Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kyler Murray
- How early should Kyler Murray be going in fantasy football drafts?
- Ian Hartitz analyzes the rookie's ceiling with the Arizona Cardinals.
We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2019 season; this is part of that series.
The Cardinals are attempting to become the latest offense to quickly benefit from switching up their coaching staff.
Long-time Texas Tech head coach and Air Raid guru Kliff Kingsbury will be calling the shots in Arizona this season — and he gets to do so with his self-pronounced No. 1 option under center.
The Kyler Murray era is here.
Last year’s first-round pick Josh Rosen was shipped to the Dolphins in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round selection, and the only other quarterbacks on the roster are former Packers backup Brett Hundley and something named Chad Kanoff.
Let’s analyze what makes Murray such an intriguing prospect and what his fantasy football potential is in Year 1.
Kyler Murray’s Rushing Ability Is Special
Murray didn’t run the 40-yard dash in the lead up to the draft, but he did self-report his time at 4.38 seconds. This would put him right up there with Lamar Jackson as the NFL’s fastest starting quarterbacks.
Murray’s collegiate film supports the idea that he could be a game-changing quarterback on the ground the second he steps on the field.
The ability to impact games as a rusher has been one of the more consistent attributes of the league’s highest-scoring rookie QBs. It’s a trait shared by the four (of 53) first-round quarterbacks who have finished their rookie seasons as top-10 fantasy signal-callers.
- Robert Griffin III in 2012: QB5
- Andrew Luck in 2012: QB10
- Cam Newton in 2011: QB3
- Vince Young in 2006: QB9
The list would also include 2017 Deshaun Watson (QB1) and 2006 Jay Cutler (QB10) if we go by fantasy points per game.
The following table details the 12 quarterbacks who ranked among their position’s top-20 players in fantasy points per game as rookies along with their respective ranks in rush attempts and average target depth.
Dual-threat ability has been a cheat code of sorts for fantasy football quarterbacks in recent history, regardless of their age. There have been 20 instances of a quarterback racking up at least 100 rush attempts in a season since 2000.
- 19-of-20 (95%) finished as a top-17 scorer
- 13-of-20 (65%) finished as a top-six fantasy scorer
- 10-of-20 (50%) finished as a top-three scorer
It’s not a stretch to think Murray — who totaled 140 carries, 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in 2018 — could be one of the more productive rushers the league has seen in recent memory.
We also shouldn’t underestimate his ability to ball as a passer in Kingsbury’s Air Raid attack.
Murray Has Plenty of Passing Ability
Murray didn’t make a habit of checking the ball down during his Heisman-winning 2018 campaign. In fact, he did the opposite:
- 11.66 yards average target depth (seventh out of 53 draft-eligible quarterbacks)
- 19.1 yards per attempt per deep pass attempt (first)
- 10.4 yards per attempt (highest single-season mark of all time)
It’s fair to be a bit worried about the ability of a 5-foot-10 quarterback to consistently dice up defenses from the pocket. Still, Murray has consistently proven capable of utilizing his unique dual-threat ability to find new passing lanes and make plays outside of the pocket.
Murray’s new play-caller certainly doesn’t seem to be worried about his quarterback’s ability to threaten defenses both on the ground and through the air.
Murray has demonstrated the ability to run and pass at an elite level. Lucky for him, the Cardinals might just have enough offensive weapons to translate his collegiate success to the next level.
This Cardinals’ Offense Has Plenty of Firepower
Last season’s edition of Arizona’s offense was more or less a train wreck. Rosen deserves some blame, but the team’s prehistoric scheme and 31st-ranked offensive line in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate certainly didn’t help matters.
Kingsbury’s attempt to install the NFL’s first fully-functioning Air Raid offense should mean good things for Murray and the rest of the offense. Kingsbury’s system was incredibly productive at Texas Tech, especially in 2015 and 2016 with Patrick Mahomes leading the way.
Texas Tech’s Points Per Game with Kliff Kingsbury
- 2018: 37.3 (16th)
- 2017: 34.3 (23rd)
- 2016: 43.7 (fifth)
- 2015: 45.1 (second)
- 2014: 30.5 (54th)
- 2013: 35.8 (24th)
It’s unclear whether Kingsbury will be able to make a successful NFL transition, but the parallels between the 2019 Cardinals and 2017 Rams — Sean McVay’s first season in Los Angeles — are tough to ignore. Texas Tech led the FBS in snaps per game during Kingsbury’s six years as head coach (per Evan Silva), which should help Arizona’s still-growing offensive line slow down opposing pass rushes.
Helping matters is the fact that the Cardinals quietly have multiple playmakers at running back and wide receiver.
- David Johnson has a great chance at returning to fantasy football glory in 2019. Per Graham Barfield, Texas Tech running backs were 10th in college football in receptions (4.8 per game) during Kingsbury’s last three seasons. Enhanced usage as a true receiver could help DJ resume his status as a top-five running back sooner than later.
- The 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald will try to fend off Father Time for another year. Last season’s 69-734-6 line was hardly ideal, but Fitz did manage to average 108 receptions per season from 2015-2017.
- Christian Kirk might be the best bet to lead the Cardinals in receiving yards this season. Reports have indicated Kirk has been “the best receiver on the roster this spring.” His ability to thrive in the slot and on the outside bodes well for his chances of earning an immediate full-time role to start the season in an offense that figures to have three wide receivers on the field for a high percentage of snaps.
- The Cardinals used their second-round pick from the Rosen trade on small-school speedster Andy Isabella. FantasyLabs’ Editor-in-Chief Matthew Freedman spoke highly about Isabella in his dynasty rankings.
“And with a coach as innovative as Kingsbury, Isabella could be a truly dynamic offensive weapon right away. He could take carries on end-arounds or out of the backfield. He could line up out wide or in the slot. He could operate in the middle of the field or stretch defenses deep. He could be a league-winning fantasy receiver as a rookie.”
- The rest of the wide receiver depth chart features an oft-injured 2015 seventh overall pick Kevin White, 2019 fourth-round pick Hakeem Butler, 2019 sixth-round pick KeeSean Johnson and third-year receiver Chad Williams. None are expected to compete for the team lead in targets, but a strong training camp could potentially earn each a complementary role in what figures to be one of the league’s most pass-happy offenses.
- It’s unlikely that a single Cardinals tight end emerges as a consistent fantasy football value in 2019. Still, there’s plenty of talent in the group with Ricky Seals-Jones, Charles Clay and Maxx Williams each serving as fairly productive starters at various points throughout their respective careers.
Murray is the perfect quarterback to turn Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense into a fantasy-friendly reality in 2019. Some decent injury luck across the offensive line — combined with continued development from the team’s playmakers — could lead to top-10 fantasy production from Murray in 2019 and beyond.
Murray remains fairly cheap at his current average draft position as the QB10. I’m more than willing to take him ahead of Carson Wentz, Russell Wilson and Drew Brees thanks to Murray’s dual-threat ability, which has historically produced a rare ceiling/floor combination.