NFL Draft: From Doug Flutie to Russell Wilson to Baker Mayfield to Kyler Murray, short quarterbacks getting better shot
NORMAN — The day before he won the Heisman Trophy in December, Kyler Murray had a sit-down with Doug Flutie.
Even then, Flutie couldn’t have imagined that the players sitting beside him would’ve been in contention for the No. 1 overall pick. But going into Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft, The 5-foot-10 (and an eighth) Murray is expected to be taken within the first few picks and is considered the most likely choice at No. 1, whether it by by the Arizona Cardinals or through a trade to another team.
Flutie knows all-too-well the prejudices against quarterbacks without prototypical NFL height.
The 1984 Heisman Trophy winner wasn’t drafted until the 285th pick of the NFL Draft the following year and bounced between the USFL, NFL and the Canadian Football League before finding some short-term measure of NFL success nearly a decade and a half after initially being drafted.
Though Flutie didn’t have the baseball option in the mid-80s, he spoke from experience when he advised Murray during that conversation to run, not walk, to the Oakland A’s and leave football behind.
But the NFL has changed plenty since Flutie’s time.
The league’s evolution on short quarterbacks has been a quick one — first with Russell Wilson’s success and then last year as Baker Mayfield’s success made NFL executives even more comfortable without prototypical size under center. Even Flutie’s opinion has changed in the four months since their conversation in New York.
“When you look at Kyler Murray, he grabs that thing and lets it rip like a baseball,” Flutie said recently on the Rich Eisen Show. “He just turns it loose. It’s a natural throwing motion, he’s got plenty of arm strength, can make all the throws.”
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That, Flutie said, is the difference between plenty of short quarterbacks and Murray. While many can have success in college without pro-level arm strength, when they get to the NFL, their lack of arm strength is exposed.
Flutie was officially listed at 5-foot-10 but stands a bit shorter than Murray.
“I chuckle and laugh and wish I would’ve been 5-10 1/8th for a day to get my big check,” Flutie said on the show.
Just a few years ago, giving a serious chance to a sub-6-foot quarterback seemed unlikely. The 5-foot-11 Wilson, even with the immense success he had at North Carolina State and Wisconsin, wasn’t picked until the third round.
Wilson has turned out to be a star and the Seahawks recently signed him to a contract extension worth $87.6 million over six seasons with about two-thirds of the deal guaranteed.
Likewise Big 12 quarterbacks haven’t thrived much in the NFL until last season when both Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes put together big seasons.
The combination of both of those things has made picking Murray near the top of the first round much more palatable.
Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said the NFL’s evolution to more college-like offenses has certainly helped and that he doesn’t believe it would take that type of system for Murray to be successful.
“People are now not scared to draft somebody that 10 years ago would’ve been too short,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said. “Seeing guys have success and paying more attention to skill sets than how tall a guy is. I mean, how many 6-5 quarterbacks have been drafted throughout the years and can’t play dead, you know? I think the success of some of the smaller quarterbacks has helped, but I mean this guy is good in any era, any offense, any time.”