EDITOR'S NOTE: In light of Kyler Murray's announcement Monday that he's committed to a pro football career, let's take another look at the best team fits Gil Brandt identified for Murray when the QB prospect first declared his intention to enter the NFL draft in January.
Until recently, Kyler Murray -- who just passed for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns in an era when few skills are desired more in the NFL than the ability to throw a football -- was going to play professional baseball. But then the latest winner of the Heisman Trophy declared his intention to enter the 2019 NFL Draft, and the QB-needy teams in the league suddenly had a new option to consider.
Murray's future is still relatively unclear, with plenty of time for opinions to form and change before teams have to actually start selecting players. But I honestly could see him being drafted within the first 40 overall picks -- I think some team will see him as too valuable to allow to fall any further than that. Murray could be the first QB taken off the board, though in terms of the quarterback prospects set to be available, I'd currently put Murray behind Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and Duke's Daniel Jones. Of course, that could change.
The thing is, if you took concerns about Murray's height -- Oklahoma lists him at 5-foot-10 -- out of the picture, he'd be a first-round choice. He has the arm strength, accuracy, mobility, leadership skills and competitiveness you're looking for. His history of winning at Oklahoma and in high school (he won three straight state championships in Texas) is another huge plus. The only apparent negative is his stature. But then again, we've seen plenty of shorter quarterbacks play at a high level, including Baker Mayfield (6-1), Russell Wilson (5-11) and Drew Brees (6-0). Murray happens to be slightly shorter than those players, but I still think he can overcome that perceived disadvantage, simply because he's done it all the way up the ladder.
The bottom line is, Murray is an exciting prospect. He's going to be taking off and running (he racked up 1,001 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018), as well as slinging the ball around. He's a make you stand up and say whoa kind of player. He's going to be one of the most talked-about and dissected prospects in recent memory.
While we wait to see what's in store for Murray, I've identified the eight best landing spots for the quarterback below. Note that this list weights opportunity and team fit more heavily than it does the likelihood that he ends up on one of these teams, though it is conceivable at this point that all 32 teams could have a chance.
1) Washington Redskins
Washington is in something of a bind for 2019. Though Alex Smith might not be able to play in 2019, depending on how he recovers from the leg injury that ended his 2018 season prematurely and led to an infection, the team still owes him quite a sum. Murray could provide a youthful -- and affordable -- spark at the position the likes of which the Redskins haven't seen since Robert Griffin III dazzled his way to the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. After hovering around .500 and missing the playoffs for three straight seasons, this franchise could use an infusion of excitement. Murray, who succeeded at a higher level than anyone thought he would at Oklahoma in 2018, is the kind of guy who is just going to make things happen, and he could reinvigorate this fan base.
2) New York Giants
The five teams picking ahead of the Giants in the 2019 NFL Draft -- the Cardinals, 49ers, Jets, Raiders and Buccaneers -- don't appear to have a quarterback need, putting the Giants in an ideal position to land the signal-caller of their choosing. That presumes A) no one trades in front of them to grab one and B) they decide to actually pick a passer one year after rolling with running back Saquon Barkley second overall. Eli Manning's up-and-down year can be attributed in part to poor O-line performance, and he played better when his protection stabilized, but there are no guarantees Manning will be the Giants' opening-day starter heading into his 16th NFL season. I happen to think Manning will still be the man in 2019, but if Big Blue likes Murray enough, Manning's presence wouldn't keep the Giants from taking Murray and developing him as Manning's successor. And don't forget that offensive coordinator Mike Shula has experience developing athletic quarterbacks, given his time with Cam Newton in Carolina.
3) New Orleans Saints
At age 40, Drew Brees is playing the game as well as anyone. But then again, he's 40, and there's no clear post-Brees succession plan in place. I would assume current backup Teddy Bridgewater is headed elsewhere as a free agent, while Taysom Hill is probably better suited to play a jack-of-all-trades role than be an every-down quarterback. Murray could step right in for Brees whenever he moves out of the picture -- after all, Sean Payton has plenty of experience getting the most out of talented-but-undersized quarterbacks. The biggest obstacle here: New Orleans, which traded its first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to Green Bay last year, won't be able to make its first selection until the 62nd overall slot, barring some kind of trade. Otherwise, Murray looks like a perfect fit to potentially take the reins from Brees and keep the train rolling for a team that is stocked with talent. And he could learn from Brees for however many more years the veteran plays.
4) New England Patriots
Why not? The Pats are usually ahead of the curve when it comes to offensive trends, and I have no doubt that Bill Belichick would be able to tailor the team's approach to play to Murray's strengths. The obligatory caveat here is that Tom Brady has said he wants to play into his mid-40s. But the Brady era has to end someday -- he'll be 42 by the time next season starts. One-time rising youngsters Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett are gone. Would Belichick be tempted by the opportunity to prepare for the next chapter of his career by drafting his version of Patrick Mahomes? Belichick just does so well creating roles that put his players in the best position to succeed, and I could see him developing a vision for Murray and realizing it with an offense that incorporates a lot of options.
5) Los Angeles Chargers
Nobody knows how long Philip Rivers, who is 37 but coming off a year in which he looked like an MVP candidate for stretches, will keep playing. Drafting Murray as a change-of-pace option to learn behind Rivers during the veteran's last years in the NFL could be a prudent way to keep this otherwise-complete team competing. You could see Los Angeles using Murray in the same way that New Orleans currently employs Taysom Hill -- and then, like Patrick Mahomes taking over for Alex Smith in Kansas City this season, Murray could provide a seamless bridge between eras without necessitating a rebuilding period when Rivers does call it quits.
6) Miami Dolphins
Whether the Dolphins part ways with Ryan Tannehill or he returns for 2019, it wouldn't hurt for them to select his replacement as they embark on a roster rebuild. Don't forget that Stephen Ross made it sound like he's ready to really start over from scratch, which makes one think everything is on the table. The talent base needs some work; how former coach Adam Gase won as many games as he did in his three years on the job, I'll never know. After a 10-season stretch in which the Dolphins reached the playoffs precisely once, the market and fan base could use the excitement that a bright young player would bring. There is a need for Murray here, along with an opportunity for him to grow as the supporting cast is overhauled under new coach Brian Flores.
7) Jacksonville Jaguars
While we don't quite know yet which direction new coordinator John DeFilippo will take the offense in, if Jacksonville sticks with elements of a run-heavy approach designed to protect the quarterback, Murray could be ideally positioned to help the Jags reopen their competitive window and regain some of the swagger they had in their defense-fueled run of 2017. And DeFilippo had experience helping Carson Wentz develop in Philadelphia, having served as Wentz's position coach in 2016 and '17. Jacksonville could opt for a veteran QB this offseason, perhaps someone like Nick Foles, and a veteran could provide a slightly better chance to win in 2019. But Murray could help the Jags win in 2019 and beyond, growing as a rookie in a system that doesn't ask too much of him while also serving as probably the most exciting quarterback in Jacksonville's history.
8) Denver Broncos
Nearly three years after Peyton Manning retired, Denver is still looking for his long-term replacement, Case Keenum's 6-10 season notwithstanding. General manager John Elway has leaned toward bigger quarterbacks in the past, drafting the 6-foot-7 Brock Osweiler and the 6-7 Paxton Lynch -- but it hasn't exactly worked out. Osweiler (picked 57th overall in 2012) went 5-6 with a TD-to-INT ratio of 16:11 in Denver, while Lynch (picked 26th overall in 2016) went 1-3 with a TD-to-INT ratio of 4:4. So maybe Elway would be willing to move in a different direction with Murray. His 2018 rookie class included promising talents Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton and undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay; hitting on Murray would help keep the Broncos on the right track.