Seattle Seahawks

Elite defensive linemen, Kyler Murray’s risky move away from baseball headline 2019 NFL combine

FILE - In this Dec. 29, 2018, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray throws a pass during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Alabama in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Oakland Athletics remain hopeful of seeing Heisman Trophy winner Murray in their baseball uniform when spring training begins next month. While the Oklahoma quarterback declared for the NFL draft last week, the prized outfielder could report to A’s spring training in Mesa, Arizona--and he has an invite to big league camp. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 29, 2018, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray throws a pass during the second half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Alabama in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Oakland Athletics remain hopeful of seeing Heisman Trophy winner Murray in their baseball uniform when spring training begins next month. While the Oklahoma quarterback declared for the NFL draft last week, the prized outfielder could report to A’s spring training in Mesa, Arizona--and he has an invite to big league camp. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) AP

It’s time for the NFL combine. And guess what are headlining again.

Yes, quarterbacks. One in particular.

Kyler Murray just walked away from $4.6 million guaranteed as Major League Baseball’s first-round draft choice of the Oakland Athletics. This week, the Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma will walk into the NFL combine a world away from baseball’s spring training he’s skipping. He’ll be in frosty Indiana intent on becoming the first player drafted in the first round in both football and baseball.

Murray — his performance and explanation about choosing the unknown, absolutely not-guaranteed life of the injury-filled NFL over baseball — will dominate this annual scouting showcase that runs through next Monday.

But Murray is just one headliner. This is a draft class deep in elite, NFL-ready defensive linemen, particularly edge rushers and dynamic tackles. The best appear to be end Ed Oliver from Houston, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Clemson teammates Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. Those four are so prized they could be drafted within the first dozen picks when the draft begins April 25.

Good for the Seahawks that defensive linemen and run-stuffing tackles, particularly, are what they need for 2019, and beyond.

Bad for the Seahawks: They currently own just four picks in April’s draft.

That’s why this week in Indianapolis will be one of shopping as much as scouting for Seattle.

The four picks would be the fewest in team history. But if you believe the Seahawks are only going to end up with four selections in this draft, Indiana is full of mountains.

Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider haven’t used Seattle’s original first-round selection since 2011. Trading down isn’t just a goal for them, it’s a way of draft life.

Now, more than in any other Carroll-Schneider offseason, it’s an imperative for the team that is coming off its sixth playoffs in seven years. The Seahawks must eventually find partners to trade down from their 21st-overall choice in round one, to acquire more picks over the final six rounds.

For the seventh consecutive combine since the 2012 one when Russell Wilson convinced them to draft him that year, the Seahawks’ staff will be focused away from the most spotlighted prospects among the 336 invited to the combine, the quarterbacks.

It was 337 invitees originally last month, but the NFL rescinded its invitation to Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson. A league background check showed Ferguson was convicted of misdemeanor battery as a college freshman. A report this weekend from NFL Network said the league has decided to let Ferguson have “limited” interviews with teams Wednesday at the combine.

Many were criticizing the league for excluding of college football’s career sack leader from the combine for a fight at a McDonald’s. But the NFL reportedly told teams last month a prospect would be removed from the combine “if a background check reveals a conviction of a felony or misdemeanor involving violence.”

As for Murray, he isn’t the only top passer trying out for the NFL in Indianapolis this week. Others include Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Ryan Finley from North Carolina State and West Virginia’s Will Grier.

But the Seahawks have far more pressing needs than quarterback. Plus, they have Wilson entrenched as their franchise guy. Ignore last week’s absurd, unfounded radio rumor he wants to play for the New York Giants because his singer-marketer wife Ciara wants to live there.

Wilson will, in the next year, get a second Seahawks contract extension that is likely to make him the league’s highest paid player.

“That’s very much in our plans,” Carroll said last month of a new deal for Wilson.

So the Seahawks will mostly be like all of us with Murray: spectators to the show.

Early word from Indianapolis is Murray may not throw at this combine but will do the other testing and the team interviews, that he may choose to save showing off his passing for a later Pro Day back at Oklahoma. That’s what the divas of drafts do, at the advice of their agents: string NFL scouts and teams along past the combine, to boost their perceived value to the top of the first round.

But is Murray a top-10 pick? Will he be perhaps the first quarterback taken in this draft to the first picking team that needs one immediately and most, the New York Giants at No. 6? He’s tantalizing, yet far from a sure thing.

This time last year he was more accomplished in baseball than football; he had yet to start a college football game.

But, man, that one year as a quarterback was a crazy-good one: 4,361 yards passing, another 1,001 rushing and 54 total touchdowns (42 throwing, 12 running) to lead Oklahoma to the College Football Playoffs.

And the NFL is, of course, above all else a quarterback-driven league.

“The night I got drafted to the A’s—obviously it was a great day of my life—but I’ve been a football player my whole life,” Murray told ESPN Saturday during an OU basketball in Norman, Oklahoma. “I didn’t know how the NFL felt about me before this season because I hadn’t played.

“Going into this (football) season, (it) was to put myself in the best position possible. Obviously, when you win, good things happen.

“A lot of good stuff happened this year.”

More good stuff may happen for Murray this spring. But it appears it won’t be in baseball.

This week at the combine will begin to give him and the NFL hints on how much turning his back on baseball’s guarantees will be worth his risk.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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