Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim acknowledged Thursday night that he had grown tired of watching a 5-foot-10 quarterback elsewhere within the NFC West frustrate his defense over and over.
So Keim went out and got his own 5-10 scrambler, and made Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
“He was the funnest guy I watched on tape,” Keim said during a press conference at the team’s Phoenix headquarters. “I’m talking about, if I wrote ‘Wow’ a hundred times, it wasn’t enough. He did things on tape I hadn’t seen before.”
Murray became the Sooners’ second consecutive No. 1 overall pick, joining Baker Mayfield last season. No school had ever produced back-to-back Heisman-winning quarterbacks or back-to-back No. 1 overall pick quarterbacks.
“He’s been born and bred,” said new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, “to be what he is today.”
Murray was the first of two Sooners to be selected in Thursday’s first round. The Baltimore Ravens drafted OU wideout Marquise Brown with the 25th pick.
“He’s one of the more electric players in college football,” Ravens GM Eric DeCosta said at a press conference in Maryland.
Offensive tackle Cody Ford was in Nashville with his teammates and several OU coaches, including head coach Lincoln Riley and former coach Bob Stoops, but Ford was not chosen in the first round. The second and third rounds of the draft continue Friday, and rounds 4-7 unfold on Saturday.
In the Cardinals draft room, Keim made the phone call to Murray in Nashville just minutes before the pick was due.
“We need you,” he told his new quarterback, “to ignite this offense.”
“Hey,” Kingsbury told Murray, “the talk is over. Now they gotta deal with you.”
The Cardinals drafted a quarterback last year in UCLA’s Josh Rosen, but the more Keim watched of Murray, the more he knew he needed to take another one. That, coupled with Kingsbury’s history with Murray, made the pick “very easy,” Keim said.
“I knew what I had thought and seen and been around,” Kingsbury said. “I have a pretty good feel for what it looks like. The guy who’s on the cover of Madden (NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs), got to watch him for three years (at Texas Tech), recruited him. Got to see Baker (Mayfield, who transferred from Tech to Oklahoma and preceded Murray in Norman. Got to see this kid in high school, so I got to see what it looks like in that (Big 12) conference.
“So I’ve seen what it looks like. This one is very similar to that path. He’s got to od it at this level and we understand that, he’s got a lot of tools that it takes.
Keim said he tried to let the No. 1 overall pick happen organically and tried to avoid watching too much film on one candidate or another. But the more he saw of Murray, the better he felt about him.
“The more we dug in, the more it became crystal clear that Kyler Murray was the pick,” Keim said. “I’ve been doing this more than 20 years and I’ve seen guys who have thrown it like him, and I’ve seen guys who can run it like him, but I can tell you that I haven’t seen anybody that can do the combination that he brings to the table: the ability to throw the football with timing, accuracy and touch, and to be able to run the football, extend plays and create like he does out of the pocket. We’re extremely excited about Kyler.”
Keim said having the top pick is never an enviable position because it means you’ve had the worst season. But owning the No. 1 choice comes with a certain responsibility.
“Our goal,” Keim said, “was to take the player that could improve this organization and give us the biggest chance to move forward.”
Murray, Kingsbury said, fits that bill.
“He’s been around it. He knows what it looks like,” Kingsbury said. “He’s had success at every level. He doesn’t know anything but winning. That’s why we’re excited about the pick.”
Now, Keim said, at least he feels equipped to parry Wilson’s repeated thrusts.
“There’s no doubt that Russell sort of broke the mold,” Keim said. “You see the things that Kyler did, on big stage against big-time teams. His foot speed, his ability to create in space, he’s second to none. You say, ‘Well, his frame, is he gonna get hurt, is he fragile?’ He’s never hurt. He’s never in the training room.”
“He’s always been a smaller player, so he’s developed that,” Kingsbury said.
“He’s a dynamic talent, a unique talent, but I don’t know that anybody’s seen the combination of runner and passer, be able to start as a polished pocket passer who can throw from different angles and be accurate and throw with touch, and then be able to pull it down and take off and take it 80.”
In Baltimore, the Ravens feel in Brown they have a player who can make a similar impact on what typically has been a slow, methodical offense under Joe Flacco, but is trying to pick up the tempo with Lamar Jackson. Head coach John Harbaugh said he was in a staff meeting last week as everyone was discussing the pros and cons of drafting Brown.
“I said, ‘If you don’t like scoring from 70 yards out, then you don’t want this guy,’ ” Harbaugh said. “ ‘If you like scoring with the quick strike and like the big play, then this might be your guy.’ ”
“He’s a playmaker,” DeCosta said. “He’s a guy who can do a lot of different things with the ball in his hands. He can catch screen passes. He can run reverses. He can run deep. He’s got outstanding hands. I think he’s tough. And he’s electric.”
DeCosta said he had Brown in his office for a visit last week and became even more enamored with him.
“I do this test with players that come in my office; it’s just a game,” DeCosta said. “Most of the guys sit down when they do it, but he stood up. He asked if he could stand up. That kind of resonated with me. Because I would do the same thing. You get really into it, and you just don’t feel comfortable sitting, so he stood up. And I could see the intensity, and that was cool.”
Like Murray, Brown is battling the stigma of being too small. During TV interviews from Nashville immediately after the pick was made, he became very emotional as tears streamed down his cheeks.
“Him being my first pick,” DeCosta said, “was emotional for both of us.”
DeCosta said Brown’s foot injury was coming along and wasn’t expected to be a hindrance.
“We’ve had players that have had this injury. … We feel really good about his prognosis long-term,” DeCosta said. “Conservatively, I think (by) training camp, we’ll have him back. He’s at the point now where his rehab will be ramped up quite a bit.
“We think he complements our offense very well, our vision of what we want our offense to be. He’s a humble guy, as you guys probably saw on TV. He’s a leader. And I think he loves football. So we’re very, very excited to get him.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.