In the 1st round of the 2018 NFL Draft the Arizona Cardinals traded up 3 spots to select quarterback Josh Rosen with the 10th pick. This signaled the beginning of a rebuild for the Cardinals, as former starting QB Carson Palmer and head coach Bruce Arians both retired during the off-season. This move had many fans excited as there was belief Rosen had the potential to be a future franchise QB. Along with drafting Rosen the Cardinals also signed veteran Sam Bradford to mentor the young QB and hired Panthers DC Steve Wilks to be the new HC. Unfortunately this experiment failed miserably. After signing Bradford for $20 million he only lasted 3 games (with an 0-3 record) and was waived before the end of the season while Wilks was fired after only one season as HC. Rosen was thrown into action in Week 3 against the Chicago Bears while down 16-14 in the 4th quarter and ended that game 4 for 7 for 36 yards and the game losing interception. This was a microcosm for how the rest of his season would go as the Cardinals finished 3-13 with Rosen completing 55% of his passes for 2278 yards, 11 TDs and 14 INTs. The Cardinals ended the season with the 1st overall pick and after months of speculation ended up draft Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray with that pick, effectively ending Rosen’s tenure in Arizona. In this piece I will take a look at why Rosen failed and what the expectations for Murray should be in his first season.
There were a few factors that led to Rosen’s sub-par season in my eyes. The first, and most important, was the dysfunction within the coaching staff. Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy was fired 7 weeks into the season after a blowout loss to the Denver Broncos. McCoy led the Cardinals to the worst offense in football to that point. It was a questionable hire from the start, as his previous stints as OC of the Broncos and HC of the Chargers had not gone over well. The team replaced him with QB coach Byron Leftwich; Leftwich helped improve the offense slightly, but only enough to garner 2 more wins in the remaining 9 games. Having dysfunction at OC is detrimental to the development of a young QB, as the OC should be there to help teach the offense and make the QB comfortable.
Not all the blame should go on the coaching staff, though. Another important factor in developing a young QB is having a solid offensive line and receiving core that will help mitigate mistakes and give the QB time to make decisions. Rosen had neither of these, as his offensive line was ranked last in the league by Pro Football Focus and his receiving corps outside of future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald was shaky at best. Rookie center Mason Cole was the only lineman to start all 16 games and 11 different players had at least 100 snaps for the season. This resulted in Rosen being sacked 45 times at a 10.3 Sack%, which was top 5 in the league. At WR outside of Fitzgerald, only rookie Christian Kirk showed anything of promise but he was injured after 12 games and missed the rest of the season. Other starters included Chad Williams, Trent Sherfield and J.J. Nelson, all of whom did not play particularly well at all. This resulted in Rosen having the highest AGG% in the league (AGG% tracks the percentage of throws into tight windows per NFL Next Gen Stats) at 21.6% mostly due to bad route running and receivers not getting separation.
Not all the blame can be lifted off of Rosen, though. All though he was not put into a position to succeed he also made some very poor decisions and seemed to develop somewhat of a hitch in his throwing motion as the season went along. Here is an example of a bad decision that resulted in a pick 6.
Rosen had Fitzgerald open in the flat, but seemed to had made his mind up that he was going to throw to Nelson before the play, which resulted in an INT.
Rosen definitely still has time to improve and reach his full potential, but it was never going to work out for him during his rookie year in Arizona. During the draft he was traded to Miami for the 62nd pick (used to draft WR Andy Isabella) and a 2020 5th round pick.
In the 2019 NFL Draft the Cardinals selected a 1st round QB for the 2nd straight year, this time at 1st overall. As you already know, that QB is Heisman winner Kyler Murray out of Oklahoma. There was a ton of speculation leading up the draft regarding the Cardinals and Murray, and also if Murray was willing to play in the NFL as he had already been drafted in the first round of the MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics. Murray eventually committed to football and the Cardinals committed to him by taking him with the 1st pick on April 25th. Alongside drafting a new QB with the 1st pick, the Cardinals also hired a new HC in Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury had recently accepted a job to become the new OC at the University of Southern California after being fired by his alma mater Texas Tech, but the Cardinals poached him before he could even touch the field in Los Angeles. Kingsbury was fired by Tech after 6 seasons and a 35-40 overall record. He was always known for his prolific offense and coaching great QBs such as Patrick Mahomes III, but many believed he was not ready for a HC position, especially in the NFL. Despite this the Cardinals took a leap of faith and hired Kinsbury as HC along with hiring former Broncos HC Vance Joseph as DC. This was a smart move as Kingsbury’s deficiencies as a coach come mostly on the defensive side of the ball, so hiring an experienced DC with previous NFL HC experience was an excellent decision.
Pairing Kingsbury and Murray was a wise decision, as Murray is a good fit for the kind of offense Kingsbury will bring to the NFL. Kingsbury runs an “air raid” offense, which as the name suggests has a lot to do with throwing the ball down the field. In Kingsbury’s tenure at Texas Tech approximately 65% of plays were passes. This comes at the expense of the run game, which may seem like a problem since the Cardinals have a top tier RB in David Johnson, but Johnson is a great receiving back and should still maintain lots of touches. In 2016 (Johnson’s best season), he had 80 receptions for 879 yards and 4 TDs, and even in a year when the Cardinals had the worst offense in the NFL he still racked up 50 receptions for 446 yards and 3 TDs. With Johnson as a safety blanket Murray fits perfectly into the “air raid” offense. The two most important aspects of playing QB in this type of system is having a strong arm and having athleticism to beat defenses on the ground if need be. Out of all the 2019 draft class QBs Murray has the most accurate deep ball to go along with his unmatched athleticism and speed.
Want a reason to believe in Kyler Murray? This throw sums up the potential. We'll have more on him this week, but the poise, mobility, accuracy, and arm strength are all on display in this one clip. On the move, casually flicks it 50 yards on a dime into double coverage #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/VSCmU4fSoa
— 𝘼𝙣𝙙𝙮 𝙎𝙞𝙣𝙜𝙡𝙚𝙩𝙤𝙣 (@PeoplezPen) February 16, 2019
There are a ton of examples of his pinpoint downfield accuracy, this being one against Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semifinal.
Here you can see an example of Murray’s excellent vision and the breakaway speed that helps to keep defenses honest when he moves out of the pocket. Murray is not just a runner when he escapes the pocket though. QBs who look to run first when things break down often don’t succeed in the NFL or get injured easily, but Murray is best when keeping his eyes downfield. He completed a ridiculous 78% of his throws when moving outside the pocket! Despite this an NFL QB still needs to have a pocket presence and a lot of people got caught up in Murray’s ability to move outside the pocket and make defenders miss on the run that they failed to realize his ability to make those throws, as 91% of his passes from 2018 came within the pocket. There is also a ton of film to disprove that sentiment.
"Kyler Murray can't throw in the pocket"
— Jack McGuire (@JackMacCFB) September 15, 2018
This is all just college film though, and as previously stated with Rosen the Cardinals had tons of problems that resulted in his failure, so what should the expectations for Murray be? Along with bringing in a new coaching staff and scheme, the Cardinals also addressed issues with the offensive line and WR corps. In 2018 the offensive line was riddled with injuries, something that hopefully won’t be the case this season. To help take care of this issue they did bring in some veteran depth at those positions in guards Max Garcia and J.R. Sweezy. They also traded for Marcus Gilbert from the Pittsburgh Steelers, a quality starting caliber tackle who has had injury issues in his career. The starting offensive line to begin the 2019 is looking to be D.J. Humphries, J.R. Sweezy, Mason Cole, Justin Pugh, and Marcus Gilbert. If this group can stay healthy it has potential to be pretty solid as Humphries, Gilbert, and Pugh have all been good players at points in their careers. At WR the Cardinals will have Fitzgerald return for one more season along with Kirk coming back from injury. Joining these two will be free agent Kevin White from the Chicago Bears and draft picks Hakeem Butler out of Iowa State and speedster Andy Isabella out of Massachusetts. White was a former first round pick, but he has also seen his career derailed by injuries. Butler is an excellent route runner with a large frame at 6’5″ and Isabella had one of the fastest 40-yard dash times at the combine at 4.31 seconds. The WR corps is very young, but it has a lot of potential to grow alongside Murray, especially with Fitzgerald as a mentor. A lot of improvement in these two areas seems likely, but to what extent is unknown.
With all these factors together I think Murray should have a good rookie season. There will always be growing pains coming into the NFL and starting right away as the competition is miles above what he faced in college, but the Cardinals have put him in a solid position to start off on a good note. Offensive Rookie of the Year is definitely within reach for Murray and he would be my early favorite to win the award. I think a lot of his success will have to do with how successful his offensive line is this season and how healthy they can stay. If the Cardinals can put out a consistent 5 starters on the the line Murray has the tools to be able to make things work. I also think having a veteran All-Pro RB in David Johnson will be a huge help for him. He is the perfect fit for Kingsbury’s offense and I think teams will have a hard time adjusting to his style of play early in the season. He is so accurate outside the pocket and can make beautiful throws down the field similar to Patrick Mahomes. I don’t expect him to be anywhere near Mahomes’ level of play last season, but it is a possibility down the line he could reach that point. One other thing I failed to mention before is Murray’s height, which has been cause for concern among fans and the media. I think it is a little bit over-exaggerated how much it will effect him as he went into the draft with almost identical measurements to Russell Wilson, but in my opinion is a better QB right now than Wilson was at this point in his career.
Before I make a prediction on how I think Murray will finish the season, lets take a look at statistics of rookie QBs that started week 1 from the past few seasons.
Sam Darnold – 13 GS, 4-9 record, 58% CMP% 2865 yards 17 TDs and 15 INTs
Josh Allen – 11 GS, 5-6 record, 53% CMP% 2074 yards 10 TDs and 12 INTs
DeShone Kizer – 15 GS, 0-15 record, 54% CMP% 2894 yards 11 TDs and 22 INTs
Deshaun Watson – 6 GS, 3-3 record, 62% CMPS% 1699 yards 19 TDs and 8 INTs
Carson Wentz – 16 GS, 7-9 record, 62% CMP% 3782 yards 17 TDs and 14 INTs
Dak Prescott – 16 GS, 13-3 record, 68% CMP% 3667 yards 23 TDs and 4 INTs (OROY)
Marcus Mariota – 12 GS, 3-9 record, 62% CMP% 2818 yards 19 TDs and 10 INTs
Jameis Winston – 16 GS, 6-10 record, 58% CMP% 4042 yards 22 TDs and 15 INTs
Based on these stats and the fact that the Cardinals will be running a heavily pass-based offense I’ll predict Murray to finish the season with the following statline:
16 GS, 6-10 record, 63% CMP% 3950 yards 22 TDs and 10 INTs
Thanks for reading my first article for TTSM I hope you enjoyed! Let me know what you’re expecting from Murray and how you think the Cardinals will fare this season!