Ask even the most casual baseball fan — or football fan for that matter — and they’ll nod their head when asked if they know who Kyler Murray is. In fact, there’s probably no other amateur athlete that has garnered as much attention over the last 12 months than the former Oklahoma Sooners star quarterback/outfielder.
Looking ahead, there’s a similarly talented running back/outfielder named Jerrion Ealy playing for Jackson Prep (MS) and it’s easy to assume that you will see the same type of drama with the two-sport Ole Miss commit, right?
Don’t believe me? I decided to have a conversation with a man that understands the game of football and understands Ealy, his Jackson Prep football coach, Ricky Black.
“Yes I would. I would think that would be very difficult,” said coach Black when asked if he thought Ealy would sign if offered $1MM contract out of high school. “If he gets drafted high enough, that’s probably something he won’t be able to turn down.”
In 2018, each of the first 55 players selected in the draft signed over a $1MM signing bonus. Now, there are certainly a few guys (Carter Stewart, Matt McLain, JT Ginn, and Gunnar Hoglund) that didn’t sign and decided to go to school. But you’ll also notice that 27 of those 55 picks were high school talents.
I also understand that there are always going to be a number of players that fall in the draft because they have made it known that they are going to go to college. As was the case with Murray in 2015. Pro teams fear they won’t be able to sign the player and so they don’t waste a high pick on someone that is likely going to college anyway. That is not a new concept.
There are two fundamental differences between Murray and Ealy. Differences that may not seem like an issue, however, should ultimately prove to be the reason why Ealy chooses baseball over football — and it won’t be close.
Ealy is a senior in high school — not a senior in college
Ealy is a running back — not a quarterback
I know that sounds obvious, but it’s important to keep in mind when talking about the decision to go pro in baseball or football. High school seniors don’t have the same level of leverage when deciding between two sports as a college senior does.
Heading into the 2015 MLB Draft, Murray was listed as the No. 34 prospect at MLB Pipeline. As we draw closer to this year’s draft, they have Ealy listed as their No. 18 draft prospect. Our list has him falling a few spots to No. 21 overall.
“Anything he does, the speed factor is so important,” Black said. “He can chase down and track down anything that’s hit to him playing center field. He’s got a really good arm. And when he makes contact, if it’s not a single or a double he’s going to stretch it into that because he’s going to steal a base.”
Take a look at these clips and you’ll start to see a similar skill set between these two.
What does it mean?
There’s a strong chance that Ealy will hear his name called on Monday June 3, which is when Rounds 1 and 2 of the MLB Draft will be broadcast. If that is the case, he will become a professional baseball player — I guarantee it. He will sign his pro contract and that will be the end of the drama.
The only real question would be: Does he enroll at Ole Miss and play football anyway?
By NCAA rules, Ealy would be eligible to enroll in college even after signing a pro baseball contract — however he would not be able to play baseball at Ole Miss. That concept might also not fly well with his MLB suitors. It’s not a wise decision for a highly regarded prospect in any sport to split focus when being offered millions of dollars.
Barring a Murray-like tweet in mid-May that states he will forego the MLB draft to become a running back at Ole Miss, Ealy will don a minor-league baseball uniform in 2019 — not a college uniform in 2020.
But what about that NFL money?
Quarterbacks are king when it comes to the sports universe — that’s not really debatable. For this reason, a highly-drafted QB is always going to garner as much money as possible. Over the last five years there has been eight quarterbacks selected in the Top-5, and only three running backs.
Rumored as a Top-5 selection in the upcoming NFL Draft, this is what Murray is looking at for projected signing bonuses if he’s selected in the first five picks:
Arizona Cardinals — $23.4MM
San Francisco — $22.2MM
New York Jets — $21.5MM
Oakland Raiders — $20.6MM
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — $19.1MM
As long as he doesn’t plummet in the draft, Murray stands to benefit significantly from this decision. And regardless of what Oakland A’s fans might say, this is the right decision for his financial future. Keep in mind that not all of his $4.66MM signing bonus from Oakland had been paid out — you’re looking at the possibility of making five times that amount by choosing football. Seems pretty straight forward to me.
For the same scenario to play out for Ealy, he would have to stay healthy for three seasons at Ole Miss, see significant playing time, probably win an SEC title, and put his name in the Heisman conversation — that’s a lot of question marks when he could simply take a slot-value deal in the $2.5MM range as a late-first round pick.
Looking at his projection, the slot-value for the 18th overall pick in 2018 (Brady Singer) was $3.35MM. I asked coach Black if he expected his former running back to accept that dollar amount if offered.
“Well, I know what I would do,” he said laughingly. “I think that would be a figure that would be very tough to turn down.”
All that being said, his football coach, who’s been coaching for 48 years, was hesitant when I asked if he was a better baseball player than he is football player.
“It would be hard to say that he could play any sport better than football,” he said. “He’s probably one of the most complete players I’ve ever coached.”
That’s high praise coming from a man that has won 10 MAIA state championships and was voted the National High School Football Coach of the Year in 2018.
What to expect from Ealy?
The kid can flat-out run. Clock with a 6.13 second time in the 60-yard dash, Ealy is the fastest runner in the 2019 draft class. To put that in perspective, prior to being selected by the Cincinnati Reds in 2009, Billy Hamilton, who also went to high school in Mississippi, was clocked with a 6.2 second 60-yard time.
Allow me to phrase that differently — He’s faster than a man who has a career average of 53 stolen bases per season.
His outfield arm is above-average and has been clocked at 96mph. That’s equivalent to what Jarred Kelenic peaked at prior to being selected as the fifth overall player in last year’s draft. Imagine the fun you could have watching someone who runs as fast as Hamilton and throws as hard as Kelenic.
Only time will tell what the future holds for Ealy, but do yourself a favor and don’t compare him to Murray. If for no other reason, because Ealy will be a professional baseball player.