Over the course of the next few weeks, you will hear chatter about the upcoming NFL Draft. Players will be dissected with a butcher’s meticulousness. Trades will be floated. Predictions will be made. Mock drafts will proliferate.
The important thing to remember is it’s all hypothetical. Unlike the players who will be selected in the first round, talk is cheap and everyone’s in a spending mood.
On occasion, a snippet will slip through about a player that merits more than a casual brush off. And at the recently concluded NFL Combines, the NFL Network’s Charley Casserly, a former executive with the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans, tossed some things out about Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray that shattered the windshield.
“They (NFL teams) were not impressed with his leadership skills or potential for the interview,” Casserly said. “They weren’t impressed with his study habits, and I can’t give you the quotes but they’re pretty bad. And they were not impressed with his board work and understanding football concepts that was quizzed on, and that wasn’t good. I can’t give you the quotes.
“It was the worst report I’ve ever heard on a top-ranked quarterback from the interview part of it. One thing that stuck out to me: this guy was never trained for the interview. Whoever trained him did a poor job; guys do get trained for interviews now.”
You can imagine how this might impact the draft. The Arizona Cardinals own the first pick and it’s been suggested their new coach, Kliff Kingsbury, a huge Murray supporter, is considering taking him, even though the organization went to great lengths in 2018 to draft UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen 10th overall in the first round.
The decision the Cardinals will make is not inconsequential. Changing course one season after drafting a kid expected to lead the team for a decade, in favor of another, has great financial and psychological significance.
The Cardinals were among the teams that interviewed Murray and it’s not known if someone from their organization had Casserly’s ear. But if what Casserly heard and said is true, if Murray’s cognitive skill does match his athletic ability, taking him first overall suddenly becomes more of a risk than it already is.
As you might expect, Murray’s allies immediately jumped to his defense. The most critical was his college coach at Oklahoma, Lincoln Riley. He was not happy at all about this.
“What I don’t like about that is you’ve got a guy on TV doing this reporting—and I know Charley Casserly’s had a decorated career in the NFL and has done a lot of tremendous things,” Riley said. “To me, it always seems strange — you say your sources, No. 1, and then you’re going to go on and talk like you’re an expert on somebody that you’ve never met. You’ve never talked to his position coach or head coach at any level about him, and you’ve never talked to any players who’ve played with the guy about how he leads. Now we’re going to be an expert on how he leads.”
Before you immediately agree with Riley, you should know Casserly is an experienced judge of talent and has been for many years. And he knows everyone in league, certainly those who would be in the position of making decisions about Murray’s potential aptitude as a No. 1 quarterback.
Would Casserly say something that could have a serious impact on Murray’s life and career unless he was absolutely comfortable with the information?
Maybe not intentionally. But consider this: There is always the possibility some teams want to perpetuate the idea Murray is flawed to convince the Cardinals not to draft him and to stick with Rosen. And they used Casserly as a conduit.
If the Cardinals pass on him, the San Francisco 49ers (Jimmy Garoppolo) and New York Jets (Sam Darnold), who pick second and third, already have franchise QBs and could trade their pick to someone who badly wants Murray for a small fortune.
If you believe in conspiracy theories, the news about Murray might make more sense to you. But it really doesn’t matter what everyone else believes if the Cardinals are sold on him. If they are, they will draft him and trade Rosen.
There is no doubt Murray is a spectacular athlete. Oklahoma was 12-1 and made it to the College Football Playoff semifinals before losing to Alabama. He threw for 4,053 yards and 40 touchdowns, rushed for 892 yards and 11 scores. And he became Oklahoma’s second straight Heisman winner, joining Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Cleveland Browns.
As you can imagine, Murray’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, also was not happy about what Casserly said.
“My initial reaction was to laugh because I knew the ‘old guard’ would inevitably try to come up with the usual pre-draft nonsense,” Burkhardt said. “But when I later watched this man say what he did, it was over-the-top and definitely felt personal, and that’s when I got pissed off.”
“First and foremost, Kyler is an exemplary person. He is everything you hope your own son grows up to become. We’re talking about a young man who has done everything right and worked relentlessly his entire life to achieve and push for greatness. We’re talking about the first human ever drafted in the top 10 in two major sports leagues (Oakland took him ninth overall in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft) and who just completed the greatest single season in football history. You will not find even one former teammate or coach at any level in any sport who’s played with Kyler Murray who has anything remotely negative to say about him, his leadership, or his work ethic.”
What’s also true is, there are many NFL teams who believe the Cardinals are going to take Murray and deal Rosen. And they’ve been in touch with Arizona to see what it might cost to get him.
And why wouldn’t they? Cardinals general manager Steve Keim opened the door at the combine by answering “right now” when asked if Rosen was his starting quarterback.
The Cardinals traded up to select Rosen. He completing 55.2 percent of his passes in 13 starts, throwing for 2,278 yards with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.