Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

QB/CF Kyler Murray will have to pick a sport - but not just yet


Kyler Murray has been a big deal for a while. He’s considered one of the greatest prep athletes in Texas history, which is saying something. He was undefeated as starting high school quarterback, leading Allen – it’s just north of Dallas – to three consecutive 6A state titles. In his final game, he threw for 316 yards and five touchdowns at AT&T Stadium, better known as Jerry World. 

He was the top-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, signing with Texas A&M. Had he not opted out of that year’s MLB draft, he might have been a Round 1 pick. The world awaited what Murray would do next, which turned out to be … not very much. 

He began his freshman season as a backup to sophomore Kyle Allen, seeing duty mostly as a change-of-pace quarterback. He started three games later in the season, completing 20 of 28 passes for 223 yards and rushing for 156 in a victory over South Carolina. He was demoted after throwing five interceptions against Auburn and Western Carolina. He announced he was transferring to Oklahoma in December. 

That was a time when touted quarterbacks were exiting Kevin Sumlin’s program on an hourly basis. Kenny Hill, who’d been the immediate successor to Johnny Manziel before losing the job to Allen, transferred to TCU. Allen would leave for Houston. After Murray sat out a year in Norman, he became the backup to Baker Mayfield, who who was himself a transfer from Texas Tech and would win the Heisman Trophy.

(Georgia fans might – but also might not – recall Murray playing against the Bulldogs in the Rose Bowl. He carried the ball, as recipient of an option pitch from Mayfield, in the second overtime. He was forced out of bounds for no gain. The Sooners wound up missing a field goal. Sony Michel scored the winner on the next play. Lincoln Riley’s overtime calls will not be regarded as his finest hour.) 

With Mayfield gone, Murray becomes the starting quarterback of a team that will be picked to win the Big 12. He’s again a big deal. He became an even bigger deal Monday night when, just after the Atlanta Braves made Carter Stewart the No. 8 overall pick, the Oakland A’s took Murray, who hit .296 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs for Oklahoma. He has already signed with the A’s for what’s believed to be $5 million, give or take. He plans to play college football this fall, as NCAA rules allow, and report for baseball duty in February.

Russell Wilson, also a quarterback, played minor-league ball for the Rockies while football-eligible at North Carolina State.(In September 2010, he threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia Tech. I covered that one.) Indeed, his minor-league commitment -- a Round 4 pick coming out of prep school, he hit .229 over two summers -- was the reason the Wolfpack let him leave with a year’s eligibility remaining. He would lead Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl; State coach Tom O’Brien got fired. 

Murray is a center fielder. As Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight writes, college hitters tend to project well, or as well as anything in baseball can project. Paine’s conclusion: “The chance of washing out completely are much lower — by a factor of about three — for highly drafted baseball prospects than for college quarterbacks at top programs.” So there’s that. 

That Murray, who’s 5-foot-11, isn’t the prototype dropback passer could limit his chances of being an NFL Round 1 pick, which isn’t to say he can’t have a football future. Wilson, who’s likewise 5-11, was drafted by the Seahawks in Round 3. He won a Super Bowl in his second season. 

We around here have seen famous two-sport pro athletes up close. Deion Sanders split famously split time between the Falcons and the Braves before winding up with other teams in both sports. (In all, Sanders worked for nine different NFL/MLB clubs.) Sanders was a useful baseball player – he had a 5.5 Baseball-Reference WAR over nine partial seasons – and is an NFL Hall of Famer. Brian Jordan, a starting strong safety in the same Falcons secondary as Sanders, ultimately chose baseball over football and never regretted it. He played 15 major-league seasons, five as a Brave, with a WAR of 35.9.

Other notable cases: Bo Jackson was spectacular at both sports, but he hurt his hip playing for the Raiders and was done as a professional athlete at age 32; Tim Tebow turned to baseball after washing out in the NFL. (And is, at 30, hitting .242 with 70 strikeouts and four homers in Double-A.)

Pretty soon, Murray will have to pick a sport. There’s no way an NFL team would let its quarterback spend the summer hitting baseballs. Baseball careers tend to last longer and, as Paine notes, offer greater monetary rewards: “The average (NFL) QB makes only about a half-million dollars more per year than the overall MLB average.” And football, duh, is a rough sport.

Having roughly $5 million guaranteed and a chance to be a starting quarterback at a big-time program leaves Kyler Murray with the world at his feet. Were I the A’s, though, I’d cross my fingers every time he drops back to pass. Or runs the option. Or lines up to take a snap. Or puts on his shoulder pads. Or breathes.

One thing more: As chronicled by ESPN’s Jake Trotter, Murray played in Oklahoma’s spring football game and a baseball game against Texas on the same  April day. And if you’re saying, “Deion Sanders did something like that, too” ... well, he tried.

Sanders played for the Falcons in a loss at Miami on Oct. 11, 1992. He boarded a private jet and flew to Pittsburgh, where the Braves were playing Game 5 of the NLCS. He arrived shortly before the first pitch. He was not used in that game. He was deployed in the late innings of Games 6 and 7. (You might recall Game 7 -- Francisco Cabrera, Sid Bream.) The Braves were furious that Sanders had left the team in postseason for what they considered a Nike-enabled stunt. Sanders started four games in the World Series against Toronto, going 8-for-15 with four stolen bases.

Relations with the Braves, especially with general manager John Schuerholz, were never the same. Sanders was traded to the Reds in May 1994. The Reds shipped him to the Giants on July 25, 1995. I happened to be at Riverfront Stadium that night and attended Sanders’ post-trade briefing. His reaction on seeing me: “Not you.”


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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.