Kyler Murray, MVP candidate.
This deep into the season, it isn't hyperbole. Given his team's success – and make no mistake, the MVP's team, at least in the NFL, better have one of the best records – Murray has rightfully been mentioned alongside the Buccaneers' Tom Brady and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers as the top three possibilities with five weeks left in the season.
The Cardinals quarterback, as he did as a rookie being asked about NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (which he eventually won), points to team success. The team wins, awards come.
That doesn't mean he doesn't appreciate being in the conversation.
"As far as being mentioned with Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, those type of guys, those are the guys you look up to, the best to have ever played the game," Murray said Thursday. "It's definitely an honor. Hopefully we can keep playing at a high level."
That Murray, who missed three games with his ankle injury, is still in the debate speaks not only to his excellent season but also the chaotic nature of the NFL season. Early favorites like Rams QB Matthew Stafford and Ravens QB Lamar Jackson have faded.
It's possible the Cards' success without Murray – 2-1 with Colt McCoy at quarterback – hurts Murray's argument, but at the same time, had the Cardinals gone 0-3 in that time frame, the Cards' overall record likely would have torpedoed his chances at this point.
Now he's got a chance to shine on a national stage when the Cardinals host the Rams on "Monday Night Football." A good showing and a win not only clinches a playoff spot for the Cardinals and all but clinch the NFC title, it would also push forward his MVP candidacy.
"He's probably more familiar with that type of scenario than I am," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "He won the Heisman, he had a huge game against West Virginia on national TV, 500 yards something like that. When you have those moments, it definitely moves the meter."
Murray's statistics are quite as gaudy as Brady's or even Rodgers', thanks to the missing time and even last week, when the wind and rain limited Murray to 15 pass attempts.
But he's been careful with the football, and he brings with him the element Brady and Rodgers don't really have, which is major damage running the ball – even if Murray's rushing numbers are way down this season as they've leaned more on running backs.
"Since he's been here all he's done is gotten us better as a team and led the way," wide receiver Christian Kirk said of his QB. "In this third year he's truly maturing and playing at the level we all know he's capable of playing. Impact on the game, efficient with it, not turning it over and still be explosive with his arm and his legs, he's just the total package and viable for that (MVP) honor."
Murray has already tied Hall of Famer Kurt Warner for most games with a passing rating of at least 120 in a game – five – this year and still has five chances to break it. He became the fourth-youngest player ever to pass for 10,000 yards in a career, and leads the NFL in passer rating at 112.1.
(Rodgers is fourth at 105.5; Brady fifth at 104.0).
Murray also has six games this season completing at least 70 percent of his passes, and his 15 in his career already has tied Warner for most in Cardinals' history.
That's one of the stats of which Murray is most proud, because it means progress is being made – and admitted he learned the "magnitude" of checking he ball down on the pro level and getting completions when he can.
"As an offense, that keeps us on the field, and it means we doing something good," Murray said.
Because his raw statistical totals are down a bit because of the missed time, Murray might actually have moved into an underrated status – the latest Pro Bowl vote has Murray ninth in the NFL and sixth among NFC signal-callers. With two of the next three games on national TV (including Christmas night against the Colts), "he'll get a chance to show if he is," Kingsbury said.
Murray seems happy with where his play is right now. Whether that wins him an MVP seems moot at the moment, given the team's collective goal. Murray knows his play is at the heart of that potential success.
"Every player wants to do things as quick as possible, some have success earlier than others," Murray said. "It's different for every person. For me, I'd love to get better each and every year. That's the goal, each and every day, each and every game.
"I think we're on that track."
Images from Thursday's practice in Tempe.