Not every running quarterback in the NFL is the same. There are some who can beat any defender to the edge; some who can put a foot in the ground and elude a gang of defenders with one cut; others who can burst through a hole and run over a safety. I’m not sure if we’ve ever seen one who can consistently do this:
Through the first three weeks of the season, there has been nothing as thrilling to watch as Kyler Murray’s feet. Specifically the way he uses them to stop, stutter step, and start again so quickly and unpredictably that no defender has been able to deal with him in a one-on-one situation. A speedy quarterback breaking into the open field for a big chunk of yards is a pleasant sight, but it’s something else entirely to see one toy with defenders as audaciously as this. Barry Sanders would be proud.
Forget the utility of a quarterback who can run like that for a moment, and just think about how incredibly cool that looks. As NFL offenses have evolved in order to better maximize the abilities of dual-threat quarterbacks, the ways in which those quarterbacks are unleashed on the ground have been refined. Gone are the days of Michael Vick scrambling around in his own pocket before finding an open patch of grass to zoom through; today’s running quarterbacks are given the keys to option-heavy offenses and sent to the edges on designed run plays. This is all fun and good, but there’s much less spontaneity present in the dual-threat archetype than there was when Vick was blazing a trail almost two decades ago.
Murray plays in a modern, college-inspired offense with all sorts of cleverly designed runs, but so far this season it’s been hard not to notice that he’s playing with a little more sauce than everyone else. Watch the touchdown run from the Lions game again and you’ll notice that it was essentially a busted play. It was meant to get Murray to the end-zone pylon before anyone could realize which direction the ball was going, but Jeff Okudah sniffed it out and had Murray lined up in his sights. The prudent thing for Murray to do would have been to recognize that he didn’t have the angle and just continue his sprint towards the sideline until he either regained the edge or got pushed out of bounds. Instead, Murray decided to undress Okudah with a series of fakes and stutter steps.
It’s not even so much that Murray’s move worked, but that he tried it in the first place. The same goes for the high step he put on Landon Collins in Week 2 against Washington. There’s a difference between being a quarterback who can run and being a quarterback who knows he can wipe out a defense’s advantage with a few flicks of his feet.
The quarterback position is full of exciting players this year, and it’ll take a lot for a second-year player toiling away in the Arizona attention desert to become a household name. There’s only so much worship that can be performed in a week, and Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson all command plenty of attention. Murray’s looked great so far, though, rushing for 187 yards and four touchdowns to go along with 786 yards and four touchdowns through the air. But so far the numbers don’t matter quite as much as how he’s accruing them. It only took a few wicked stutter steps for searching the internet for Kyler Murray highlights to become a part of my Sunday night routine.