The sun will soon set on the Oakland Raiders as the storied franchise, one of the NFL’s more peripatetic, will be playing its final season in the Bay Area before decamping for the desert of Las Vegas. This also marks the second year of the rebuild under Jon Gruden, which can’t help but be an improvement on last season’s 4-12 showing.
A year after trading away Khalili Mack, the Raiders defense saw itself plummet to the bottom of the NFL rankings with just 13 sacks — more than coincidence? You decide. In an effort to address this gross deficiency, they used the fourth-overall pick in the 2019 draft to take Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell, who racked up 26 sacks over his last three years at Clemson, while helping the team win two national titles. He should be a big help.
Ferrell’s primary target in this game will be the Cardinals’ own highly touted first-rounder, Kyler Murray, one of the most talked-about prospects ever leading up to the draft. The nation was on pins and needles for weeks as Murray tried to choose between a career in the NFL or a shot at Major League Baseball with the Oakland A’s, who had already rolled the dice by drafting him despite his indecision.
No one was happier than the Arizona Cardinals when Murray declared his preference for the NFL. Murray was officially anointed as the Cardinals starting QB last week, with rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury saying “Anytime there is uncertainty at that position, it can be tough on the psyche of a lot of players.”
This will be the second straight year the Cards open the season with a rookie lined up under center. Last year it was Josh Rosen, but he struggled mightily with 14 interceptions, including four pick-sixes, 45 sacks for a total loss of 320 yards, and 10 fumbles. Rosen’s 2018 was the worst season ever by a rookie QB who started 12 or more games according to Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value. Expectations are high that Murray will far exceed Rosen’s debut. So high in fact that one of the first things the Cardinals did after drafting Murray was to trade Rosen to Miami for a 2nd- and 5th-round pick.
The hope is that Murray will follow in the footsteps of the man he replaced at Oklahoma, the Browns’ Baker Mayfield. Murray was electric in his lone season as a starter in college, leading the NCAA in yards per attempt (11.6), total yards (5,362), yards per play (10.4), and touchdowns responsible for (54) en route to winning the Heisman and AP Player of the Year Awards.
Murray got his first taste fo NFL action last week, starting against the Chargers, completing 6 of 7 passes for 42 yards. He’s going to need to spend more time on the field if he’s going to be the starting quarterback once the games start to count.
Mayfield last year struggled early with the Browns, going 2-5 to start the season while completing 60 percent of his passes for 1,768 yards with seven interceptions and 22 sacks for a rating of 81.5. But something clicked in Week 10 against Atlanta and Mayfield finished the season by going 5-2 while completing 68.33 percent of his passes for 1,957 yards with 7 interceptions and just 3 sacks for a rating of 108.4 in leading the team to a 7-8-1 season. If Murray can replicate that kind of success, one of the best rookie QB seasons of all time, the Cardinals will be overjoyed.
While Mayfield had four-time Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry as his favorite target, Murray will have future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald streaking down the sidelines. After three straight 100-reception/1,000-yard seasons, Fitzgerald’s production suffered with Rosen at QB, as he hauled in just 69 passes for 734 yards. With Murray in the fold, Fitzgerald will hopefully return to form and should pass Tony Gonzalez for the second spot on the all-time receptions list.
Watch the Oakland Raiders take on the Arizona Cardinals Thursday, August 15th, at 8pm ET on ESPN.