Kyler Murray Is Emerging as an NFL Superstar and a 2021 MVP Candidate

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 20, 2021

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) celebrates his touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

As a rookie in 2019, Kyler Murray was coming off a college career in which he spent just one season as a starting quarterback. The Arizona Cardinals' No. 1 overall pick was also adjusting to a brand-new coach in Kliff Kingsbury, but he still won Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

As a sophomore in 2020, Murray had practically no time to establish chemistry with new No. 1 weapon DeAndre Hopkins because of what the COVID-19 pandemic did to that offseason and preseason. But he still improved statistically while producing a combined 37 passing and rushing touchdowns in his first Pro Bowl campaign. 

Now, Murray and Kingsbury are coming off their first full, proper offseason together. And early in the 24-year-old's critical third NFL campaign, it appears he's turning into an elite player with MVP potential for a team that is ready to contend in the tough NFC West. 

Murray and the Cardinals' high-powered offense put on a show for the second week in a row as Arizona defeated the Minnesota Vikings 34-33 Sunday at home. He completed all but seven of 36 passes for exactly 400 yards and three touchdowns. He did throw two interceptions, but he rushed for 31 yards and another score as the Cards put up 30-plus points yet again to move to 2-0. 

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

He's completed 73.5 percent of his passes, posted a 121.5 passer rating and is on pace to generate 77 total touchdowns this season. 

According to ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft, Murray's just the third quarterback in modern NFL history to compile 30-plus fantasy points in each of his team's first two games. 

But there's also the magic that can't be fully represented in the box score. His speed and evasiveness in the pocket on a 77-yard second-quarter touchdown pass to rookie Rondale Moore on Sunday was astonishing, and his back-footed deep shot to Christian Kirk in a crucial moment later in the same tight game was just as special. His first-quarter touchdown pass to Hopkins on 3rd-and-long also involved heroics after the pocket had broken down, as he spun away from defenders and somehow regained his vision to find his target in the end zone.

Pro Football Focus classified a league-high six of his passes as "big-time throws" in Week 1, and then he went out in Week 2 and topped that mark with a ridiculous nine of 'em.

George Chahrouri @PFF_George

Most Big Time Throws (pending review) Kyler Murray - 9 Derek Carr - 9

It's early, but Murray—not preseason MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs—leads the league in "How the hell did he do that?" moments. 

Moments like those are a large part of why Mahomes was MVP in 2018 and why Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson won the award in 2019. Both did so as sophomores, but neither faced the circumstances Murray had to deal with early in his career, so it feels as though Murray's at about the same point in his NFL run. 

Jackson was 22 when he won MVP. Mahomes was 23. Murray just turned 24 last month. It's about time we start grouping those guys together when it comes to their athleticism, improvisational skills and ability to take over games. 

B/R Gridiron @brgridiron

K1 went MVP mode AGAIN. ⚡️ 400 yards ⚡️ 4 total TD Cardinals are 2-0. https://t.co/6VUYQQD1vG

On Sunday, Murray completed five of his seven deep pass attempts, and he's now 10-of-16 on those throws this season. That's an extremely high completion rate, even if the sample size is small. He is on pace to throw 26 interceptions, and anything in that range would be problematic. But that's unlikely to be the case.

His pick against the Tennessee Titans was somewhat of an arm punt with nothing happening on third down in a three-score game, and his pick-six against Minnesota required a remarkable play from Vikings linebacker Nick Vigil (a brutal third-quarter pick Sunday was less excusable). 

The key is the Cardinals are piling up yards and points and controlling games (they've had possession for 63 percent of the time in the fourth quarter early this season). So long as that's the case, Arizona will remain a Super Bowl contender, and Murray will remain in the MVP race.


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.