TEMPE Ariz. — With about eight minutes left in the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray took the snap, dropped back for a beat and then took off up the field. Nine yards later, he slid, left leg crossed under his outstretched right leg.
It was safe. It was clean. It was a textbook baseball slide.
For a brief moment, Murray’s two athletic worlds collided.
“It helps a lot,” Murray said of his baseball skills on the football field. “I’ve seen a lot of terrible slides in my day. It’s a lot smoother than other people, you know, the pop-up slide, stuff like that, just being able to get down whenever I want. Yeah, I think it helps.”
The baseball slide is easy, if you know how to do it: “Get your feet up first, your cleats up, butt down and be ready to tuck,” said Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, a fourth-round pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and Murray’s opponent this Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox). “Especially in football, you have to tuck the ball away, so that’s a big component of it. The main thing, though, is getting your feet up.”
In early February, Murray made the life-altering decision to pass up a baseball career — after getting picked in the first round of the 2018 Major League Baseball draft by the Oakland Athletics — to pursue the NFL. It’s a decision Wilson and others had made before him. Only Murray made history as the first high school All-American in football and baseball and then as the first to be picked in the first rounds of both the NFL and MLB drafts.
The traits that made Murray a first-round pick in baseball can be seen as the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick operates on the football field: His arm angles, arm strength, vision, quick hands, footwork and hand-eye coordination are easy to spot.
The latter, however, may help him the most, said Arizona Diamondbacks closer Archie Bradley, who was nearly a two-sport star at Oklahoma years before Murray won the Heisman Trophy there. Bradley signed a letter of intent to play baseball and football with the Sooners as an 18-year-old high school senior in 2011, but decided to take a $5 million signing bonus after the Diamondbacks drafted him seventh overall.
Bradley pointed out that hitting a baseball, fielding a grounder and throwing a strike are some of the hardest things to do in sports, and have made some of the world’s greatest athletes look foolish while trying. But those that can do them have a hand-eye coordination advantage.
“They help make things easier on the football field,” Bradley said.
As does good footwork, he added.
“When you can move around efficiently, you can sidestep, guys move up the right way and then set your feet to throw, it’s a huge advantage,” Bradley said. “That’s a ton of guys’ problems once they get to the next level.”
It’s all been like déjà vu for Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Before Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes — the reigning NFL MVP — played a down for Kingsbury at Texas Tech, he was drafted in the 37th round of the 2014 MLB draft but opted to focus on football. He threw in the low 90s but scouts saw Mahomes as more of a power hitter than a pitcher like his father, long-time MLB pitcher Pat Mahomes.
Like Mahomes, Murray has shown instincts developed on the diamond.
“From what I’ve seen, if it’s a bad snap, those guys are catching and pivoting like they’re turning two,” Kingsbury said. “They have that type of football work that’s been drilled in them and then just the different arm angles they can throw from.”
Although Murray doesn’t like talking about his baseball background much anymore, he did say that throwing a baseball “helps a lot” with his arm angles as a quarterback. And there are mental advantages as well. Baseball is a sport of failure. The best baseball players get hits in three out of 10 at-bats (Murray batted .296 in his last season at Oklahoma). That may end up being the best preparation for his transition to the NFL, where he’s currently 0-2-1 three games into his rookie season.
“You fail,” he said. “You fail a lot. You just got to learn to deal with it, go on and next at-bat, stuff like that.”
Bradley, who’s struck up a friendship with Murray since the rookie moved to Arizona this summer, has been impressed by Murray’s “mental strength.”
“Physically, obviously, it goes without saying you have to be gifted,” Bradley said of playing two sports. “I mean, because to play one sport professionally or in the collegiate level is hard enough, and to play two at a high level where you’re considered a prospect or to be drafted is, I mean, you can count the guys on one hand or maybe two hands that have been able to do that.”
But choosing football over baseball was not easy, and when it came time for Murray to make a decision, he talked with another NFL quarterback who was drafted to play professional baseball.
Wilson was drafted in the fourth round in 2010 by the Colorado Rockies and knew what Murray went through. Wilson played two seasons in the minors with Colorado, batting .228 before he was picked up by the Texas Rangers in the Rule 5 draft in 2013. He was drafted by the Seahawks in the third round in 2012.
He imparted some of his wisdom from that experience with Murray, who Wilson thinks had a “great baseball career.”
“He was supposed to be one of the top players in baseball,” Wilson said. “We definitely talked before the draft and just talking about what he should do and what his thought process should be going into the combine and all that kind of stuff. So, we definitely talked about those things.
“I told him do what he really kind of dreamed about doing ever since he was little. … Try everything you can to keep your options open in that sense. I think that to be able to have the gift of playing pro football and pro baseball is a special gift. There’s only so many people in the world who get to do that and have the opportunity to do that at a high level too. I think that, more than anything else, is look at it as a blessing, not a curse. Sometimes you can get worried about what may happen or this or that and am I making the right decision. Just go for it. At the end of the day, something great is going to happen.”
ESPN Seattle Sehawks reporter Brady Henderson contributed.