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The moment the football gods answered the Hail Murray, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray emerged as an MVP candidate. Of course, the last-second, game-winning connection with DeAndre Hopkins to stun the Bills in Week 10 shouldn't be the sole reason Murray is now being considered for the most NFL's prestigious individual award, but the memorable play immediately became the catalyst for it.

Even if the Hail Murray never occurred, Arizona's second-year quarterback has taken a step forward in Year 2 -- something more valuable long-term to the Cardinals than the face of the franchise winning MVP. And he's done so as a runner and a passer.

Murray's on pace to be the first 4,000/1,000 player in NFL history with 4,000-plus passing yards and 1,000-plus rushing yards. For perspective, Lamar Jackson was the second unanimous MVP ever with 3,127 yards through the air and 1,206 yards on the ground last season. As if Murray's pace -- 4,222 passing yards and 1,073 rushing yards -- wasn't preposterous enough, he's also on pace to be the league's first player with at least 30 passing touchdowns and 15 rushing scores. 

But enough pace statistics. You didn't come here for those. And without context from his rookie season, those stats, while remarkable, don't paint a picture of how Murray has developed, which is vital because the widespread maturation of his game is the legitimate justification behind his MVP candidacy.

Here's a table that details Murray's marked improvement nearly across the board. 


Adjusted Comp. %Clean Pocket QB RatingUnder Pressure QB RatingForced Missed Tackle RateYards After Contact Per RushTrue INT %

2019

74.4%

94.8

62.1

9.2%

2.31

2.39%

2020

78.9%

108.3

55.1

22.8%

3.79

2.2%

(In previous articles, "True INTs" were called "Theoretical INTs," the former is just cleaner in a table. They are just the INTs a QB throws with tipped ones omitted and dropped-by-the-defense picks added.)

Besides his general play under pressure, Murray has gotten noticeably more dynamic this season. Better accuracy, clean-pocket play, significantly better forced missed tackle rate, higher yards after contact per rush, and his true INT percentage has decreased. 

Murray is also not hurting himself with overly antsy pocket presence that invites pressure as much as he did as a rookie. In my season outlook for the 2019 No. 1 overall pick, I labeled pocket presence as the first weakness he needed to improve. A year ago, Murray accounted for a league-high 25 sacks by his own doing, meaning 1.56 sacks per game were on him. 

Nine contests into 2020, only 10 sacks have been deemed his fault, dropping that rate to 1.11 per contest. While it may seem like a small drop, nearly a half percent in that metric isn't tiny. 

Due to their stylistic similarities and second-year breakouts, Murray and his MVP candidacy have been compared to what we saw from Jackson last season.

And here's how they stack up:


Adjusted Comp. %Clean Pocket QB RatingUnder Pressure QB RatingForced Missed Tackle RateYards After Contact Per RushTrue INT %

2019 Jackson 

76.1%

118.5

97.7

31.1%

4.27

0.7%

2020 Murray (Week 1-10)

78.9%

108.3

55.2

22.8%

3.79

2.2%

Based on those categories, Murray hasn't quite been 2019 Jackson. Fortunately for the Arizona quarterback, it might not matter given his gaudy touchdown numbers. Voters love those easy-to-point-at statistics, and Jackson "only" had seven rushing scores in his MVP campaign. 

What helped Jackson win the MVP too was, obviously, Baltimore cruising to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Should that necessarily matter for an individual award? No. Does it? Absolutely. 

With Russell Wilson recently falling off, Aaron Rodgers playing an uncharacteristically pedestrian game against lowly competition in Week 10, and Josh Allen losing to Murray's Cardinals in a game with two interceptions and nearly another, a path to MVP has been paved for Murray. Patrick Mahomes is still undeniably there, and maybe Tom Brady, for the first time ever, would be considered a dark horse. 

Murray has games left against three porous pass defenses (Seahawks, Giants, Patriots), one against a solid pass defense (49ers) and two against the stingy Rams

Ultimately, I believe Murray's race for MVP will hinge on the two contests against Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. If the second-year passer performs well -- and if Arizona can win at least one of those outings -- he'll elevate himself to serious contention for MVP. But Mahomes' "lead" in the race, along with Kansas City likely landing as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the AFC, will probably be enough for him to take home the award for the second time in three seasons. 

(All advanced stats courtesy of TruMedia unless otherwise indicated.)