Kyler Murray pads Heisman, NFL draft résumé as Oklahoma outlasts Texas

Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray (1) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during the first half against the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship game at AT&T Stadium.Photo: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray quite literally staked his claim as the nation’s best player Saturday, delivering a lights out performance in a Big 12 Championship victory over rival Texas, avenging the Sooners’ only previous loss on the season with a 39-27 victory at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Shortly after slicing up a gifted Texas defense for 379 yards and three touchdowns – giving Murray a conference record 52 scores on the year – he took following in the footsteps of last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield to a new, unexpected level, planting the OU flag at the 50-yard line to celebrate the Sooners’ fourth consecutive conference title.

Murray’s flag-planting homage to his predecessor is perhaps appropriate given how incredibly similar his numbers have been this season (4,053 passing yards, 40 TDs/seven interceptions, 70.7% completion percentage) compared to Mayfield last year (4,627 passing yards, 43 TDs/six INTs, 70.5%), prior to his taking home the hardware and, of course, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft.

When you factor in the additional 892 rushing yards and 11 scores Murray has provided the Sooners this season (Mayfield accounted for 311 yards and five touchdowns), it is easy to see why momentum is gaining for Oklahoma’s second straight Heisman Trophy winner.

But can the diminutive Murray follow Mayfield’s lead into the NFL?

I certainly think so, ranking the Sooners’ star quarterback 32nd overall on my personal list of the top NFL prospects in college football.

It is an opinion shared by others.

This week on the Instinctive Scouting Podcast, two-time NFL general manager Scot McCloughan confirmed as much, stating that scouts on the road he’s spoken with recently are giving Murray late first and second round grades.

Previously, McCloughan has compared the 5-10, 195 pound Murray to Seahawks’ Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson, notable given that the former served as a consultant for Seattle the year he was drafted.

Murray certainly has the wheels to warrant the comparison to Wilson, showing electric lateral agility and even better straight-line speed in this 55-yard touchdown run last week against West Virginia.

Though Texas was more statistically successful limiting Murray on the ground, he stole yards when needed, showcasing the same kind of game-altering mobility that the Baltimore Ravens have won two straight behind rookie dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner.

History is littered with athletic quarterbacks who lacked the poise and accuracy from the pocket necessary for success in the NFL.

It is here that Murray helped his cause the most Saturday against the Longhorns.

Take this throw, for example.

While true that Murray had an eternity to survey the field, he deserves credit for patience, vision and the laser-pointed rifle shot he delivers to the left sideline – a throw that shows all scouts need to know of his arm strength.

Accuracy down the seams is just as critical for success in the NFL and Murray showed that against the Longhorns, as well.

What about when Murray needs to move his feet, you ask? Watch him slide to his left to influence the defenders on this play before this quick zip, which perfectly leads tight end Grant Calcaterra for the go-ahead touchdown just before the half.

Of course, those who watched the thoroughly entertaining title game knows that Murray ultimately “hooked up” with Calcaterra against the Longhorns in the end zone a second time, perfectly lobbing the ball over tight defense to set up a one-handed grab likely even Odell Beckham, Jr. would appreciate.

As gifted as Murray clearly is, the NFL will have to compete with Major League Baseball for his services.

The Oakland Athletics invested the No. 9 overall pick of this past spring’s amateur draft on Murray, signing him to a five-year, $5 million contract. The A’s agreed to allow Murray to play college football this season but the understanding is that he will return to baseball fulltime at the end of the year.

Of course, after his latest brilliant performance, Murray may just decide that he’s enjoying football too much to give up.