OWINGS MILLS — The comparisons between Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray are inevitable.
Dual-threat quarterbacks. A rookie and a second-year player. Heisman Trophy winners. First-round draft picks.
The two will meet head-to-head Sunday as Jackson and the Ravens host Murray’s Arizona Cardinals.
“I think if guys really are dynamic athletes and great runners, then they want to lump them together,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday during a conference call with Baltimore media. “But in my opinion, they’re two guys that can be the future of the sport, if they continue to progress and put in the work and the time. They have all the tools. They have the competitive nature. Their entire lives, all they’ve ever done is won and been the best player on the field.”
Mobile quarterback are becoming more prevalent as the NFL continues to become even more of a pass-happy league. But as Kingsbury called them the future of the sport, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh pointed to some old-timers who made plays with their legs long ago.
“I think the ability of a quarterback to move around and create on their own is really important. There have been a lot of guys that have been able to do that over the years going back to Sammy Baugh,” Harbaugh said, referencing the Washington Redskins quarterback from 1937-52. “He was a little bit before my time, but I do remember Fran Tarkenton. We’ve had to deal with it in our division with Ben Roethlisberger in his own way, the Aaron Rodgerses. Michael Vick, obviously, was a great creator in Philadelphia. James Urban [quarterbacks coach] was there with him. So, there’s a long history of that. It’s probably something that is going to expand in different ways with different schemes now.”
The Ravens have hinted at a revolutionary offense built around Jackson’s skill set, but have yet to display any of those unorthodox schemes. They likely did not want to show too much in the preseason, and last week’s 59-3 dismantling of the Miami Dolphins did not force them to dive too deep into the playbook.
Kingsbury was hired by the Cardinals after five seasons as head coach of his alma mater Texas Tech. Arizona then drafted Murray No. 1 overall, fresh off a Heisman-winning season, with hopes of creating a college-style offense tailored to him.
“He is a unique talent. He’s very creative as a football player,” Harbaugh said of Murray. “He has excellent arm talent. Obviously, he can move around and escape in the pocket, very good vision. He’s been in that offense, really, his whole career, so he’s very effective with that offense. That’s what we have to deal with this game.”
Murray had an uneven NFL debut Sunday as the Cardinals tied the Detroit Lions, 27-27, but got stronger as the game went on to lead a two-touchdown comeback. Jackson, on the other hand, enjoyed a record-setting performance and was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Both quarterbacks relied almost entirely on their arms, recording only three rushes apiece.
“I knew he was a tremendous quarterback. Being a former quarterback, I was very impressed by the way he stepped up to the plate and hit every throw. He threw, I think, a perfect passer rating. That says a lot about his competitive nature. I just couldn’t have been more impressed,” Kingsbury said of Jackson. “There’s a misnomer that he’s not a passer or a skilled passer, but you turn on that tape, and it doesn’t take long to see just how good he is. So, I knew he was very good. I think that kind of solidified just how elite of a quarterback he is in this league.”
He remembered the first time he watched Jackson play.
“My first time I saw him was they were playing Texas A&M in a bowl game,” Kingsbury recalled. “I see this kid running around as a true freshman and making plays. He was the best player on the field, and I was just blown away by how good he was as a true freshman – his command of the offense, all of these different things. And then just to watch him progress in where he’s at now, it’s been fun to watch.”
Murray was a freshman at Texas A&M that season, prior to his transfer to Oklahoma. He and Jackson have been linked since even before then.
“When I came out of high school, he was the No. 1 dual-threat [quarterback], so I’ve been hearing about him ever since high school,” Jackson said. “He’s a great quarterback – fast, can throw the ball, a former baseball player.”
Jackson joked that he was “probably 100th” ranked among high school quarterbacks back in 2015.
Both have faced questions about their ability to play the position at the NFL level. Many pundits suggested Jackson switch to wide receiver to better utilize his speed. Murray was said to be too small, and his height (5-foot-10) was among the biggest storylines from the NFL Scouting Combine.
“Just be you,” Jackson said his advice to Murray would be. “Do what got you here. Play ball, play with speed.”
The Ravens need to respect Murray’s ability to throw the deep ball in order to be successful on Sunday. They must also always be prepared for him to tuck it and make a play with his legs.
If only they were able to practice against someone similar.
“Going against Lamar every day in practice, it sets us up for this game perfectly. He’s a mobile quarterback as well,” linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said. “He can throw the ball deep. He can get out of the pocket. So, going against Lamar puts us in a perfect position.”
Follow Sean Grogan on Twitter: @Sean_CecilWhig