The entire NFL Draft season has been consumed by the idea of the Arizona Cardinals and new head coach Kliff Kingsbury drafting Oklahoma Heisman winning QB Kyler Murray first overall. The only problem? They drafted Josh Rosen 10th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. So, they’re in a bit of a strange situation. Do they roll with the potential franchise QB on their roster and draft the top defensive prospect (Quinnen Williams or Nick Bosa) OR do they ship Rosen out of town after just one season and go with the electric Murray with the top pick? This all started because Kingsbury said, “I’d take him with the first pick of the NFL Draft if I could” when Texas Tech was getting ready to play Oklahoma in October. A lot has happened since then and now Kliff can actually take Murray.

If you ask anybody plugged into the NFL or college football they’ll likely have a strong opinion about Rosen, Murray, Kingsbury, and what the Cardinals should do going forward. Either way the Cardinals have a tough decision to make and potentially might give up on a franchise QB for another franchise QB. Rosen shouldn’t be written off and showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie. Murray is a rare talent who is part of the new wave change at QB in the NFL. There are many questions going forward. Should the NFL give up on Rosen already? No. Should the Cardinals draft Murray? Maybe. Who’s the best fit for Kingsbury offense? Let’s find out.

The Tale of the Tape

Tale of the Tape Josh Rosen Kyler Murray
Size 6-4, 226 pounds 5-10, 207 pounds
School UCLA Oklahoma
CFB Passing Yards 9,340 5,406
CFB Rushing Yards -154 1,478
CFB Completion % 60.9% 67.4%
CFB AY/A 8.0 11.1
CFB Total TDs:INTs 65:26 63:14
Pro Comparison Matt Ryan Russell Wilson

Kliff Kingsbury and the Air Raid

A lot of people questioned the Cardinals hiring of Kliff Kingsbury in the moment, he had just been fired by his alma mater Texas Tech after compiling a 35-40 record in six years as head coach. His next stop was as USC OC before the Cardinals came calling, so why hire an unsuccessful college head coach as your NFL head coach? His offenses have always been electric and he’s one of the brightest young minds in football. At Tech his offenses finished 23rd, 55th, 2nd, 5th, 23rd, and 16th in FBS scoring and averaged over 37 points and 520 yards per game. He’s coached and developed some of the best college QBs of the decade like Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Patrick Mahomes, and Baker Mayfield. So where does it all start for Kliff? With Mike Leach (one of the smartest offensive coaches off all-time) and the air raid offense.

Kingsbury was the starting QB for Leach when he first got to Tech, running the offense from 2000-2002 and throwing for over 12,000 yards and accumulating 100 TDs. Kliff even spent 2003 as a QB for Bill Belichick behind Tom Brady, he comes from a nice tree. He was the one who started the whole offensive explosion with the Red Raiders and they’ve never looked back. It just so happens Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley was a QB at Tech on the 2002 team and coached there for Leach from 2003-2009. Leach, now the head coach at Washington State, has been one of the biggest offensive influencers in college football with many former players and coaches becoming head coaches/offensive coordinators in college football.

Current CFB HCs from the Leach Tree School (Record)
Lincoln Riley Oklahoma (24-4)
Dana Holgorsen Houston (61-41)
Neal Brown West Virginia (35-16)
Josh Heupel UCF (12-1)
Sonny Dykes SMU (46-53)
Seth Littrell North Texas (23-17)
Jeff Choate Montana State (17-18)
Eric Morris Incarnate Word (6-5)

 

So what is the air raid offense? It’s a spread out passing attack that’s shotgun heavy and it’s predominantly in 10 (1RB/0TE/4WR) or 00 personnel (0RB/0TE/5WR) groupings. It truly started at BYU under head coach LaVell Edwards in the 1970s. Leach and former Kentucky head coach Hal Mumme popularized the offense and are a big reason it’s influenced so much of today’s game. A major key in the air raid is the QBs ability to audible at the line based on the defense. A lot of the time run plays are just checks by the QB at the line based on the box, Leach even said former Washington State QB Luke Falk called nearly all the run plays through audibles in the 2017 season for him. Long story short, it’s a spread passing game that operates out of shotgun in a no huddle offense.

Everywhere Kliff Kingsbury has gone he’s run this offense with success. It’s likely he will run some variation of it as the head coach of the Cardinals. Many will question this, but look at the QBs Kingsbury has helped succeed and develop in college football. Sure, he was fired by Tech, but if Freshman phenom QB Alan Bowman didn’t get hurt there’s a good chance Kliff is never fired. Based on how his time with the Cardinals plays out it could turn into a great NFL what if?

Looking at the offense Kingsbury ran at Texas Tech it’s what you would expect out of a Mike Leach descendent. The offense was operated out of shotgun basically 99.9% of the time and it rarely went to any personnel grouping other than 00, 10, and 20 (2RB/0TE/3WR). When they did go to 20 personnel grouping it was almost exclusively to run play-action either to get the ball to one RB in space or take a deep shot. The offense he ran with Mahomes as his QB was the most successful and it took advantage of spreading out defenses and finding one-on-one situations. Obviously, Mahomes is as gifted as it gets as a passer and allowed Tech to get away with things other QBs can’t, but this is the prototype of QB Kingsbury had at Tech. Arm talent, mobility, quick decision making, and finding one-on-one’s for deep shots.

The offense at Tech revolved around a few things: RPOs, rollout throws, play-action quick hits to the slots (curls, screens), four verts (led to one-on-one deep shots), seam shots to the slot, and designed dumps to the running back in space. On top of that a few times a game they would go with a zone-read or some sort of misdirection/flea flicker for a deep shot to keep the defense on it toes. It’s a smart offense and an easy offense that more teams should be running. Having a physically gifted QB is the difference for this type of O and we saw that at Tech with the difference between Davis Webb and Mahomes.

The Cardinals Fit

How does Kliff Kingsbury fit in with the Cardinals roster? Well, it’s going to be dependent on who his QB is going forward. Josh Rosen and Kyler Murray couldn’t be more different and both come from completely different offenses in college. Throw out the offense the Cardinals ran last year under Mike McCoy for Rosen because that was a joke. At UCLA Rosen had three different OCs in each of his three seasons (Noel Mazzone, Kennedy Polamalu, and Jedd Fisch) and all three ran some sort of pro-style system. Basically, Rosen hasn’t had a good play-caller since he was a senior in high school at John Bosco. Kyler Murray had Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma who runs a modified air raid system and came up under Leach. He was recruited by Kingsbury out of high school and a lot of what he did for Riley is what Kingsbury did at Tech.

In the context of the Cardinals and Kingsbury’s fit it will have a lot to do with his QB, but it will also be determined by how much he changes his offense now that he’s in the NFL. It’s not a surprise to say the Cardinals don’t have a good offense, but it’s going to be better. David Johnson is a nice fit for them with his pass catching ability, Kingsbury is known to get his running backs targets in space. Christian Kirk has a chance to thrive in a slot role going forward with his YAC skills and Kingsbury’s offense having a ton of quick hits to the slot in space. The offensive line is key, but in the Kingsbury O at Tech it was a lot of layups and deep shots. So getting the ball out quick is a big part of it and they’ve added starters in Marcus Gilbert and JR Sweezy so far this offseason.

Either way there will be an NFL adjustment period for Kingsbury and his offense with the Cardinals, but it will be better than it was almost instantly. Seeing who runs the show is the biggest thing right now because an offense run by Kingsbury for Rosen and an offense run by Kingsbury for Murray will be two completely different offenses. It’s safe to say if Rosen is the guy it will involved a lot more “pro concepts” and Kingsbury will adjust to his skill set and if Murray is the guy it will look a lot more like it did at Texas Tech.

Josh Rosen

There’s a lot to unpack with Josh “Chosen” Rosen after the events of his rookie season with the Cardinals. Let’s start by saying, Rosen was a better QB prospect coming out of UCLA than Kyler Murray is coming out of Oklahoma. Rosen was a consensus top three QB in the soon to be legendary 2018 QB class. Of course, there’s revisionist history with Rosen and where he stands due to his struggles as a rookie, but he was right there with Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold as a prospect. All three of those guys are QB1 in the majority of NFL Draft classes. Factor in the circumstances of Rosen’s rookie year and his overblown struggles, when in reality he put together some impressive tape, and he is very much still worth a first-round pick.

At UCLA Rosen was put through a bad situation that seemingly got worse through his college career. He had constant changes at OC, played behind some terrible offensive lines, didn’t have much consistency from his pass catchers, and didn’t have any running game after his frosh season. Yet, Rosen still succeeded in terms of becoming a top-end NFL prospect. If you were to create-a-prospect at QB to be a pocket passer, he would have a lot of the traits Rosen has. He’s got nearly perfect throwing mechanics, both upper and lower, and he’s almost as clean as it gets in terms of footwork. He moves well in the pocket and understands how to step-up when outside pressure comes. Mentally he’s elite post-snap. Rosen is a lightning quick processor and consistently works through full-field reads. It’s rare to see a college QB so clean mechanically and mentally.

From a pure passing standpoint there isn’t much to question with Rosen. He can make every throw and has franchise QB arm talent. He’s not the wow play guy at QB, but more of the structured long drive QB. With him running an offense he lives for attacking the middle of the field with short and intermediate passes. His ability to throw with anticipation and consistent ball placement made him a stud in terms of the quick passing game. At UCLA his his bread and butter was taking deep shots on play-action passes. His smoothness from under center mixed with play-action allowed for his receivers to come open quickly downfield and his processing ability led to the right decision and a big play more often than not. Help around him and a trustworthy play-caller could have done Rosen wonders in college.

At UCLA behind a bad O-line there were times he would hold onto the ball too long waiting for a play to come together. This led to him taking too many hits instead of just living to play another down. Rosen could also trust his arm and velocity too much at times. He had a tendency to force tight window throws that would lead to turnovers. With proper coaching he could get away from the idea of hero ball and learn, “you can’t go broke taking a profit.” Coming back to his velocity he can struggle with touch throws and that led to him putting too much on passes and missing high/outside. Another issue Rosen had at UCLA was when plays broke down he struggled to play outside of structure. If timing was off it often led to the play being killed. A structured offense is key to Rosen reaching his potential.

As a rookie with the Cardinals Rosen had his struggles and the stat line isn’t pretty. He started 13 games and threw for 2,278 yards, 11 TDs, and 14 INTs while completing 55.2% of his throws on 5.8 YPA. Not great, but better than fellow Pac-12 QB Jared Goff’s rookie year with the Rams. Now numbers never tell the whole story and that’s why watching the tape is oh so important. Rosen showed everything you’d hope from a rookie passer in a god-awful situation. The Cardinals didn’t have the coaching staff, offensive scheme, or personnel to ever give Rosen a chance. It was an unimaginative offense with poor offensive line play, consistent drops from pass catchers, and the play-calling didn’t get the best players involved in smart ways.

At the end of the day, Rosen showed things that should warrant a team believing in him going forward. Just like at UCLA we saw him making consistent full-field reads and processing at a speed you want from a franchise QB. When the offense was tailored to his strengths good things happened. When the Cardinals went back to his bread and butter at UCLA, the under center play-action pass game, Rosen’s best plays as a rookie happened. The issue is they didn’t go to it enough and tried to make him adapt to a stale old-school offense. Smart coaches adapt to player, not the other way around. On multiple occasions Rosen showed he could manipulate DBs with his eyes to help routes come open before delivering a strike. He was put in the worst situation and did what he could to succeed.

Did Rosen have a good rookie year? No. Was it all his fault? No. Did he show things to build on? Most definitely. Does he have franchise QB tools? No doubt. Is he worth a first-round pick? To a smart team, yes. Don’t underestimate the power of bad coaching and bad players hurting the perception of a rookie QB. Jared Goff, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, and Drew Bledsoe went through similar rookie woes. The NFL needs to remember, if you like a QB enough to take them early then don’t throw them away after a year.

Kyler Murray

Nobody questions Kyler Murray’s talent. Once he decided it’s the NFL over the MLB his rise to being a top five lock wasn’t surprising. Murray is one of the greatest high school QBs of all-time, look up his stats it’s ridiculous, then went to Texas A&M before transferring to Oklahoma and backing up Mayfield for a season and then winning the Heisman in 2018. The only real question that consistently comes up with Murray is his size and then he measured in at 5-10, 207 pounds at the NFL Combine. That height used to be an issue, but the NFL got smart after superb talents kept proving height was an overrated factor in evaluating a QB. Murray has the tools to be a franchise QB and a dynamic player in today’s NFL. Now, he might be the first overall pick by the Cardinals to replace future franchise QB Josh Rosen.

Murray comes from a completely different college situation at Oklahoma than Rosen did at UCLA. First of all, Murray was surrounded by NFL talent. His entire offensive line will play in the NFL, as well as his top two wide receivers, tight end, and running back. Murray had all the help you could hope for, but that doesn’t take away from him as a prospect, it just allowed him to shine in everyway at OU. On top of all that his head coach, Lincoln Riley, is one of the best offensive minds in college football. Riley’s had four QBs in his time as a play-caller at East Carolina (2010-2014) and Oklahoma (2015-present). All four QBs (Dominique Davis, Shane Carden, Mayfield, Murray) have at minimum put up over 3,000 passing yards and 30 or more total TDs each season. The man knows how to get production out of his quarterbacks.

Under Riley in his modified air raid system Murray was a star. He thrived out of the primarily shotgun offense and thanks to his dominant offensive line he had all day to pick apart defenses with his arm and slash them with his legs. A lot of the offense was similar to what Kingsbury ran for Mahomes at Tech. Lots of short throws on crossers, slants, and screens before dialing up the money shot. Like at Tech they were almost exclusively running 00, 10, and 20 personnel. Also like at Tech the 20 personnel formations were used for play-action deep shots. They liked to get the ball out of Murray’s hands quickly at OU. One spot that does create some questions is his ability to make full-field reads. At times, like with Mayfield last year, it seems like the throws are pre-determined decisions. But this was similar for Mahomes.

Running this modified air raid system for Riley it almost felt like Murray was a smaller more athletic version of Mahomes, albeit with less arm talent, but nobody has the Mahomes arm. Murray thrived making plays out of structure and off-platform thanks to his top-end arm talent and mobility. He’s the definition of a wow playmaker at the QB position. The mobility is rare for a QB and he’s one of the all-time best athletes to play QB at this level. With his elite mobility there’s always a backup plan for him when the play breaks down and he does a great job protecting himself as a runner, the baseball background makes him a fantastic slider. There’s an argument for Kyler Murray to be a better option for the Cardinals with his mobility due to their poor O-line play, but don’t assume mobility means less sacks, look at Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson.

As a pure passer there are few questions with Murray. The arm is everything you could hope for in a franchise QB. Mechanically he’s smooth with a quick compact motion and swift clean footwork. He makes every throw and can uncork some deep balls on the move that many NFL QBs wouldn’t be able to pull off. An effortless deep ball passer who consistently takes advantage of one-on-one situations and has no trouble in terms of accuracy on money shot. He has the best deep ball placement in the class and with his ability to extend plays it often leads to those magic moments. Murray is the new wave passer that innovative offensive minds are going to drool over because of his diverse set of skills.

There are some things he does struggle with, like timing throws. On RPOs and timing throws he can get over excited at the ball can get away from him at times and it leads to him missing high. Also, Oklahoma doesn’t ask him to make a ton of these timing throws or anticipation throws. This is a HUGE difference between him and Rosen. Where Murray is elite, Rosen struggles and where Rosen is elite, Murray struggles. It was similar circumstances for Mayfield though and there were no signs of struggle when he made the NFL jump. The most concerning thing with Murray right now is when under pressure he has a tendency to force deep ball into thick coverage and it leads to turnovers. This isn’t a surprising mistake for a young QB and with NFL coaching it should be easily fixable.

With the right coaching staff and system around him Kyler Murray will instantly make an offense exciting. Every defensive coordinator is going to hate playing against him because there’s no way to fully stop his dynamic ability as a runner and downfield passer. He’s almost a smoother mechanical version of Russell Wilson coming out of Wisconsin in that way. If he’s in the right hands Murray will quickly become a franchise QB. Running a system using similar concepts to what he ran in Riley’s offense at Oklahoma will make his transition much easier. Just look at what Andy Reid did with Patrick Mahomes.

The Bottom Line

Josh Rosen and Kyler Murray couldn’t be more different as quarterback prospects, but both have every ingredient to be a franchise passer. At the end of the day Rosen is the better QB prospect, but Murray is a better fit for what Kingsbury is trying to do with the Cardinals. It’s never a great idea to move onto a new QB this quickly, but if the Cardinals are able to secure a first-round pick then it might just be the right move. Murray is much more similar to what Kingsbury has had in the past while Rosen is a classic pocket passer. While Rosen thrives with the middle of the field short to intermediate passes and play-action deep shots, Murray is at his best with short outside passing aka layups and then outside one-on-one mismatches. Murray is what Kingsbury wants and it’s easy to see why.

A smart team should be willing to make a move for Rosen, but the Cardinals asking price better be high because this is as risky as it gets. Honestly, the Cardinals shouldn’t trade Rosen for anything less than the value of a top 10 pick. The best move for everybody would be the Giants giving them the sixth pick for Rosen and the Cardinals drafting Murray, but Dave Gettleman is too much of a fool to make the move. This is the rare instance where Rosen is the better QB, but Murray is the better option for the direction of the team. Josh Rosen and Kyler Murray can both be franchise QBs and the Cardinals should ride with Rosen if their asking price isn’t met, even if at the end of the day Kyler Murray is the better fit.

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Author Details
Vice President of Media | The Armchair All-Americans, LLC
I’m Canadian as can be, other than the fact that I don’t care about hockey. I love football. The NFL is my life. I consider myself a football guy and I’d rather watch tape than anything else. I’m the Armchair NFL Draft analyst here. You can read my Armchair Scout columns and call me out for my draft misses. I’m also part of two podcasts at Armchair. Our NFL Draft podcast, 7 Rounds in Heaven, and the main NFL pod, Resting the Starters. I cheer for the Steelers, Raptors, Blue Jays, Oregon, and I guess the Leafs.
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Vice President of Media | The Armchair All-Americans, LLC
I’m Canadian as can be, other than the fact that I don’t care about hockey. I love football. The NFL is my life. I consider myself a football guy and I’d rather watch tape than anything else. I’m the Armchair NFL Draft analyst here. You can read my Armchair Scout columns and call me out for my draft misses. I’m also part of two podcasts at Armchair. Our NFL Draft podcast, 7 Rounds in Heaven, and the main NFL pod, Resting the Starters. I cheer for the Steelers, Raptors, Blue Jays, Oregon, and I guess the Leafs.

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