The Seattle Seahawks face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, which means it has been impossible this week to avoid the comparisons between the two teams' quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
Both are dynamic playmakers who can make big plays with their arms and legs, both were incredibly productive college quarterbacks and were also accomplished baseball players who debated a future in that sport after being drafted by Major League teams, and yes, both are a little short for the position. Of course, Wilson, a six-time Pro Bowler with two Super Bowl appearances and six playoff seasons on his resume, is at a much different point in his career than Murray, the top pick in this year's draft, but it's hard not to focus on the similarities between the two.
"Dynamic athletes, great leaders and very confident in their abilities, playmakers," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "You can see those things, but I think their styles are a little bit different. Russell has been through it. I mean, he's won a Super Bowl, been in multiple Super Bowls, played a bunch of football. When you watch his style of play and how he's kind of perfected knowing when to make a spectacular play and knowing when the play is over and throwing it away; those are all things we're working through. He's a great guy to watch and learn from."
But perhaps more interesting than the similarities between Wilson and Murray is one of the big differences—where they were drafted.
When Wilson was coming out of Wisconsin in 2012, a common refrain from draft experts was that he was a nearly perfect prospect who would be a first-round pick… if only he were taller. Fast forward to the past two drafts, and height has been less of an issue, with the 6-foot-1 Baker Mayfield and the 5-foot-10 Murray going No. 1 overall in consecutive drafts. It's impossible not to wonder if either of those players, and particularly the sub-6-foot Murray, would have been drafted so highly if not for Wilson's success as a 5-foot-11 quarterback.
"I don't think it hurt, that's for sure," Kingsbury said. "You have a guy like him, you have a guy like Brees, who are lighting the world on fire. I think it definitely opens up some doors that hey, you don't have to be 6-5, 240 to play at a high level in this league."
Asked about his success and the perception of shorter quarterbacks, Wilson said, "I think I definitely helped it," but went on to point out that he's hardly the first undersized quarterback to succeed in the NFL.
"I think I had some people that came before me," Wilson said. "Drew Brees opened up the door for me. I think both of us obviously played in the Big Ten. I think both of us, being the height that we are, our ability to throw, move around, throw in the pocket, outside the pocket, do all that stuff. Obviously, him winning a Super Bowl was a big deal. I think there's quarterbacks before him, Doug Fluties of the world. Michael Vicks around the same too as Drew. There's been some other great quarterbacks. I think about all the amazing quarterbacks—Steve Young was a great example—not the biggest guy in the world, obviously won Super Bowls. I think that some people opened the door for me. I think Drew's obviously the closest comparison in the sense of our size and how we throw the ball and just different stuff. With me, I think definitely winning the Super Bowl my second year definitely would be able to open some doors for other guys. You see guys like Baker. You see guys like Kyler and others. Hopefully, that stays the case. Hopefully we can continue to break barriers to allow people to play the game. No matter what you look like. No matter what your size. No matter what your race is. No matter what the scenario is."
But while Wilson downplays his significance in Murray eventually becoming the No. 1 overall pick, citing previous undersized and/or mobile quarterbacks such as Brees, Vick and Young—Seahawks coach Pete Carroll goes even further back, mentioning Fran Tarkenton and George Mira—those examples don't quite line up with Wilson and Murray because they were either on the "right" side the 6-foot barrier (Brees, Young and Vick) or didn't have nearly as successful of NFL careers as Wilson (Flutie and Mira).
Wilson wasn't just a little undersized like Brees, who measured at just over 6-foot at the NFL scouting combine; he was more than an inch short of 6-foot, measuring 5-10 5/8. And at that height, he has not just made it as an NFL starter, but become unambiguously one of the best quarterbacks of his era.
So it's hardly a coincidence that with Wilson in his prime, NFL teams have drafted undersized playmaking quarterbacks with the No. 1 overall pick each of the past two years, with Cleveland taking Baker Mayfield last year, and Arizona selecting Murray this year.
"I don't know how it couldn't have influenced people," Carroll said. "… There just haven't been very many guys over the years. Russ broke through in such big fashion and was so obviously suited for the game. I think there's no question that he's had an influence people. Those guys are all grateful. They still would've been great players anyway. I think to be the first pick in the draft and have the confidence and all that, I think Russ has added to that thought. Now he's influenced the game in a big way."
And if there was any doubt that the Cardinals at least considered Wilson's success when drafting Murray, consider that Arizona general manager told The Athletic in May, "It goes back to what (general manager) John Schneider said about Russell: 'What's wrong with the guy other than the fact he's not 6-3?'"
The comparisons between Murray and Wilson aren't perfect. Their styles are a little different despite the physical similarities, they play in drastically different offenses, and obviously Wilson is much more accomplished at the NFL level. But when the Seahawks and Cardinals face off on Sunday afternoon in the first matchups of sub 6-foot starting quarterbacks since 1970, according to NFL Research, it will be impossible not to think that the No. 1 overall pick wearing a red jersey might have never been in that position if not for the former 75th overall pick changing the perception of short quarterbacks.
"It was good to see a guy my size doing it," Murray said of watching Wilson succeed with the Seahawks while he was in high school and college. "I think that helps any kid. We kind of have the same stature, so being able to see him do it in the league, winning Super Bowls, that gives you a confidence boost."