Byron Murphy was the crown jewel of Washington’s 2016 recruiting class coming out of Saguaro High School in Arizona. At the time he was the 3rd highest rated recruit ever under Coach Petersen at UW per the 247 Sports Composite finishing only behind Budda Baker and Jake Browning. It wasn’t hard to see why. Murphy finished his senior season with 88 catches for 1,721 yards and 21 touchdowns on offense and added in 52 tackles and 7 interceptions on defense. He could’ve been an elite prospect on either side of the ball but ultimately chose to play corner in college.
Murphy redshirted his first year with Kevin King and Sidney Jones entrenched at the outside corner spots and it quickly became apparent that this was a luxury. Murphy won the Defensive Scout Team MVP award and everyone knew that had the team not had a pair of 2nd round draft picks waiting outside that Murphy easily could’ve started as a true freshman.
The hype was palpable entering his RS Fr season and quickly rose to a fever pitch after Murphy had a pair of interceptions in his first college game at Rutgers. Unfortunately, after just 3 games Murphy sustained a leg injury in practice and missed 7 contests in the middle of the year. He returned for the final 3 games and managed an interception in the Fiesta Bowl against Penn State. His final freshman stats were 16 tackles, 1 sack, 3 Interceptions, and 10 Passes Defensed in 6 games.
Going into his RS So season Murphy was an unquestioned starter and quickly demonstrated he was among the best corners in the country. Murphy played in all 14 games and finished with 58 tackles, 4 Interceptions, 17 Passes Defensed, and 1 Forced Fumble. His dominance was noticed by just about everyone as he was named either a 1st team or 2nd team All-American by just about every media outlet. Despite playing in just 21 career college games Murphy declared for the NFL Draft as soon as eligible.
Murphy presents an interesting contrast for NFL scouts. The dominance of Murphy’s tape is undeniable. He makes plays that so few other players are physically capable of making. However, Murphy doesn’t have the raw athleticism that makes scouts drool.
His performance in the measurement drills at the NFL Combine was quite underwhelming. The only category in which Murphy was above average for his position was the vertical jump and even that was just at the 60th percentile. Murphy did run the agility drills at UW’s pro day but they still weren’t overwhelming results. His 3 Cone time would’ve qualified in the 67th percentile, Short Shuttle in the 54th percentile, and Long Shuttle in the 66th percentile. However, observers were nearly unanimous in declaring Murphy as the most fluid and impressive player in the position specific drills.
There’s a reason for the discrepancy between the seemingly average athleticism and the sterling on field results. Murphy’s reaction times and his ability to process what’s happening on a play are nearly unparalleled. He more than makes up for the difference in raw straight line speed or pure agility by understanding where the ball is going to end up and then taking the best possible route.
Utah’s Britain Covey thinks he has an easy completion here when he runs a quick out 2 yards past the line of scrimmage on 2nd and 3 out of the slot. Byron Murphy appears to be in man coverage on the outside with a receiver running a go route which means the flat should be wide open but Murphy is actually in zone coverage, passes his man off to the safety, and comes in to absolute blow up Covey and prevent a completion. Despite being a smaller corner it’s clear that Murphy can absolutely lay the wood when he needs to do so.
The best possible situation for Murphy to land in is to go to a team that likes to play their corners in zone coverage. With his ability to read and react to the QB’s eyes plus his superlative ball skills it isn’t hard to imagine Murphy becoming among the NFL leaders in interceptions before too long in that kind of scheme. While Murphy has the ability to play press man coverage as well and was asked to do so for Washington, there’s a chance for him to get burned by NFL receivers with elite size of speed.
In today’s NFL, which is increasingly about the ability to succeed in the middle of the field, there’s a chance that Murphy’s average height may be a plus for some teams that believe he has the flexibility to both play outside as well as follow a receiver into the slot. His ability to not get turned around and keep his hips in the proper direction is mind boggling which bodes well for his ability to succeed if occasionally asked to move inside.
Reminder that Byron Murphy is no mere mortal. Those hips make even Shakira jealous. pic.twitter.com/yVdzdnrONj— Carter Donnick (@CDonScouting) December 1, 2018
NFL Draft Projection
The overwhelming sentiment is that Murphy’s average athletic testing numbers aren’t going to be a major impediment to his draft status. If Murphy graded out as a 90th percentile athlete with his tape then he’d be in the conversation for a top-5 overall pick like last year’s Denzel Ward. As it is, there are still those who believe that Murphy warrants a top-10 pick. Pro Football Focus has him as their #1 rated corner in the draft. While The Ringer’s Danny Kelly puts Murphy #8 overall on his Big Board.
While it’s certainly possible that Murphy vaults that high (all it takes is one team; e.g. John Ross) the more likely scenario is that he winds up somewhere in the teens or low 20’s. Some popular destinations for Murphy in mock drafts include going to Pittsburgh at #20, Oakland at #24, and Kansas City and #29.
The NFL has become all about the passing game and specifically the quick passing game. Having a great pass rush is ineffective against quarterbacks like Tom Brady who can get the ball out of their hands in less than 2 seconds. Byron Murphy seems tailor made for the 2019 NFL with his ability to quickly analyze and then close the gap with a receiver. This may be a relatively weak draft for corners but with so many teams geared towards shutting down the opponents’ quick passing game I find it hard to believe that Murphy makes it very far past the 20th pick.