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Second-Year Leap Could Push Kyler Murray To Elite Status

Cardinals quarterback hopes to follow blueprint of Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson

QB Kyler Murray is not shying away from high expectations after a stellar rookie season.
QB Kyler Murray is not shying away from high expectations after a stellar rookie season.

Lamar Jackson is a virtual shoo-in to be named the 2019 Most Valuable Player at NFL Honors on Saturday in Miami.

The next day, the 2018 winner -- Patrick Mahomes -- will play in the Super Bowl.

While the quarterbacks may have disparate skillsets, they ascended to superstardom on similar timelines.

Mahomes sat as a rookie with the Chiefs and then became a franchise-altering talent in his second season. Jackson went through typical rookie ups-and-downs with the Ravens and then busted through in his second season.

Relay this to Kyler Murray – the precocious Cardinals quarterback entering his second year in 2020 – and he not only understands the insinuation, but welcomes it.

"I think their offenses are very quarterback friendly; I think we have a very quarterback-friendly offense," Murray said. "And as far as the elite status goes, I don't play to be mediocre. I think that's a deal that can be obtained. So we'll see next year."

Murray is an NFL Honors awards candidate as well on Saturday, in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year. There's no questioning the bright start to his career, but for the Cardinals to become a playoff contender as early as 2020, his offseason growth must be exponential.

For Jackson, the second-year leap was dramatic. For other young quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, the improvement stalled, or worse, regressed.

Naturally, the Cardinals are optimistic. Jackson was far from a finished product at the end of his rookie season but flourished with a year under his belt.

"You see what Lamar was in that last playoff game (of 2018), the previous season walking off the field, to what he is now," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "We'd love to take that next step with a young quarterback and build it around him and have that type of success. That's obviously reaching high, but there's a pretty good example."

Rams coach Sean McVay watched his own quarterback, Jared Goff, make significant strides from year one to two, and outlined how Murray can follow the same path.

"Athletically and from a physically-gifted standpoint, there are no limitations that he has," McVay said. "I think repetition is the mother of learning, so the more experience that he's able to gain, the more opportunities he has to run some of their core plays versus a variety of looks, the faster he can play, the more the game starts to slow down. … More than anything, it's just experience, because he has done a lot of really good things he can build on."

Even though Russell Wilson's numbers were fantastic as both a rookie and as a second-year player, Pete Carroll saw improvement in his quarterback from that first season to the next. The Seahawks coach believes a player settles in after the whirlwind of a rookie year.

"There's just so many things happening for the first time for them that they have to deal with," Carroll said. "That's all behind them, and so they have a whole different outlook. The game slows down considerably, probably more so than any other jump year."

Kingsbury had a sitdown conversation with Murray at the end of 2019, going over the freshly-finished season and mapping out a plan moving forward. He believes his young quarterback can make strides in preparation and leadership heading into his second year.

"The skillset is phenomenal," Kingsbury said. "You can see that every week he plays. It's just consistency in all those other things off the field that really make the great ones the great players they are."

As an NFC West foe, McVay will face Murray twice a year for the foreseeable future, so any praise is a double-edged sword. Even so, McVay trusts his eyes, which tell him Murray has a path to stardom.

"He has all the things you're looking for, and it's not good for the teams in the division," McVay said. "I'm a fan of the game, so I respect it, but I'm not looking forward to playing against him."

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