Mike Tanier's Combine Notebook, Day 1: Kyler Murray Speaks to the Skeptics

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterMarch 2, 2019

Mike Tanier's Combine Notebook, Day 1: Kyler Murray Speaks to the Skeptics

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    Darrell Henderson, a running back prospect out of the University of Memphis, sprints for a 40 time at the combine in Indianapolis.
    Darrell Henderson, a running back prospect out of the University of Memphis, sprints for a 40 time at the combine in Indianapolis.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Kyler Murray spoke for himself Friday: no cue cards, no dad-prodding, no awkward silences. And this edition of Combine Notebook kicks off with Murray's continuing quest to measure up to the standards of a first-round NFL quarterback. Plus, we answer such pressing combine questions as:  

    • Is Jonah Williams a Tyrannosaurus rex?
    • Which running back prospect is most like Alvin Kamara?
    • If all the Mini McVay head coaches formed a boy band, who would be the big-brother type?
    • What are NFL head coaches really saying when they spout press-conference gibberish?
    • Which of Friday's 40 times and measurement results should you care about?

    And much, much more!  

Confessions of a Kyler Murray Skeptic

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    Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

    If someone the size of a junior varsity shooting guard tells you he plans to play in the NFL in six months, you should be skeptical.

    If that same person says he planned to play baseball in the major leagues just three months ago and then reacts like he was asked to solve a word problem when asked to clarify his decision, you should be even more skeptical.

    Kyler Murray skepticism is healthy and rational. He's smaller than nearly every other quarterback. He switched from planning to play baseball to entering the NFL draft just weeks ago. And he handled questions about that switch very poorly.

    But "skepticism" doesn't mean taking a negative stance and defending it like Bunker Hill. It means evaluating the evidence critically and revising your opinion when new information arrives.

    Murray's Thursday measurements—5'10" and one-blessed-eighth of an inch, 207 pounds, a 9½-inch handspan—quieted some of his critics. Murray is shaped more like Russell Wilson than Oliver Twist. He won't need a high chair in the huddle or snap like balsa wood upon impact.

    But Murray did much more to quell skepticism Friday afternoon when he finally got the opportunity to speak for himself.

    "It's a final decision," he said at the scouting combine. "I'm here. I'm ready to go.

    "I was born a football player. I love this game, and there was no turning back when I made this decision. I'm 100 percent in."

    Murray said NFL teams aren't questioning his commitment to football during private interviews: "For the most part, everybody's been pretty solid knowing that I'm here to play football."

    He addressed the scuttlebutt that his father, former college quarterback Kevin Murray, has helicopter-parented him through the football/baseball decision process.

    "As far as all that stuff everybody's saying, that he has a part in everything that I've done ... I don't know where anybody got that," Murray said. "He's just a fan of his son, proud of me just like any other dad."

    What Murray said was important; how he said it was even more important.

    There were dozens of reporters at his press conference. Judging by the chit-chat before his arrival, many were far more skeptical of Murray than I was. But he answered questions with confidence and good humor. It was a far cry from his awkward navel-gazing performance during Super Bowl week.

    There are still some reasons to be skeptical of Murray.

    He won't run or throw this week. His 207-pound weight doesn't sound like it's performance academy-approved muscle. "Getting older, not being in school and having actual time to eat and do other things has helped me a lot," he said.

    And one 20-minute press conference doesn't change the fact that he's one of the most unusual quarterback prospects in NFL history.

    But again: Skepticism is healthy, as long as it's open-minded. And it's hard to question Murray's passion for football after what he did at Oklahoma last year or what he said Friday.

    "I'm always the smallest guy on the field, but I've said it multiple times: I feel like I'm the most impactful player on the field and the best player on the field all the time," Murray said.

    "I always had to play at this height. Everything's always tried to make it out to be something, but I just go out and play the game that I love."

    And of course, we don't have to guess about how tall Murray is, how much he weighs or how big his hands are anymore.

    "We can put all that to rest now," Murray said. "That's fun."

Friday by the Numbers

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Heights, weights, 40 times and other numbers worth talking about from Friday's weigh-ins and workouts.


    D.K. Metcalf, wide receiver, Ole Miss: 27 bench-press reps

    Not bad for an All-American defensive end. Oh yeah, forgot: Metcalf is a wide receiver. Based on social media posts, we were expecting 270 reps.


    N'Keal Harry, wide receiver, Arizona State: 27 bench-press reps



    Ed Oliver, defensive line, Houston: 6'1⅞", 287 pounds

    Apparently, there was some question about whether Oliver was big enough to be a first-round pick. Or about whether he has a natural position or is the right size for it (he's a 3-tech tackle, and yes). Or something, because...lots of ordinary citizens somehow have in-depth scouting opinions about defensive linemen from the American Athletic Conference now? This draft stuff is confusing.


    Darrell Henderson, running back, Memphis: 4.49-second 40, 22 bench-press reps

    Henderson said Thursday that teams were "sleeping" on his speed. "I'm projected to run a 4.6," he said. No one I talked to projected Henderson to run a 4.6—maybe his trainer came up with that to motivate him— but the fast 40 confirms the burst Henderson shows on tape, making him a worthy Day 2 consideration.


    Justice Hill (pictured), running back, Oklahoma State: 4.40-second 40, 40-inch vertical jump

    These are important results for a 5'10", 198-pound back. Hill's burst is obvious on tape, and he has been super-productive for the Cowboys, but he doesn't generate many yards after contact. If NFL teams are going to invest in a pure speed back, they want to see that the speed is truly pure.


    Ryquell Armstead, running back, Temple: 4.45-second 40 at 220 pounds

    That's a remarkable size-speed combination for the South Jersey product. Armstead was hampered by toe injuries early in his college career but looked good at the Senior Bowl. His stock is rising.


    Garrett Bradbury, center, North Carolina State: 4.92-second 40, 34 bench-press reps

    Before these impressive results, Bradbury looked like a late first- or early second-round pick who could start in the NFL for a decade. After these impressive results, Bradbury looks like a late first- or early second-round pick who could start in the NFL for a decade.


    Iosua Opeta, offensive line, Weber State: 39 bench-press reps

    Opeta was this year's offensive line bench-press champion. I have never heard of him or seen him. This result will make scouts double-check his film, which is what the combine is all about.


    Dexter Lawrence, defensive tackle, Clemson: 342 pounds

    He big.

Draft Crush Spotlight: Trayveon Williams, Running Back, Texas A&M

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Who he is

    Trayveon Williams rushed for 1,760 yards and 18 touchdowns for Texas A&M last season, adding 27-278-1 as a receiver. He gained 3,615 rushing yards, scored 35 touchdowns and averaged 6.0 yards per carry in three collegiate seasons.

    Williams is a huge Alvin Kamara fan, and like Kamara, he combines elusiveness, receiving ability and surprising power in a compact frame.


    The numbers

    Williams measured 5'8⅛" and 206 pounds, ran the 40 in 4.51 seconds and recorded a 121-inch broad jump: all credible-to-very-good results for a smaller rusher.


    What he said

    On playing through the 2017 season while his family was displaced by Hurricane Harvey: "That was a difficult situation. At the time, I was trying to be a team captain and leader, but at the same time, I had to deal with the situation and devastation back home. ... My area was one of the worst areas to get hit. But things happen, and I just have to keep thanking God that we came through it."

    On combining explosiveness with the patience to wait for holes to open up: "I say it all the time: 'Slow to it, fast through it.' That hole can open up but then close immediately. So you have to set your blocks up, and when it's set, you have to hit it full-speed."

    On his relationship with Kamara: "My freshman year, we played Tennessee. We were going back-and-forth, head-to-head. I gained a lot of respect for his game, and I definitely feel like our games resemble each other. ... He's a great guy. I talk with him over Twitter and text messages."


    Bottom line

    Williams isn't quite as effective a receiver or pass-protector as Kamara but looks like a more effective runner between the tackles. He's a likely Day 2 pick, and if his pass protection improves—Williams is a little more willing than able at this point—he can be a three-down NFL starter.

Jonah Williams' Arms Are Short: An Existential Journey

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Jonah Williams, considered by many to be the top left tackle in this year's draft class, measured in at 6'4" and 302 pounds with 33⅝-inch arms.

    His arms are slightly shorter than the ideal left tackle prototype (34-plus inches), leading to lots of delightful Twitter exchanges among overstimulated draft experts of both the nationally recognized and self-proclaimed varieties. To paraphrase:

    EXPERT ONE: Ooh, those arms are a little short. It could impact Williams' value to some teams.

    EXPERT TWO: Big deal! Joe Thomas had arms of comparable length!

    EXPERT THREE: How DARE you compare Jonah Williams to Joe Thomas?

    EXPERT FOUR: Measurables are meaningless. Everything is meaningless except my opinion!

    EXPERT FIVE: Dude, Williams is totally comparable to Joe Thomas, and also Kyler Murray is Drew Brees with Michael Vick's legs, and D.K. Metcalf is Thor.

    EXPERT SIX: Anyone who takes Jonah Williams completely off their draft board because of this is silly. Look at me! I'm crushing a straw man in an argument! Wheeeeeeee!

    And so on for about 24 hours.


    What Williams said about being a mighty T-rex with itty-bitty arms

    "It's a small portion of what it takes to be a tackle at the next level. If you look at a lot of the really successful tackles over the past 10 years—Joe Thomas, Joe Staley, Jake Matthews, Jason Peters, La'el Collins, Ryan Ramczyk, just to name a couple off the top of my head that have shorter arms than me—I don't think that they're necessarily a huge deal.

    "If my fingers were an eighth of an inch longer, I might be good enough. But I think the way that I play is what defines me as a football player."


    What the tape says

    Williams is so quick-footed, alert and physical that there is no reason to doubt that he can be an excellent NFL left tackle.


    What common sense says

    Some draft evaluators both in the NFL and the media compare all left tackles to Orlando Pace, and if the left tackle does not have Pace's measurements, he does not fit the "prototype." It's silly, and Williams treated the controversy with all the seriousness it deserves with his deadpan remarks.

    But hey, this was Wednesday, and we needed something to talk about before Kyler Murray weighed in.

Six Degrees of Sean McVay-Tion: Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals

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    Associated Press

    In this week's combine notebooks, we'll be profiling the NFL's new head coaches, gauging their ability to handle their teams' toughest issues, assessing their fashion sense and, most importantly, assigning them a Sean McVay Number, which is like a Kevin Bacon Number, except it can land you one of the 32 most coveted jobs in professional sports.


    Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals

    Sean McVay Number: 3

    Kingsbury never coached for or with McVay, but he has McVay-like characteristics (youth, innovative offensive concepts, skinny jeans) and knows McVay personally. They may have once tried to open a microbrewery together or form a jam band or something.


    Fashion sense: Elite

    Kingsbury wore a quilted black vest over a grey collar-neck T-shirt at the combine, with a stylish stubblebeard. Think Aeropostale catalog meets big-brother type in a boy band meets cosplayer at a Supernatural fanfest.

    Kingsbury also has a deep basso profundo voice, like the world's skinniest Barry White impersonator.


    How he tackled the tough topics

    Kingsbury did his best to tamp down speculation that the Cardinals are considering Kyler Murray with the first pick in the draft, stating, "I obviously think the world of Kyler as a player and person," but praising Josh Rosen for being "cerebral" and "playing through some adverse conditions" and stating that he will tailor his system to make the most of Rosen's talents.

    Cardinals GM Steve Keim then said Rosen was the Cardinals quarterback "right now, for sure," and all the speculation was tamped right back up again.


    Overall impression

    Kingsbury has the casual demeanor of someone who is either about to take the NFL by storm or has no idea what he is in for.

    Pairing Kingsbury with Murray would be such a bold experiment that it would make the Chip Kelly Eagles look like a vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano. If that's what Keim and Kingsbury want to do, they should get started on it. All the coy, cutesy-poo messaging isn't helping Kingsbury set a tone for the Cardinals or get started on all of the heavy lifting that must get done to improve the entire roster.

Six Degrees of Sean McVay-Tion: Brian Flores, Dolphins

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    Associated Press

    In this week's combine notebooks, we'll be profiling the NFL's new head coaches, gauging their ability to handle their teams' toughest issues, assessing their fashion sense and, most importantly, assigning them a Sean McVay Number, which is like a Kevin Bacon Number, except it can land you one of the 32 most coveted jobs in professional sports.


    Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins

    Sean McVay Number: 4

    Flores has no McVay relationship or McVay-like characteristics. But his Bill Belichick Number is 1, so you know where you can cram your silly McVay comparisons.


    Fashion sense: Average

    Flores appeared at the combine wearing a "smedium"-sized aqua-and-orange Dolphins golf shirt over his muscular frame. His goatee was trimmed to a point that jutted from his face at a 135-degree angle, perfect for opening bottles or providing lethal chin-butts. The overall effect was "Aquaman sidekick character concept art."


    How he tackled the tough topics

    Flores on the Dolphins' possibly starting his head coaching career with a rookie quarterback: "If that's the situation, then that's the situation."

    Flores on the status of Ryan Tannehill, who (per reports) is unlikely to remain with the Dolphins: "Those things are in process."

    No one spends his career coaching under Belichick and comes away eager to give straight answers at press conferences.


    Overall impression

    Flores fielded many questions about how similar his Dolphins will be to the Patriots, or what he learned from his time with the Patriots, or how beneficial it will be to have a coaching staff full of guys he brought over from the Patriots. You get the idea.

    Meanwhile, the real issue for Flores is how he can avoid the fate of so many predecessors who left Foxborough and tried (and failed) to turn other organizations into their version of the Patriots.

    Flores projects a thoughtful, humble confidence—more like young Andy Reid or Tony Dungy than the saturnine Belichick—but he conveyed almost no information at his combine press conference, even by the meager standards of a combine press conference.

    Perhaps that's for the best. The Dolphins have a lot of work to do, and laying low while Flores installs his system and GM Chris Grier gets serious about rebuilding their hodgepodge roster may be the best thing for them.

Six Degrees of Sean McVay-Tion: Zac Taylor, Bengals

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    In this week's combine notebooks, we'll be profiling the NFL's new head coaches, gauging their ability to handle their teams' toughest issues, assessing their fashion sense and, most importantly, assigning them a Sean McVay Number, which is like a Kevin Bacon Number, except it can land you one of the 32 most coveted jobs in professional sports.


    Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals

    Sean McVay Number: 1

    Taylor coached directly under McVay for the Rams, allowing him to soak up McVay's wisdom and divine munificence.


    Fashion sense: Average

    Taylor wore a blue Henley to his press conference, with the collar popped and the sleeves rolled up for business, plus the official class-valedictorian haircut. The color scheme was more "Rams" than "Bengals"— someone needs to remind Taylor that orange-and-black are his new black.


    How he tackled the tough issues

    Taylor only hired defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo late last week, and the Bengals had not yet announced their full coaching staff when he spoke to the media. But he didn't sound too concerned:

    "There might be some long weekends, some extra time put in. It was about getting the right people. You don't want to make that mistake and rush to hire people who a year from now you're going to regret. I feel very confident we found the right coaching staff."

    Dude, there are definitely going to be some long weekends.


    Overall impression

    Taylor is a "question rephraser." That's an effective communication tactic (it reassures the listener that his question was heard while buying time to craft a better answer), and it's extra useful when making sense of the types of questions my colleagues and I ask.

    TYPICAL SPORTSWRITER QUESTION: Coach, talk about, in your estimation, when it comes to achieving a balance between future potential and immediate needs, how you evaluate the importance of both qualities during the draft process.

    SKILLED QUESTION REPHRASER: Do I prefer to draft for potential or need? Great question...

    Otherwise, Taylor didn't make much of an impression. He's McVay's former assistant, Mike Sherman's son-in-law and Eagles quarterbacks coach Press Taylor's brother, but it's hard to gauge just who Taylor himself is and what stamp he will put on the Bengals.

    For now, he's not Marvin Lewis, which will buy him a honeymoon period from fans hungry for a fresh start.

This Week in Coach (and GM) Speak

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Coaches and team officials spout a lot of doubletalk and gobbledegook during combine press conferences. Luckily, Bleacher Report is here to translate all of the coachspeak and stonewalling from Wednesday and Thursday into straight answers.


    QUOTE: Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Lamar Jackson's development as a quarterback: "We were kind of working on the fly with offense a little bit [last year]. ... We're looking forward to starting from the beginning with Lamar and seeing what we can build."

    TRANSLATION: "We know we looked a little ridiculous running a scaled-back version of Amos Alonzo Stagg's playbook in the playoffs."


    QUOTE: Harbaugh on what Jackson needs to work on: "The obvious thing with Lamar is going to be consistency. It's going to be consistency with handling the ball—there's a lot of tricky ball-handling that he's going to have to be adept at so the ball stays off the ground—and consistency in the passing game so he can make those tight-window throws.

    TRANSLATION: "We're still going to run some stuff from the Amos Alonzo Stagg playbook. Also: STOP. FUMBLING."


    QUOTE: Jets GM Mike Maccagnan on whether he would pay top dollar for a free-agent running back: "You don't look at it just at that position, but you look at it for any player. What do you think the value of that player is, within reason? And then when you negotiate a contract, you figure out what aspects of it are areas you feel would make it a good contract for being willing to take a shot on that."

    TRANSLATION: "If someone doesn't tie me down in the basement like a werewolf during a full moon RIGHT NOW, Imma sign Le'Veon Bell for $75 million."


    QUOTE: Vikings GM Rick Spielman on Kirk Cousins last season: "The contract is going to get a lot of blame, but the blame has to be spread throughout. Our season wasn't good enough for our standards last year, but statistically if you look at what Kirk did, he threw for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, but we didn't win enough games."

    TRANSLATION: "As NFL general managers, we are incapable of figuring out that Cousins always produces big stats for huge wads of money and his teams never win enough games."


    QUOTE: Giants coach Pat Shurmur on Eli Manning: "When everyone started playing better around Eli, he played better. I want him back, and he'll be back."

    TRANSLATION: "The goal of the New York Giants is no longer to win games but to find reasons to keep Eli Manning as happy and comfortable as possible for as long as possible."


    QUOTE: Giants GM Dave Gettleman on Eli Manning: "The narrative around Eli for the past four or five years was really negative. And there's an old saying: Tell a lie long enough, you'll believe it."

    TRANSLATION: "Seriously. This whole organization is in deep denial. The unintended irony of my statements is a hidden plea for help."


    QUOTE: Steelers GM Kevin Colbert on his team's various controversies: "I really don't agree with the perception that there's a huge drama in the Steelers locker room."

    TRANSLATION: "The Steelers are not a haunted amusement park. They are an asylum for the people who went mad from working in the haunted amusement park."


    QUOTE: Raiders GM Mike Mayock (pictured) on the Raiders roster: "We've got more needs than I can even tell you about right now."

    TRANSLATION: "I am still transitioning from television to the front office and have not yet learned to reflexively respond to all questions by talking vaguely about 'being early in the evaluative process.' Rest assured that by this time next year I will be speaking like a pod person."