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Kyler Murray Is Primed for a Second-Year Leap

The 2019 NFL season is officially over. The last game of the 100th season of the NFL is in the books. There will be no more pads hitting pads, referees whistles (or flags), touchdowns or turnovers until September.

Here we will be looking back on the rookie season of the player taken with the first overall selection in last year’s NFL Draft, and looking forward to his second season in the NFL. Just how did Kyler Murray fare in his first season? What players from recent NFL past had similar first years to Murray’s 2019? And what did those players do in Year 2?

Let’s find out.

By The Numbers

Murray passed for more than 300 yards in five games. He also threw multiple touchdowns in eight games. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Deshaun Watson also all had eight games with multiple passing touchdowns.

But he was excellent as a runner and finished with the second-most rushing yards at the QB position. Murray averaged 34 rushing yards per game and rushed for more than 40 in a game five times. Murray rushed for 544 yards, the 6th most by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.

Murray’s best spell as a fantasy QB came between Weeks 5 and 11. He was a top-12 fantasy QB in five of seven games in this span and averaged 23.5 fantasy points per game. Kirk Cousins and Lamar Jackson were the only QBs to score more fantasy points during that stretch of weeks.

This great run, and Murray’s great running, might have continued. But Murray was bothered by a hamstring injury in the latter part of the season. Still, it is safe to say he made his presence felt in the NFL. This was further evidenced by Murray being named the Offensive Rookie of the Year for 2019.

Historical Comps

In order to find players who enjoyed comparable seasons, I did what we’ve done in the past when carrying out this series. I set the RotoViz Screener to find rookies from 2010 to 2019 and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player — in this instance, Murray.

 

Many of the players in question all seem to share a common trait, namely, they were mobile. Well, for the most part. Okay, Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton didn’t produce that much as rushers, at least from a yardage point of view. But Winston did score six rushing touchdowns in his first year.

Another similarity would be in passing efficiency, which we see with the passing fantasy points over expectation (paFPOE) variable. Fantasy points over expectation are the difference between a player’s actual fantasy points and their expected points (based on down, distance, and field position). Only one of these players posted positive numbers in terms of paFPOE.

As a possible range of outcomes for Murray, let’s take a look at how these players fared in their second seasons.

 

There are positives to be taken here. Across the season, the passers showed an uptick in their efficiency, except for Wilson, who was ridiculously efficient as a rookie and could hardly have improved.

If Murray retains his floor as a rusher (and I think the Cardinals would be crazy to reduce this at this stage) and can show a similar level of growth as a passer, then the future looks bright for him, both in the real world and in fantasy.

2020 Outlook

If the 2019 season taught us anything or at least reinforced our thoughts about anything, it’s that a mobile QB is worth his weight in fantasy gold. 1 A signal-caller with a 40-yard rushing floor in a given week? We call that the Konami Code.

That being said, Murray will still have to make his bones as a passer, and it is essential that the Cardinals spend this offseason upgrading the supporting cast around Murray. Only two Cardinals receivers saw more than 50 targets in 2019, and these players didn’t demonstrate elite efficiency when targeted.

The Cardinals did invest three draft picks on wide receivers in 2019 but got practically nothing out of the three players in question. Andy Isabella had 189 yards on nine receptions and a touchdown. KeeSean Johnson had 12 more receptions but two fewer yards than Isabella. Hakeem Butler missed the entire season due to injury. Larry Fitzgerald will retire one day, I’m almost certain. It would be nice if the Cardinals were to find some way to replace his production.

If the Cardinals can improve the players around Murray, then he should breeze past his rookie numbers and become a genuine fantasy force. Early high-stakes drafters share this level of confidence in Murray heading into year two. Over at the FFPC, Murray is currently the fourth QB being taken around pick 78.

It would appear that scooping up Kyler Murray in the later rounds and patting yourself on the back all the way to a fantasy title may not happen in 2020. But if you don’t get him on any of your rosters, you can always just enjoy watching him develop.

Image Credit: Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Kyler Murray.

  1. See Jackson, Lamar.  (back)

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