It was on the outdoor stage at Music City’s First and Broadway that Murray was selected No. 1 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Nearly 2 1/2 years later, he returns to the city where that life-changing moment took place as the Cardinals open the 2021 season on the road against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, September 12.
“It was a great night,” Murray told reporters on Wednesday, September 8, “but it definitely seems like a long time ago.”
Since that April 2019 night, Murray has continued to collect NFL honors. He was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 after throwing for 3,722 yards and 20 touchdowns, as well as rushing for 544 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and four TDs.
He was only the second player in NFL history to throw for more than 3,500 yards and rush for at least 500 yards in their rookie season. The only other player to do it was former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Murray followed that up last season with his first Pro Bowl selection after throwing for 3,971 yards and 26 touchdowns, along with 819 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and 11 TDs on the ground. He’s the first player in NFL history to throw for more than 7,500 yards and score at least 45 passing and 15 rushing touchdowns in their first two seasons.
Arizona’s win total has improved each season since making the speedy 5-foot-10, 207-pound quarterback from Oklahoma the top pick in the draft, but the Murray-led Cardinals have yet to make the playoffs. It’s a natural next step for Murray, but not one the 24-year-old quarterback is focusing on.
“We take it one day at a time, one game at a time,” he said. “If we do that, I’ll think we’ll end up where we want to be. I’m not too worried about the playoffs.”
GM Touts Murray as MVP Candidate
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim says he expects Murray to continue his ascension in his third NFL season, predicting the quarterback will be in the MVP conversation in 2021.
“All of a sudden, I think the guy is going to be a candidate for MVP of the National Football League,” Keim told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s “Burns and Gambo” on Friday, September 10. “He’s a guy that I see has continued to make growth.”
Coach Kliff Kingsbury, who like Murray begins his third season with the Cardinals, said he’s confident his quarterback will be even better in 2021 than he was a year ago.
“I expect him to play at a high level,” Kingsbury told reporters Wednesday, September 8. “I thought last year he took a big step, and I expect him to take another big one this season.”
The Cardinals made some significant moves during the offseason to surround Murray with more talent, signing seven-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green to a one-year deal in free agency, and trading a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft for three-time Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson. Arizona also received a seventh-round pick from the Las Vegas Raiders in the deal.
Green, 33, gives Murray another reliable target in the passing game, making it more risky for teams to double-team star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. In Hopkins’ first season in Arizona, the five-time Pro Bowl selection ranked second in the NFL in receptions (115) and third in receiving yards (1,407) in 2020.
At 6-foot-4, Green is “probably, in my career, the tallest receiver I’ve ever played with — high school, college or the NFL,” Murray said, adding that he’s been impressed with the former Cincinnati Bengals receiver in training camp and practice.
“(Green) is who he is for a reason, and he’s done what he’s done in his career for a reason,” he said. “Now to be able to play with him, hopefully I can continue his success.”
An ‘Absolute Animal’ in the Middle
Keim said Hudson also will be key to Murray’s success this season. The Cardinals struggled with defensive pressure up the middle in 2020, and the 6-foot-2, 315-pound center was brought in to plug that hole.
“Solidifying that middle of our offensive line, to me, was going to be one of the top goals this offseason,” Keim said. “And to be able to acquire a guy like Rodney Hudson, I can’t tell you how important it was. It’s going to pay huge dividends for this football team at the end of the year.”
Hudson, 32, started all 92 games at center in his six seasons with the Raiders from 2015-20. He began his NFL career in Kansas City in 2011 and started 127 of the 143 games he played in four seasons with the Chiefs.
“When you get to know Rodney, he’s got sort of a low-key personality,” Keim said. “But make no mistake, this guy is an absolute animal on the field.”
Hudson continues to perform as one the top centers in the league, with Pro Football Focus ranking him eighth as he enters his 11th NFL season. Keim praised Hudson for his “extremely high football IQ” and his ability to communicate with the quarterback prior to the snap about what he’s seeing from defenses.
“Rodney’s seen it all and is rarely wrong,” he said.
With the offseason additions of Green and Hudson, along with the emergence of second-round draft pick Rondale Moore, Murray said he believes the Cardinals have “all the pieces” to be great on offense in 2021.
“As long we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, be consistent every week, earn it throughout the week and put it out there on Sunday, I think the sky’s the limit,” he said.