Promising starts: Analyzing rookie QBs Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones

ByJosh Weinfuss and Jordan Raanan ESPN logo
Thursday, October 17, 2019

The first meeting of the top two quarterbacks selected in the 2019 NFL draft -- Kyler Murray (No. 1 overall) and Daniel Jones (No. 6) -- happens Sunday. If their early success is any indication, there will be many more to come.

Murray and the Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1) travel to MetLife Stadium to face Jones and theNew York Giants (2-4) in a matchup that will focus on the young signal-callers (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

Murray and Jones have excited fans with big plays, hurt opposing defenses with their ability to scramble and shown the ability to lead a comeback.

Murray, who opened the season as the starter, is completing 64.3% of his passes in coach Kliff Kingsbury's system, with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Over his past two starts -- victories against the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals -- he has thrown for 593 yards with three TD passes and no interceptions.

Jones replaced Eli Manning as New York's starter in Week 3 and led a comeback to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He's 2-2, completing 60.7% of his passes with five touchdowns and six interceptions. He has struggled over his past two games -- losses against the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots -- but has been leading an offense depleted at the skill positions.

NFL Nation reporters Josh Weinfuss (Cardinals) and Jordan Raanan (Giants) analyze the early returns from the players expected to become the cornerstones of their respective franchises:

Kyler Murray, Cardinals

What he's doing well: Almost everything, to be honest. What's been most impressive, however, is Murray has shown he has an NFL-caliber arm with NFL-caliber accuracy. He can put his passes, whether short or deep, in places only his receivers can catch them. He's also figuring out how to manage Kingsbury's offense in the NFL, which means he knows when to tuck it and run, when to call an audible and when to throw it away.

What he's not doing well: He's made strides in recent weeks, but his decision making can still be improved -- particularly when it comes to getting rid of the ball. Murray has done much better the past two games in not taking bad sacks and throwing the ball away to live to see another down. Is it a coincidence the Cardinals won those two games? No. It's why they won.

How he's handling the hype: Murray has been groomed for this kind of attention his entire football career, so he entered the NFL ready for the questions, comments, praise and criticism. He's a naturally quiet person. Talk to anyone from his past and they'll tell you that. So, though he might not be the most talkative at the podium, which can come off as standoffish, it's more Murray just not being one to open up.

Telling stat: There are two: 0 and 1. Murray has thrown zero interceptions in the past two games, both of which the Cardinals won. His overall play and not making crucial mistakes played a large part in that. It's a sign Murray is understanding the scheme better and making better decisions. He also has been sacked just once in the past two games, after being sacked 20 times in the Cardinals' first four games. He and Kingsbury made it a priority for the quarterback to throw the ball away before taking a sack, big or small, and Murray has been much better in that regard.

Kingsbury quote: "Just progress. I mean that's what we've wanted from Week 1 until now. He's more comfortable in every phase and even in the engagement, understanding his teammates, understanding his coaches, understanding what it means to be the face of the organization, day in, day out. You can't have a bad day. You're kind of the pulse of this place. You come in, you have a bad attitude or have a bad day, it rubs off on everybody and you can see he's definitely matured in the first month and a half and hopefully that continues."

Daniel Jones, Giants

What he's doing well: More than anything, Jones has looked like he belongs from the moment he arrived. That hasn't changed since he entered the starting lineup in Week 3 and immediately led the Giants to back-to-back victories. Even when he threw interceptions on consecutive possessions against the Redskins, coach Pat Shurmur said by Jones' demeanor one would have thought he'd thrown two touchdown passes. Jones has flashed the ability to escape pressure, run when necessary and throws the ball downfield well. He makes some rookie mistakes but also has made enough plays to provide optimism for the future.

What he's not doing well: Jones needs to take care of the football. He has six interceptions and two lost fumbles in his four starts. That's too many turnovers, even if the past two games were against two of the league's best defenses and without some of his top weapons. Jones also has struggled under pressure. He's completed 45.7% of his passes for 160 yards with no touchdown passes and two interceptions when pressured this season. That needs to improve. It likely will with reinforcements on the way. Jones has played less than two quarters with a healthy Saquon Barkley. Tight end Evan Engram (knee) and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion) are also on the mend.

How he's handling the hype: Masterfully. Jones rarely looks affected by the spotlight that comes with being a controversial draft pick and playing in New York. He barely flinched when his own fan base booed and talking heads mocked the selection. He seems unaffected by stepping into the massive shoes of Manning or the pressure of key moments. Jones led a dramatic comeback in his first career start and was doing his own laundry the following day. That explains him perfectly. Nothing seems to fluster the young quarterback, even a few turnovers or rough outings. His Eli-like demeanor comes in handy on a regular basis.

Telling stat: 8.50 air yards per pass attempt. It is eighth among all quarterbacks since Jones became the starter in Week 3. It shows his aggressiveness and willingness to push the ball downfield, even without some of his top weapons. He's not scared.

Shurmur quote: "I talked to him last week. It's kind of an interesting month he's had. He went through a lot the first month. Learned a lot. Did a lot of really good things. And I think we're looking forward to him continuing to improve in all facets of playing quarterback."

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