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Why the Raiders have to trade up and select Kyler Murray with the first overall pick

Touchdown Wire logo Touchdown Wire 3/14/2019 Doug Farrar
a group of football players on the field: Getty © Getty Getty

With the 2019 free agency space pretty much packed up, NFL teams are turning their attention back to draft prospects. Every team will now take a good look at the free agents they gained and lost, and that will affect their draft boards to a greater or lesser degree.

Here's one thing we know. The Raiders traded for Antonio Brown and signed Tyrell Williams, and they have Derek Carr ostensibly throwing deep passes to two of the NFL's best deep receivers.

This is a bit like asking Ed Sheeran to replace Dimebag Darrell.

Carr is not an estimable deep passer-last season, per Pro Football Focus, he threw passes of 20 or more air yards just 9.2% of the time, dead last among quarterbacks taking at least 50% of his team's snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

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You can argue to a point that Carr didn't have a lot of deep threats, but you could also look at Carr's tape and see the inherent deficiencies. Even in 2016, which was Carr's best NFL year before he was injured late in the season, he threw the ball deep on just 10% of his passing attempts. He's a decent deep thrower, nothing more. It's not a primary component of his skill set.

This presents a problem for Raiders head coach and offensive play-designer Jon Gruden, who must scheme his new deep targets open, and trust his quarterback to hit them in stride. In 2018, per PFF, Brown caught 14 passes of 20 or more air yards for 486 yards and a league-leading nine touchdowns. Obviously, Brown was playing with a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger whose deep arm is above reproach. And Williams, one of the more underrated deep targets in the NFL with the Chargers over the last few seasons, led his team last year with nine deep receptions on 17 targets for 348 yards and three touchdowns. Ain't no problem with Philip Rivers' deep throws, either.

After the Brown trade, the Raiders increased Brown's total compensation over the next three years from $38.925 million to $50.125 million, and bumped his guaranteed money from nothing to $30.125 million. They then gave Williams a four-year, $44 million contract. NFL contracts are always full of funny money, but on its face, you can argue that the Raiders just spent nearly $100 million in total on two receivers to expand their deep passing game.

And that's why the Raiders need to take their fourth overall pick, and one of their picks in the twentiess, trade up with the Cardinals to grab the first overall pick, and select Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray with that pick.

Let's throw the height questions, the combine questions, the pro day questions, and whatever garbage comes out of Charley Casserly's mouth aside and go back to the tape, which clearly shows Murray to be a rare deep thrower, with especially sound accuracy under pressure and on the move.

At the scouting combine, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was asked about Murray's height, and whether it would factor into his NFL potential.

"I don't know what the physical concerns are," Gruden said. "Are you talking about the height? I think that's been proven to not be as much a factor as maybe it was years ago. If you ask Russell Wilson or [Drew] Brees, or the kid in Cleveland [Baker Mayfield, obviously], I don't know that it's a true impact on the position or the performance."

Gruden is absolutely right in Murray's case. He's shown the ability to move to either side of the line and pick up throwing lanes, and he can also throw from the pocket just fine, even when he's got a bunch of linemen right in front of him. Per Pro Football Focus, Murray's average depth of target of 12.0 ranked seventh in the NCAA last season, and his deep passing completion percentage of 51.9% also ranked seventh. Per Sports Info Solutions, 2,264 of Murray's 4,361 passing yards last year were air yards, and he had a 148.6 rating on deep throws when not pressured, and a 113.8 rating when pressured. Overall, his 76.5 adjusted completion percentage against pressure ranked first overall in college football, which will play well when Murray's behind an offensive line that is very much a work in progress.

And when you hit the tape, you see a lot of preposterous throws like this one against Alabama. This 49-yard touchdown pass to Charleston Rambo late in the third quarter would have NFL analysts scrambling for words if Brees or Wilson had thrown it. Murray is clearly comfortable navigating through pressure in the pocket, and just as comfortable launching off his release point and making an ideally-timed pass.

With his consistent combination of timing, touch, and accuracy, Murray brings a skill set to the NFL that any team evaluator would find attractive. As a pure deep-ball thrower, especially when he's thrown off his spot, Murray has no peer in this draft class.

The Raiders have a situation where they've set themselves up as well as any NFL team to take shots downfield, Now, they need to make one more bold move and acquire the quarterback capable of making that off-season dream an on-field reality.

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