When we spotlighted Houston QB D’Eriq King prior to Week 1 of college football, we wrote that if you liked Kyler Murray as an NFL draft prospect last year, you might want to check out King.
Following the strange news surrounding King this week, that line has taken on an entirely different meaning.
News broke this week that King would be taking a redshirt this season, effective immediately, to preserve his options. King had started the first four games (the maximum allowed by the NCAA before it costs a player a year of service) this season for the Cougars before making the announcement, allowing him to keep an additional year of college eligibility if he chooses.
That means King could:
1. Take his redshirt this year and return to Houston for the 2020 season.
2. Transfer to a QB-needy school for next season.
3. Convert to another position.
4. Enter the NFL draft this year.
After a flurry of speculation over his next move, King has said he has no plans to transfer and expects to return to Houston in 2020. The weird part: We still don’t know why King is redshirting. But he certainly sounded convincing that his plans were set in stone.
“I’m staying here,” King said Tuesday. “I’m here. If I wanted to leave Houston and go somewhere else I could’ve. It's what I want to do. I think it's the best opportunity for me.
“I don't think anybody will reach out to me. Even if they do, they should know I’m staying.”
As Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde wrote this week, King has been put through the coaching spin cycle so far in his college career. He was with Tom Herman for one season, Major Applewhite for two more and now this season with Dana Holgorsen. It hasn’t been the most productive ecosystem to develop as a player — and especially as a quarterback.
But could another coaching change (this time an elective one) help King’s cause if he wants to make it in the NFL as a quarterback?
Portal to Norman, Oklahoma?
It’s not too hard to connect the dots and suggest that King could be the Oklahoma Sooners’ starting QB in 2020. After all, King simply needs to look at the team that whipped his Cougars, 49-31, in the 2019 season opener for a window to his possible future in the NFL. After OU head coach Lincoln Riley helped turn Baker Mayfield and Murray into Heisman winners and the top overall picks in the past two NFL drafts, Riley is working some more QB magic with Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts this season.
Hurts’ reputation at Alabama was that he was a run-first QB who would need to switch positions if he wanted to give the NFL a go. Against the Cougars, Hurts — still a QB, of course — was an unconscious 20-of-23 passing for 332 yards, three TDs and no picks; he also ran 16 times for 176 yards and three scores. You might not see a better QB stat line than that this entire college football season.
King gamely battled in that game, throwing for two TDs (and 167 yards) and running for one more score (and 103 yards), although he was harassed early on and most of that damage came after Hurts and OU built a 21-0 lead.
After the season opener, Riley had high praise for King.
FWIW Lincoln Riley said this quote regarding D'Eriq King, moments after the Sooners beat Houston in the season opener, to about 20 of us in a press conference:— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) September 23, 2019
"There aren't five quarterbacks in the country better than (King) -- and that may be too many. He's fantastic."
In a strange way, this kind of praise was reminiscent of Kliff Kingsbury’s “stud” comment on Murray when Kingsbury was still Texas Tech’s coach and Murray had yet to declare for the draft. Different circumstances completely, of course, but you can see how Riley’s admiration for King might be taken at face value. It’s not hard to picture him operating quite well in the most QB-friendly system in America right now, assuming Riley doesn’t chase an NFL job after this season.
What has gone wrong for D’Eriq King this season?
Overall, it has been a challenging season following King’s 2018 breakout when he ran for 14 TDs, threw for 36 TD passes and had only six INTs despite missing the final two games of last season. Through four games in 2019, King completed a dismal 58 of 110 pass attempts for 663 yards (a career-worst 6.0 yards per attempt), six touchdowns and two interceptions and ran for 312 yards and six scores.
King’s running has been effective. His passing has regressed.
King and Murray are not clones as players, mind you, and neither are Hurts and King, for that matter. But it’s not hard to see how a change of scenery at Oklahoma could benefit him. King and Hurts also have personal history together, having both worked this summer in Atlanta with personal quarterback coach Quincy Avery at the Black Quarterback Club, where they worked alongside NFL quarterbacks to mentor high school athletes. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say they could talk about the possibility of King going to Oklahoma, if they haven’t already.
With King saying he’s staying, we should take him at his word for now. No one believed Hurts when he said he would stay at Alabama, although the allure of possibly winning another national championship — even as a backup — does not apply to King with the 1-3 Cougars.
King’s next move will be interesting for NFL folks
The question now for King could be over whether he continues to play quarterback. Asking a few college and NFL sources, the feeling is that this is the most likely route for King. But we are talking about a former wide receiver (he switched to QB before the 2017 season) whom one NFL scout we spoke to says will measure in “closer to 5-foot-8” than the 5-11 the school lists him at.
Murray has blazed a trail as an uncommonly short QB, although through three NFL games his results have been mixed. Still, no one with any kind of patience is trying to say the Arizona Cardinals missed on that pick yet. It would take a disastrous turn in Murray’s rookie season for the small-QB open-mindedness to suddenly end.
But there are a ton of variables at stake here in his next move.
If King does return to Houston, is his starting job at quarterback guaranteed? And what’s best for him long term? If he wants to play professional football, he likely would need a redemption season and a reminder of his 2018 play next year to get that shot at QB. Otherwise, switching positions at Houston could give him a head start on projecting to the next level and potentially making himself more appealing to a wider swath of NFL teams.
How good a receiver was King? It’s hard to say. He totaled 58 catches in his first two seasons while splitting time at QB and receiver, averaging only 8.5 yards per grab and scoring three touchdowns. But King also returned a kickoff for a touchdown as a freshman (also throwing for a TD and catching a TD pass in the same game) and has experience returning punts.
This all must be weighed carefully over the coming weeks and months. King has NFL-caliber athleticism and running ability, and yet he’s also previously displayed enough passing touch, poise and footwork to be considered possibly worth developing as a long-term plan at QB for the right NFL team.
How King handles all this will be fascinating. He might not be considered an elite NFL prospect at any position, but this is an electric athlete whose path will be worth following in both the short and long term.
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