INDIANAPOLIS — Musings, observations and the occasional insight from Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine, when the top-rated quarterbacks take to the podium to talk up their own game….
* It’s worth remembering that last year at this time, Sam Darnold was still the odds-on favorite to be chosen first overall in the NFL Draft, not Baker Mayfield, the eventual top pick. In 2016, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz didn’t exit the league’s scouting combine as slam-dunk candidates to go 1-2 atop the draft, but they did. The same basic story prevailed in early 2011, when plenty of draft experts — believe it or not — rated Blaine Gabbert higher than Cam Newton, almost up until Carolina made Newton the No. 1 selection that year.
So no matter what you might think of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray’s chances of going first overall at the moment, it’d be a mistake to discount them. Because after this week at the combine, there’s a growing sense that Murray’s rise will continue and in due time he’ll be seen as this draft’s ultimate prize. And that means his name will be the first one called April 25 in Nashville, whether it’s Arizona that selects him or another team that trades up for the rights to acquire the Cardinals’ top pick.
In perhaps related news, Murray met the media Friday afternoon in the Indiana Convention Center and let it be known he’s scheduled to meet with the Cardinals at some point this weekend. That make sense, because even if Arizona isn’t his ultimate destination, the Cardinals certainly want the option of trading out of the top spot with a team that is smitten with the former Sooner and 2018 Heisman Trophy winner.
If nothing else, Murray was forceful in his declaration Friday that football is his sole future and the baseball career that he forsook to enter the draft isn’t his escape hatch, calling it “a final decision,’’ and adding “I’m here. I’m ready to go. I was born a football player. I love this game. There’s no turning back, I’m 100 percent in.’’
Murray said the NFL clubs he has met with seemed to believe him when he professes his singular focus for football. “For the most part, everybody’s been pretty solid knowing that I’m here to play football,’’ he said.
Sources I’ve talked to at the combine say they legitimately believe Murray will wind up leading off the draft because there’s always enough quarterback-starved teams to drive up his value in the coming two months of pre-draft buildup, and he’s a dynamic play-maker whose size is now no longer a stumbling block to teams.
“I think we can put all that to rest now,’’ said Murray, who checked in at just over 5-10, 207 pounds, with a 9 1/2 inch hand-span on Thursday.
Murray also didn’t shy away from the thought he might wind up in Arizona, playing for new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who last year proclaimed he’d take Murray first overall in the draft if he was ever in position to do so. The Cardinals drafted UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen at No. 10 last year, but sources insist that doesn’t preclude them from dealing Rosen and picking Murray if that’s deemed their best option at the game’s most pivotal position.
“If I were to play under him, I think it’d be a great deal,’’ said Murray, adding he had a “great relationship’’ with Kingsbury, who recruited him to Texas Tech out of high school. “I think me and him being together, it’d be nice.’’
Even though he won’t throw or work out here with his fellow quarterbacks on Saturday, electing to wait until his March 13 pro day at OU, Murray has done himself plenty of good in Indianapolis. When he leaves town, he’ll do so with even more No. 1 buzz attached to his name. It’s still a long way until April 25 and the first round unfolds, but elite quarterbacks rarely last, and before all is said and done, Murray might not have to wait for anyone else to take the stage that night.
* But if there’s a pairing that makes even more sense to many, it’s the matchup of the No. 6 Giants and Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins. A New Jersey native who grew up about 35 miles from the Meadowlands, Haskins spent a good bit of his media session on Friday talking about how great the fit with New York would be.
“Growing up in New Jersey, I grew up a Giants fan, so it would be a dream come true as far as being able to go back home where my family is and play for that franchise,’’ Haskins said. “(They have) a lot of really great skill players, so either way it happens throughout this process, I'm just going to be excited to be in the NFL. Of course New York would be a great spot for me.’’
Haskins, 21, also didn’t sound wary of sitting and learning from Giants veteran quarterback Eli Manning for a year, if that scenario unfolded. Giants general manager Dave Gettlemen said this week he liked the “Kansas City model,’’ in which Alex Smith started for one year while first-round quarterback Patrick Mahomes sat for most of 2017. Haskins was behind starter J.T. Barrett on the Buckeyes depth chart for parts of two seasons, and feels he benefited from that process.
“I can point to Ohio State and how I didn’t play for a year and a half,’’ he said. “I played a little bit as a backup. I’m comfortable enough to be able to
learn from someone that’s been there in front of me. I know that I’m going to compete and be ready when my time is called.’’
Haskins exhibited plentiful confidence and said his decision to turn pro as an underclassmen wasn’t difficult because he “knew before the season started I had the talent to go play in the NFL. I felt I was ready to be an NFL quarterback. I was pro ready….. I know I’m a franchise quarterback and can be a really great quarterback in the NFL.’’
Haskins said going first overall isn’t as important to him as finding the right team, and he’s scheduled to meet with the Giants Friday night. A quintessential pocket passer, he defended his perceived lack of mobility, saying “I can maneuver if I need to, but I’m deadly in the pocket…. It’s great to be able to extend plays and know when to go when plays break down, but plays are schemed up for drop back, timing, things of that nature, and that’s what I do at a very high level.’’
Haskins will throw on Saturday and said he never considered sitting out the quarterback drills. His goal for this weekend? “I’m just looking forward to showing I’m the best quarterback in the class,’’ he said.
* Kansas City lost the AFC Championship game at home in overtime to the Patriots, and now the Chiefs are working on a proposal to change the overtime rules to mandate a possession for both teams in the extra period.
New Orleans lost the NFC Championship game at home in overtime to the Rams, and Saints coach Sean Payton will continue to lobby his fellow NFL competition committee members to fix a replay system that wasn’t able to correct the obvious and decisive defensive pass interference that was missed late in regulation.
My sense is the change to the overtime rules may not happen this year, but I think the best development of the week in Indianapolis is the news the competition committee has agreed to study and try to figure out how to add a “Sky Judge’’ to each officiating crew, adding someone who could fix obvious mistakes and non-calls in real time without going through the replay system.
The competition committee reportedly received seven rule change proposals from teams linked to the expansion of replay reviews, but it was the coaches subcommittee that proposed the video official, much like the Alliance of American Football is using in its first year of existence.
ESPN reports that many questions remain regarding the Sky Judge proposal, such as whether such an official could be used throughout the game or for just part of it? Which calls or non-calls would be under their purview? And where would Sky Judges be hired from? But clearly the conversation has begun, and there doesn’t appear to be instant opposition to the idea.
“When we walked out of the room, there wasn’t dissension,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations said, according to Pro Football Talk. “It was, ‘This may have some merit.’ It had the most interest.”
Some kind of mechanism is needed to fix the clear and obvious mistakes. That’s what replay was initially instituted to accomplish in the first place. So if a Sky Judge can remove or significantly lower the chances for the kind of blown call that we saw impact the Saints-Rams NFC title game, here’s hoping common sense can coalesce behind this proposal.
* Duke quarterback Daniel Jones is an intriguing prospect who many think will crack the first round. He was coached by quarterback whisperer David Cutcliffe at Duke, who is well known for having extensively worked with both Peyton and Eli Manning in the past. That association may well be the best bullet point on Jones’ resume, and he’s not shy about highlighting it.
“Being in that group, being with Coach Cut and the Mannings, is an honor and something I appreciate very much,’’ Jones said Friday. “I think the preparation that I have been through with Coach Cut, and I have been through at Duke, is something that will prepare me well for this step. And being able to have the relationships I have with Eli and Peyton is something that's been special about my process, and I think something that will help.’’
If the Giants don’t land Haskins, Jones may well be their fallback plan as New York’s next franchise quarterback and eventual successor to Eli.
“That'd be awesome to me,’’ said Jones, of being drafted by the Giants and sitting behind Eli Manning for a season. “As a competitor you want to play, and I'm not going to say I wouldn't want to play, that wouldn't be how I feel. But the opportunity to be behind Eli, to learn and kind of watch him day in and day out, how he carries himself, how he prepares, would be a tremendous opportunity for my growth and my development as a player. I think that'd be a tremendous opportunity for me.’’