Game Theory: When Should Kyler Murray Be Drafted?

Game Theory: When Should Kyler Murray Be Drafted?

by April 7, 2019 0 comments

Is it better for all parties if quarterback Kyler Murray gets drafted mid-way through the draft as opposed to first overall?

Remember that movie with Russell Crowe, “A Beautiful Mind”? Crowe played famous mathematician, Dr. John Nash. He has a theory on outcomes involving multiple people making decisions that affect each other. He called it the Game Theory.

I will explain the theory, how it applies to Kyler Murray, and why he should be drafted somewhere near the middle of the draft.

No, not the middle of the first round, but rather the middle of the draft around 128th overall.

Crazy, right?

Kyler Murray, if drafted, would be the shortest quarterback in the league. He would also be the lightest and would likely have the smallest hands, but neither of these characteristics factor into this observation.

However, the following quote made by network analyst, former general manager, and draft guru Charley Casserly does indirectly factor in. It was this quote that got me thinking along these lines.

“He better hope (Kiff) Kingsbury takes him No.1 because this was not good. These were the worst comments I ever got on a high-rated quarterback and I’ve been doing this a long time… Leadership: not good. Study habits: not good. The board work: below not good. Not good at all in any of those areas, raising major concerns about what this guy is going to do. Now, people will say we’re going to compare him to (Patrick) Mahomes, we’re going to run an offense like Mahomes, we’re going to run an offense like Baker Mayfield… But those guys are much different. Those guys, you never questioned them about their ability on the board, you never questioned their leadership ability, their work habits. They were outstanding in those areas. This guy is not outstanding in those areas, and it showed up in the interview.” 

Casserly has been around the league and the draft process for a long time. He certainly felt strong enough about this to go public with it.


This philosophy assumes two or more parties are involved in a situation involving reward or punishment. The rules are understood by all participants and they must respond rationally. Seems easy, right? Game Theory has been used to win several Noble Prizes in science and economics. It is also used by mathematicians, statisticians, gamblers, sociologists, and engineers. Perhaps the easiest way to understand it is with what is called the Prisoner’s Paradox.     


Suppose two jewel thieves (let’s call them Stretch and Spider, for fun) get busted stealing diamonds. Based on their records, they each face three years in prison. The defense attorney is a mathematician and he would prefer that they serve a longer sentence.

Because of this, he tells Stretch and Spider, “If you both say nothing you will each serve three years. But, I am going to offer you each this deal. I am going to separate you two and give you each a chance to walk out of here today. If you confess and offer testimony against the other you can walk away free. The other will get ten years. If you both confess and give testimony against the other, you both will get five years. Keep in mind they are separated and each does not know what the other is doing.

“If Stretch drops a dime and Spider doesn’t, proof! Scott-free goes Stretch. Or, if Stretch can be quiet and hope Spider does the same then they each get three years. But if Spider rats Stretch out, then he will get ten years and vice versa. Remember they are both thieves and have no alliance.”


If you were betting on the outcome of this dilemma, game theory would suggest betting they rat each other out is the money play. The incentive and reward/punishment is equal for each and that state is called The Nash Equilibrium.

Now if you were one of the prisoners, what is the smart move? Well, if you admit to your guilt and turn on your partner, you face either zero time or five years. Your average sentence would be 2.5 years. On the other hand, if you keep your mouth shut, you face either three or ten years. This means your average now would be six-and-a-half years.

You should definitely rat on your partner.

Game theory is based on getting the best deal, regardless of what the other people involved do. For Stretch and Spider, the most favorable outcome is actually five years if both understand the rules and act in their own self-interest. The mathematician/attorney gets to send them both up the river for a combined ten years rather than the six they would have faced otherwise.


Nearly every mock draft has Kyler Murray going No. 1 to the Arizona Cardinals. I have seen him go as late as only the number four pick on some outlier mocks. Now I do acknowledge this is a bit subjective but stay with me. He is regarded to many as a highly successful quarterback at the time of his first actual non-rookie contract. That is a win-win-win at the highest value. Let’s regard that value as 10. The outcome with the least value would be a one. This would see Murray would become benched early in his career and cut before the end of his first contract.

This is how it would pan out for other quarterbacks and in these outcomes, we have Nash equilibrium. In the second instance where Murray leaves the league, his value to them is extinguished and his full value was never met. Same goes for the team as there is no more return on investment.


What is overlooked by many is that, for Murray, he can walk away and play baseball at any time. Drafting a quarterback at or near the top of the game can turn a team around in little to no time. Drafting a quarterback that high and having him flame out is catastrophic to the franchise and the league in terms of lost revenue. This is more of the reason why the punishment for a bad pick is far less bad for Murray than it is for the league or the team. Unlike the previous scenario, a great rookie outing is more favorable to Murray than it is for the team or the league because his value increases in baseball as well.

If anything, he is now a star and brings this value as well. To actually build a model would not be hard at all. I would just need to identify key ways in which each side benefits from success, is punished by failure, and then fill in our outline that started with 10 for success and one for failure. The point of this is that Kyler Murray doesn’t get hurt as bad by a failure in football, and in fact, his share of success is also greater. If this sounds like Moneyball, it is.


They both knew the rules, acted 100 percent in their own self-interest, and were rewarded equally (if you consider a five-year prison sentence a reward). Kyler Murray, the league, and whichever team it is would need to have a more even distribution of reward/failure.

I guess the easiest way to drive this point home is to say that Kyler Murray can afford to fail as a high first-round draft choice.

The general manager that drafts him cannot.

If Kyler Murray is drafted in the middle of the draft and fails, it isn’t that big of a deal. If Kyler Murray is drafted in the middle and succeeds, then the team and the league all win. Go back up and read the statement by Charley Casserly. Does it sound like perhaps Kyler didn’t give a rip about those interviews?

Do I think Kyler Murray will be drafted at or near pick 128? No, I don’t.

It will probably be within the first four picks.

All of the aforementioned metrics involving the punishment of failure are compounded exponentially if the team drafting him is the Cardinals. The Cardinals gave up their third pick and two fifth-round picks in a trade with the Raiders to move up five spots (from 10 to five) so thet could draft Josh Rosen.

In essence, the Arizona Cardinals will have given up two fifth-round picks, a third-round pick, last year’s first-round pick (fifth overall) and the first overall pick this season.

All for the shortest, lightest, quarterback who is questionably motivated, and could walk out of the building for baseball any time he wanted?

That’s wild.



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