Vikings Draft Prospect: CB Byron Murphy

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Sep 8, 2018; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Byron Murphy (1) breaks up a pass intended for North Dakota Fighting Hawks wide receiver Noah Wanzek (31) during the third quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Byron Murphy

Position: Cornerback

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School: Washington

Height: 5’11”

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Weight: 190

A heady, tough play maker, Murphy is generally viewed to be one of, if not the top corner in the 2019 class.

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Stats

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Athleticism

Murphy is not the most athletic of the top corner prospects, but he has enough burst to hang with the best. He is particularly quick in short areas, able to plant and shadow underneath routes and double moves. That is where his explosion is most apparent, in and out of breaks. He is not an elite leaper, nor does he possess great long speed. That said, Murphy is typically able to hang downfield on vertical routes, and his strong ball tracking ability often helps him contest at the high point.

While his testing numbers did not jump out at the combine (outside the top-15 corners in 40, vertical and broad jump), Murphy made up for it with a strong showing at his pro day. Most notable was his 4.15 short shuttle and his three-cone drill at 6.83 seconds. Overall, he timed and jumped about in line with Vikings corner Mike Hughes, albeit with a considerably shorter broad jump.

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Run Support

Murphy’s relatively slight frame is the only thing that really hampers him in run defense. He has excellent instincts to attack spots and maintain positioning on the edge. Will is not an issue with Murphy. He works hard to fight hands when he gets engaged, and constantly works his fit. But he has and will likely continue to get swallowed up a bit, largely due to his lack of size. That said, Murphy showed excellent toughness and patience in his limited reps as a run defender.

Press Coverage

There are not a ton of reps of Murphy in press coverage. Washington played a lot of zone and loose man, which allowed Murphy to attack the ball more than the man. That said, when he did get physical at the line, Murphy showed some positives. His hands are quick and accurate in their strikes, and he is relentless in his hand fighting. The problem is that he is not very long, and his small frame allows opponents to work through him more than one would like. Plus, if his strikes do not land and he gets beaten off the jam, Murphy does not really have recovery speed. As such, if he tries to press, he has to hit it or he loses his man. This could be a significant concern if he plays on the edge at the next level, where receivers are bigger, faster and craftier.

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Whether a conscious choice or just the nature of the Washington defense, Murphy was more wont to flip his hips and run with receivers, rather than press or backpedal with them. It played to his strengths of short area quickness and play recognition, while masking his weaker areas at the line of scrimmage.

Recognition and Instincts

Murphy’s intelligence is probably his greatest asset. He has elite anticipation which allows him to read and react in zone. His eyes are always on the quarterback, even in man coverage, so he can read where the ball is going without having to strictly play a man. You can see in this clip how he breaks on the ball before the receiver even makes his cut because he has his eyes on the quarterback and the receiver in his periphery.

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Murphy’s ability to diagnose routes should make up for his relatively modest athletic ability. He makes up for those seconds lost in foot speed by reading the plays quicker than anyone else. This is evidenced by his remarkably efficiency as a coverage play maker. He was targeted just 87 times in 20 college games, yet recorded six interceptions and 20 pass deflections. He also allowed catches on fewer than 50 percent of targets during the regular season.

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Ball Skills

Washington used Murphy frequently as a deep third, and his remarkable discipline meant teams rarely even attempted to go over the top on him. As such, there is not a ton of film of him having to contest deep balls with his back to the quarterback. Most of his downfield targets involve him gearing down from a deeper position to contest rather than engaging a receiver the whole way. When he does have to high point a ball, Murphy has enough leaping ability to contest most balls, but he has a limited catch radius, so bigger receivers may sky him at the next level.

Again, Murphy’s ball skills come to play more in his ability to read and react than his athleticism. He anticipates throws well, so he is frequently in good position to contest. If need be, he can also play the man after the ball arrives and separate opponent from ball.

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Vikings Fit

Murphy seems to be a first round pick, given the weak cornerback class. As such, it may not be particularly popular if the Vikings choose Murphy come draft day, given the team’s needs at other positions. But if Rick Spielman sticks to his track record of “best player available” regardless of position, then corner has to be in play. Plus, given the contract situations with Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, the Vikings are not as set at corner as they appear on the surface.

And on top of all of that, Murphy is a good stylistic fit with the Minnesota defense. He is quick in short areas and willing to play physically, so he could play nickel early on in his career. And then, like with Hughes last year, he adds some flexibility for the future for when Waynes and Alexander hit the market and possibly garner high-money offers.

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Obviously, Minnesota has needs that far exceed cornerback. But that was the case last year, and yet the Vikings selected a corner anyway. Regardless of how the fans feel about the position, it has to be considered until the pick is officially made.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.

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