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Cardinals Fantasy Projection: Kyler Murray

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It’s finally happening! In a year that needs a pressure release valve like no other year in my lifetime, knowing that we get to watch our favorite teams battle for a Super Bowl tastes so much sweeter than years past. And when you live in the desert of Arizona, with the hype surrounding the 2020 Arizona Cardinals, nothing is more exciting than a Kyler Murray fantasy projection.

While August is typically reserved for preseason games and fantasy drafts, this year we forego the preseason, which means August is officially Fantasy Month!

Ok, it may not be officially official, but I’m already itching for fantasy draft season. Today we start with a fantasy focused Kyler Murray projection for the 2020 season, and key factors to ponder when determining his draft profile. 

Image credit: @AZCardinals Twitter

The fans

I’m going to generalize for a moment, bare with me. There are two types of people who will read this article. 

The first type of person is the diehard Cardinals fan. Every season starts knowing the Cardinals are the Super Bowl sleepers of the NFL. And every season ends with heartbreak. Wash, rinse, repeat. And every year you will draft every Cardinals player two rounds too early because you can’t imagine the thought of drafting anyone before drafting Larry Fitzgerald. If it isn’t a crime it should be.

The second type of person is someone who is researching where to draft their quarterback and which quarterbacks to target. It’s a numbers game, best positional value, best draft value. This person has money on the line and is hyped for a year’s worth of smack-talking your buddies after you eviscerate them in your fantasy leagues. 

This article is written for the second group of people, from the heart of the first group. Fortunately for both, evaluating Kyler Murray for fantasy projection is both a practice in data and feelings.

Image credit: ArizonaSports.com
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The good

Kyler Murray is a good quarterback. And it’s not a difficult leap to assume he’s only going to get better. The 2018 NFL #1 overall pick did not disappoint in his rookie season culminating in Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Having battled a slow start to the season, Kyler evolved game by game, quarter by quarter, snap by snap. 

Growth

One of the most exciting things to watch as a fan, besides touchdowns and wins is watching your rookies evolve. Sometimes that evolution takes years – just ask Rich Gannon. Sometimes a guy can walk into the NFL and take it by storm from their first meaningful snap, a la Patrick Mahomes, and sometimes guys look great before they look awful, like Robert Griffin III

Kyler has all of the right tools, coaches, teammates, and fan base to be great. And that greatness started last year when he put up 297 fantasy points on his way to a #9 finish in the entire NFL by standard scoring. But what does that mean for Kyler Murray and his 2020 fantasy projection?

Kyler’s rookie season had a lot of unique aspects that created excitement leading to an Offensive Rookie of the Year award. But what was most unique about his playstyle was his ability to adapt, and to do it quickly.

For example, Kyler’s most glaring weakness was extending plays too long, outrunning his blocks, and taking unnecessary negative yard plays. It was glaring through weeks 1-4. Then something happened in week 5 and he figured out how to get rid of the ball. It’s special watching a young player make important changes so quickly in a season.

This adaptability bodes well for an improved 2020. If 2020 Week 1 Kyler comes in as 2019 Week 17 Kyler, then we could be looking at a fantasy monster. Despite his early 2019 struggles, he still produced great fantasy value.

Skillset

Not only does Kyler learn and execute, but he has an elite skill set. Kyler quickly developed a reputation for being an elite deep-ball passer. So elite that he was actually rated the NFL’s most accurate deep ball passer. More accurate than Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, et al.

Some analysts had Murray as a poor deep-ball passer. But honestly, the evaluation wasn’t thorough, and Football Outsiders knew it. So they ran their own data based not on whether the receiver caught the ball, but rather was the ball catchable? Essentially, why hurt the quarterback for the failures of the receivers?

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And what did they find? Kyler Murray had a league-leading 61.2% pass accuracy on all throws longer than 21 yards. You can read more about this project here. But as a fantasy football fanatic, who doesn’t love watching their quarterback connect on a 50-yard touchdown pass? #Goosebumps

Kyler also has immense arm strength as seen in this beautiful montage:

Insane accuracy as seen here:
And the ability to create something out of nothing:

Knowing Kyler has the tangibles to be elite, while adding in the bonus of the intangibles such as being able to adapt quickly, immediately elevates him to elite-level fantasy talent.

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The comparisons

When evaluating quarterbacks for fantasy purposes I’m very much a fan of comparisons. I like trendlines, bar graphs, statistical progressions, etc. Don’t worry, I won’t bore this article with an excess of nerdery, but for projecting whether you should draft Kyler Murray early or not, comparing him to past quarterbacks has value. 

When I ran my comps I chose seven quarterbacks – six who have been in the league as starters for five years or less, and one veteran. When selecting comp players I wanted quarterbacks who had produced equivalent fantasy numbers to Kyler Murray, and quarterbacks whose play styles were similar to Kyler’s. For example, my veteran was Russell Wilson because he is a prolific fantasy player, but also because Kyler’s playing style is very similar to Wilson’s. 

Kyler Murray fantasy projection comparisons

Here are the players I chose to compare:

Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston, and Russell Wilson. 

I wanted to evaluate how each of the players performed in their rookie campaigns, and how their production improved or regressed in year two. While this method has it’s obvious flaws, it does represent a decent way to project fantasy value for Kyler Murray.

I knew Kyler had a good rookie year, but until I ran this data I had no clue how good. The only player who had a more productive fantasy rookie season than Kyler Murray was Patrick Mahomes (not counting his first year in the league). I’m sure you could have guessed that. But you might not have guessed that he outplayed Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, and Dak Prescott. I compiled the rankings below:

While it’s great that Kyler had a productive 2019 for fantasy teams, the question is how will he do in 2020? 

To project Kyler Murray and 2020 fantasy value via data-driven quarterback comparisons, I took each of the above listed quarterback’s second-year fantasy points and created their average points per game. I then took their combined average growth from year one to year two and applied it to Kyler’s rookie season numbers; which gave me a fantasy point projection of 350.67.

The only player to have a better second season at Kyler’s 350 projected fantasy points? Lamar Jackson. 

In simpler terms, if Kyler progresses at the same rate as the quarterbacks he already outproduced, he will net you 350 points this season. Don’t mind if I do.

Image credit: Sports Illustrated
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The weapons

The key to a quarterback’s fantasy value is in the value of their weapons. Sure, a quarterback needs to be able to move the ball and put the ball in the end zone. That’s where the points come from. But unless the NFL starts running plays where quarterbacks throw passes to themselves, you’ll want a high volume quarterback with high volume weapons.

So does Kyler have weapons? In short, yes, he has them in spades. 

In the air, Kyler has only the best receiver in the NFL in Deandre Hopkins, future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, and upcoming receiver Christian Kirk. And in case you forgot, the Cardinals also drafted Andy Isabella who saw very few snaps in 2019, but came into the league as the #1 rated wide receiver in his draft class according to PFF.com

Side note: I won’t go into much detail, but if Dan Arnold at TE is suddenly bursting onto everyone’s draft boards in 2021, you heard it hear first. The dude has some fascinating potential.

Ground game

On the ground, Kyler has two primary weapons: Kenyan Drake, and himself. Kenyan Drake was always known to have been a skilled running back, but never really had a true opportunity to showcase his full talents. A midseason acquisition sent Kenyan to the desert and in less than one week he learned a complicated offense and subsequently put on a show for the #RedSea. In eight games he put together 643 yards and 8 touchdowns. 

What did Kyler do on the ground? He only joined Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks to ever have a rookie season that had over 3,500 passing yards and 500 rushing yards. Not everyone can rush like Lamar, but to have 500 yards on the ground with four touchdowns in a rookie season is in and of itself a major weapon for creating fantasy value. 

The value of a King(sbury)

Another weapon Kyler has is Kliff Kingsbury. Much like Kyler, Kliff acknowledged his early-season struggles. Kliff’s honesty was actually quite jaw-dropping. On the Ryen Russillo Podcast, Kliff said he was afraid of being fired at half time in Week 1.

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Thank god he wasn’t, because as the season unraveled we became witnesses to the creativity, flexibility, and adaptability of Kliff’s ability to manage an NFL offense.

A great example of Kliff’s creative play calling is visible in nearly every game last season, but here’s a little sample. 

Going into 2020 not only does Kyler have another season under his belt, but so does his head coach and offensive coordinator. We won’t need to worry about rookie jitters, Kyler and Kliff put that to rest last year while still creating nearly 300 fantasy points. Now add in an offense that can kill you in the air and on the ground? All I see is points!

Image credit: FOX 10 Phoenix
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The rankings

So Kyler has the statistical data on his side, the weapons to execute, and a coach with a plan. So where does that put Kyler Murray for fantasy projection value?

The way I see it, there are two tier-1 quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Personally, my quarterback strategy has always been to wait until the end of a draft and go get someone like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, or Ben Roethlisberger late. Guys who will produce but won’t go in the first five rounds. 

But the point disparity between elite fantasy quarterbacks and solid fantasy quarterbacks is exactly the reason why some quarterbacks go early. The best example is Lamar Jackson. He was the #1 highest fantasy producer in standard leagues in 2019, and the #2 in PPR leagues. For a full breakdown of Lamar Jackson’s 2019 fantasy season and how that will relate to his 2020 projections give this article a read, but the summary? Lamar Jackson is a fantasy monster.

TIER-2 QB Kyler Murray fantasy projection

For fantasy draft purposes I would not be remiss to suggest Kyler as QB3/4, somewhere between Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott. Several professional fantasy outlets have Kyler in the QB4/5 range behind Russell and Dak. So why would I rank Kyler higher? 

For Russell Wilson, it’s because he doesn’t have the depth of weapons Kyler has. Russell definitely has top tier weapons in both Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, but when you compare that to Deandre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and a superior ground game – point Kyler.

As far as Dak goes, there is little doubt that Dak is a great quarterback with great weapons, but the Dallas Cowboys are a run-first team who will give Ezekiel Elliott over 300 touches. And if I were to choose my quarterback between a clear cut run-first team, and a team that literally calls itself an Air-Raid offense with the talent to back it up? I mean, don’t judge a book by its cover, but without the cover how do you know what you’re actually reading?

For drafting purposes, those of you who are in the die-hard fan group I mentioned above, don’t get lost in the woods and draft Kyler in the first round. But for the first time, if you jump the gun and take Kyler above his projected slot and before Russell Wilson, you might just find yourself stumbling into a quarterback that gets you no less than 20 points every game. Day in. Day out.

In summary, Kyler Murray’s fantasy projection in 2020 shows that he is ripe for success. And whether you’re a Cardinals fan or not, it’s safe to say he’s a solid bet to finish QB3 this year.

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