powerful legs and those flexible ankles.

“He’s so natural at defeating tackles,” Joseph added. “He doesn’t even look at the tackle, he looks at the quarterback.”

In Bosa’s last game, he also recorded his first interception after shedding a cut block. His fluidity as an athlete showed in his return.

Draft pick No. 1 versus No. 2 in a nationally-televised primetime matchup will shine the spotlight on the Cardinals’ decision to make the unconventional move atop the draft.

Imagine Bosa rushing off the edge opposite outside linebacker Chandler Jones, who is third in the NFL with 8.5 sacks himself, and there’s evidence Bosa could have quite the career in Arizona.

Murray, however, aligns with the Cardinals’ decisions to fire head coach Steve Wilks after 2018 and hire the offensive-oriented Kingsbury.

The quarterback has helped a weapon-lacking offense hover in the mediocre range of per-game statistics halfway through 2019. Meanwhile, Arizona’s defense sits fourth-worst in yards allowed and points allowed per game.

Eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, as much as anyone, has showed urgency in wanting the Cardinals franchise to turn their fortunes around.

A year and a week ago, Peterson asked for a trade, after all. But since rescinding that request days later, he’s focused on the task at hand.

He could selfishly wish for the team to add a young pass-rusher on his defense to join Jones and veteran Terrell Suggs. Yet Peterson is aware of how important Murray is to the rejuvenation of the Cardinals.

“I told him this in the game, he’s not a rookie anymore,” Peterson said. “So if you want to — not necessarily call anyone out — if you feel like you need to say something, say it. You’re technically the CEO of our football team, a young CEO of our football team. Believe it or not, your voice means something.”

Seasons of football must play out before anyone can judge the Cardinals’ decision to draft Murray over Bosa.

Headlines like “Is It Too Soon To Call Nick Bosa The New Lawrence Taylor?” might suggest Arizona could already be regretting their decision.

They don’t.

Murray has grown and matured. He’s completed 63.7% of his passes for 1,988 yards, seven touchdowns and four picks while rushing for 279 more yards and two more touchdowns. Murray’s adjusted QBR is 13th in the NFL.

More than anything, he’s learned not to take negative plays.

The rookie has been sacked six times in the last four games after he piled up 20 through the first four. Heading into the game against the 49ers, Murray has thrown 148 passes without an interception.

“I love Kyler. Obviously having a franchise quarterback is so key for building your franchise,” Joseph said. “Kyler’s going to be a special, special player. He’s playing for all of us: offense, defense, special teams.”

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Optics of Kyler Murray, Nick Bosa draft picks are positive for Cards and 49ers