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Five Takeaways From the NFL Combine, Day 1: The Quarterback Paradigm Is Shifting

Kyler Murray could be one of the shortest QBs ever drafted, and teams indicated on Wednesday that they won’t let the talented Oklahoma passer slip. Plus, more observations from Indianapolis.

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Rejoice! The Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl win is now officially ancient history—you don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s now time to look forward: The 2019 NFL combine is already here, and a rotating cast of Ringer staffers will provide you with a collection of five thoughts from each day in Indianapolis.

1. The quarterback paradigm is rapidly changing.

There’s been a handful of outliers over the years—Sonny Jurgensen, Doug Flutie, and Russell Wilson come to mind—but throughout the NFL’s history, quarterbacks have been at least 6 feet tall. You need to be able to see over your offensive line to read the field, the thinking has gone. Short quarterbacks can’t play from the pocket. They’ll get too many passes knocked down.

That traditional philosophy may still hold true for some of the league’s more old-school general managers and coaches (like, for instance, John Elway), but it seemed clear on Wednesday in Indianapolis that, as a whole, the rigid standards the NFL has traditionally held for the position are quickly shifting.

“Like the rest of the league, I think the kid is fascinating,” said Raiders first-year GM Mike Mayock, in reference to Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, who’s going to measure in somewhere around 5-foot-10. “It’s kind of where we’re going as a league at the quarterback position: Is he too small? Is he dynamic? I think we’re all trying to figure him out.”

But this shift is about more than hype. With the way the pro game has changed, with more spread offense and college-style looks, coaches and decision-makers are starting to acknowledge that the old NFL archetypes no longer always apply. “I think all 32 teams in the league are trying to figure out the entire position,” said Mayock. “I think over the last eight to 10 years we’ve had to change how we evaluate almost every position … quarterback is at the front end of that.”

“Times have changed,” said Giants head coach Pat Shurmur. “Quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes.”

Shurmur’s comment seemed to contradict a report that came out earlier this month that stated the Giants thought Murray was “probably a little too small.” Per Shurmur, though, the evaluation ultimately just comes down to a signal-caller’s traits and abilities—not his build. “You have to watch them play: They need to be productive, they need to make good decisions; throw the ball accurately; throw the ball on time. They’ve got to lead their team to victories. They’ve got to do all the things necessary to play the position.”

Wilson, Drew Brees (who’s 6-foot), and even Baker Mayfield (6-foot-1) have shown in recent years that a lack of height doesn’t prevent them from doing what’s necessary at quarterback. That’s opened the eyes of NFL decision-makers. “You just see one person do it, and other people realize things are possible,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “You watch snowboarding and stuff and people never thought that you could do more than ... 720. Then all of a sudden [someone] does three of them, and then a year later, 10 of them do that,” said Shanahan. “So yeah, we’d all like tall guys with the biggest arm in the world who can run faster than everyone and who knows how to play quarterback. [But] you haven’t seen those [too often] over the years.

“Like I’ll say about every position, there’s no absolutes at anything,” Shanahan said. “Everyone gets too big into [the line of thinking] ‘Odds are, the taller you are, the easier it is,’ but short guys can play, and that’s being proven over and over.”

That paradigm shift is happening at the perfect time for Murray, whose stock seems to be on the rise. Speaking of which …

2. Don’t count Kyler Murray out at no. 1.

Coaches and decision-makers try not to show their cards too much during combine pressers, so we’re often left reading the tea leaves to interpret what’s said. So, while it certainly could mean nothing, the way Arizona general manager Steve Keim phrased his response to the question of whether Josh Rosen is the team’s quarterback left many of us scratching our chins.

“Yeah. He is right now, for sure,” Keim said.

Okaaaaaaaaay. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for the former first-rounder who struggled mightily as a rookie. Keim may just be throwing up a smokescreen or looking to bolster the value of the top spot, but we could also just take his reply at face value―that Rosen’s their guy ... unless they get someone better.

With rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury taking over in the desert, it feels eminently possible the Cardinals may just pick Murray with the first overall pick. The reasons are clear: Job security is fleeting at the pro level, Kingsbury may only get one shot at being an NFL head coach, and the quarterback he hitches his wagon to could make or break his career. If Keim and Kingsbury feel that Murray (or another draft-eligible quarterback) gives them a better chance to right the ship as a franchise, don’t be surprised if they make the bold move and pick a first-round quarterback for the second straight year.

3. Mike Mayock brings the Raiders some much-needed front-office harmony.

This year’s draft could be a franchise-shaping event for the Raiders, who hold three first-round picks and more overall draft capital than any other team. Of course, the key for Oakland is to use all those valuable picks on the types of foundational players that they can build around for the long term.

That’s where Mayock comes in. It’s unclear exactly how much power the team’s new GM wields or whether he, or head coach Jon Gruden, will be the one making the picks on draft night. But the biggest impact Mayock may provide is in giving the Raiders’ front office a level of harmony it sorely missed in 2018.

“I’ve always believed the biggest dysfunction in NFL buildings is the inability for the coaching staff and the scouting staff to be on the same page philosophically consistently,” said Mayock on Wednesday, unintentionally (or intentionally) describing Oakland’s strange 2018 front-office set-up. After being handed a 10-year, $100 million contract last January, Gruden retained then-general manager Reggie McKenzie and his staff before essentially building a parallel and separate scouting staff of his own. Per reports, Gruden and his scouting team had their own draft and free agency board completely separate from that of McKenzie and his staff. The Mayock hire, at least in theory, gives the team a chance to smash that divide and get its entire front office working as a single, congruent unit.

“I can walk in the building Day 1 and know all those coaches,” said Mayock. “Immediately there’s a bond. I think that’s been the biggest thing we’ve been able to do in the couple of months is just build that philosophy and understand that there’s really only one way to do things in our building.

“I get to sit down with Jon Gruden and [defensive coordinator] Paul Guenther and define who we are and what we want in our building,” Mayock continued. “I think it helps our scouts redefine what they’re looking for when they’re on the road. Understanding what Guenther’s defensive end looks like. What Gruden’s X receiver looks like. … I can walk over to the coach’s side of the building at whatever time of the day or night and have a conversation with Jon, with Paul, with [special teams coordinator] Rich Bisaccia, with [senior defensive assistant] Jimmy O’Neil. Go right to [offensive line coach] Tom Cable; just go right to them because I’ve known them all for 15, 20, 25 years.”

He may be unproven and green as a GM, but Mayock’s role as a much-needed bridge between the scouts and coaches could be the key to Oakland acing this pivotal draft.

4. There’s plenty of length at tackle.

The combine was free of on-field action on Wednesday, with offensive linemen, running backs, and specialists going through the physical-measurements stage of the event. But it quickly became clear that teams looking for long-armed offensive tackles will have plenty of options in April’s draft. The traditional benchmark for optimal arm length at tackle is 34 inches, and a trio of Florida linemen easily passed the test: Probable first-rounder Jawaan Taylor registered 35⅛-inch arms and an 84¾-inch wingspan; Fred Johnson measured out with 34-inch arms and an 84½-inch wingspan; and Martez Ivey came in with eye-popping 36¼-inch arms and a massive, position-group best 86¼-inch wingspan. Add in Elon tackle Oli Udoh (35⅜-inch arms and an 85⅛-inch wingspan) and Ole Miss tackle Greg Little (35¼-inch arms and an 85-inch wingspan), and this tackle group has some extraordinary length. Arm length and wingspan isn’t everything at the position, but the guys who measured out best in the group could each see their stock get a significant boost.

5. Josh Jacobs and David Montgomery headline the big backs group.

Modern running backs come in all shapes and sizes, but for teams who still value mass at the running back position, this year’s combine headliners are Alabama’s Josh Jacobs and Iowa State’s David Montgomery. That duo leads a group of nine running backs who eclipsed the 220-pound threshold; both are well-built, physical, and elusive runners with prototypical size to become three-down bell cow backs early in their careers. A running back’s weight isn’t everything, but Jacobs and Montgomery showed on Wednesday that they’ve got the girth to go with their hard-nosed, angry running style.

An earlier version of this story misstated Greg Little’s college team. He was a tackle at Ole Miss, not Mississippi State.