Since Jim Harbaugh and now David Shaw have been running the Stanford program, the Cardinal have developed a reputation for tough, smart defense. They never seem to get the fastest guys, but they are able to get strong, tough guys who can play multiple positions in their scheme and do their job, enabling them to have a strong unit when it comes to controlling the line of scrimmage and confusing opposing quarterbacks with a variety of different looks. One of their most talented and versatile players has been Trent Murphy, their talented outside linebacker and defensive end, who has even had some looks as an inside linebacker and nickel backer. He is the type of player the Stanford coaching staff cannot seem to find enough ways to use.
In Murphy’s junior year, he was able to produce 38 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 4 pass deflections, a forced fumble, interception, and defensive touchdown. Murphy brings a tremendous combination of size, length, strength, and awareness that has enabled him to be productive for the Cardinal defense and gives him a lot of options in the NFL, but he might be viewed as somewhat of a tweener in his current state and would probably be best served continuing to add weight and strength and perhaps focusing on the defensive end position. Murphy does a little bit of everything, has shown the ability to help stop the run and rush the passer and even drop in coverage, but he needs to be more consistent with his motor, collapse running lanes better as a run defender and using all the tools he has developed as a pass rusher. While it could depend on what position he ultimately ends up playing, Murphy’s talent and potential still to be realized look the part of a Top 100 pick now and he could push his way closer to the Top 50 with another good year and continued progression.
Vitals & Build
Murphy is listed at 6’6” 261lbs and is an imposing player with tremendous length for the position that makes him difficult to matchup. His quickness and agility are good when it comes to going the same direction as his hips are facing, but he really struggles to open his hips and make dramatic changes in direction, which can get exposed in short areas and in coverage. When he gets going in a straight line, his speed is actually pretty impressive given his size and he might be someone who surprises when he times, but the splits are going to be what really matter. Murphy’s motor tends to run hot and cold which will occasionally lead to some lackluster effort. Murphy has a tremendous frame to continue adding strength and it stands to reason that he will continue to add strength and bulk which could end or reduce his time as a linebacker and have him focus on being a defensive lineman in the Cardinal defense.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Murphy’s snap anticipation is inconsistent and it can range from being right on to being half a beat late. This does not appear to be linked to fatigue and he just needs to continue to work on consistently getting off the ball quickly and effectively. It will enable him not to have to work so hard when it comes to taking on blockers.
Murphy’s first step is typically good and he can really put offensive linemen at a disadvantage with how he can explode off of the football. The fact that he can do it from a linebacker position or with his hand on the ground in a four point stance makes him viable to attack from either spot. It is all about him being consistent and firing off the ball every time he is coming up the field.
For the most part, Murphy has good pad level and can attack with a rising blow even with his height which is impressive. Murphy’s long arms are a huge asset and enable him a number of options in regards to how to defeat blocks along when combined with his strength. He can use a bull rush and toss guys out of his way or use a subtle push-pull move which enables him to get guys off balance and slide past them. Especially from the linebacker position, but it also comes up when he is unblocked at end, he will make the blocker think he is coming straight into them and get them to blink as they brace for impact and simply slide by them with agility leaving the blocker unable to adjust in time to slow him down from getting after the ball carrier. He is able to able to get underneath the blocks of opposing offensive linemen while using his arm to brace himself to bend around the offensive tackle quickly and easily to put him in position to make plays. Murphy will also flash a spin move when he gets too far up the field and wants to find a way to come back inside, but it needs to be further refined. He may want to continue adding more to the repertoire in terms of ways to shed blocks but as long as he continues to improve and get more proficient with what he already does, he will look attractive in the NFL Draft.
Murphy does a good job of keeping his hands moving and fighting as well as protecting his legs and staying upright, which has him able to continue rushing the passer or jump up and block a pass. One of the biggest plays in their game against Washington was Murphy protecting his legs from a cut block attempt to get him off balance and open up a passing lane on a quick swing pass. Murphy was able to protect his legs, keep his balance, jump up and deflect the pass up and catch it himself and take it back for a touchdown in just a tremendous showing of technique and athleticism.
Because of the wingspan, strength and leverage Murphy is able to bring, he shows the ability to be a terrific run stopper as a tackler and just closing up running lanes, but he has a few areas to clean up here. As a linebacker, Murphy needs to do a better job of taking the offensive tackle and pushing him inside to close up running lanes while also giving him the angle to tackle the back if he goes outside. Too often, Murphy gets caught outside with the runner having a lane to gain yardage. Murphy also will periodically have trouble locating the football and will occasionally be fooled at the mesh point with who has the ball and there are examples where the running back gets right by him and he does not appear aware that they have the football.
The good news is that Murphy is able to use his arm length to keep offensive linemen out of his body, which enables him to make tackles on the ball carrier as they attempt to go by him. He also shows flashes to collapse the pocket and this should only improve as he continues to add strength and bulk. And when he catches the ball carrier, he is able to simply engulf them and bring them down. He could make more an effort to strip the football when guys are wrapped up or when he is able to secure the tackle.
Murphy has a lot of options as a pass rusher, but he does not use them all enough. Murphy really likes to rush on the outside and work his way around the edge. He does a good job of getting up the field, turning his hips to square himself with the quarterback, which enables him to bend around the edge and use agility to track down and sack the quarterback. Despite his size, Murphy is able to occasionally surprise opponents with his quickness and beat them on raw speed.
With his strength and ability to generate power in a small area and his arm length, Murphy can do a tremendous job of bull rushing opponents, driving into the backfield to collapse the pocket, which can enable him to make a second move or at least take away the ability to step up in the pocket. The fact that Murphy does not really use this bull rush as often as he could is unfortunate. With his power and arm length, he shows the ability to bench press opposing offensive line and drive them right into the quarterback. He can also show speed and then switch to power and catch an opponent trying to lunge to stop him from the side and then simply throw them out of the way.
Murphy also has an effective inside move because of his strength and quickness. He is able to cut inside with agility and get through the gaps quickly. In a broken down position, he is extremely difficult to get away from in this situation, but like with the bull rush, Murphy does not use it as much as he should.
Murphy’s ability to bull rush and attack inside make him credible, so that he can use the outside rush and not have guys be able to assume he is just going to go outside and cheat out there, but they are certainly thinking that way and whether he wants to sell outside before going inside with a bull rush or inside move or just do them, they can be effective and make his outside moves that much more effective. Part of this could be as a result of playing as a standup linebacker on the edge, because that is where his natural motion is to go, so when he is in his four point, it is easy to get in the habit of going outside, but he needs to make a concerted effort to use the bull rush from the linebacker spot and use both when lined up as a defensive end, because they are good and they could increase his production.
The other angle that is going for Murphy because of the way he is used in the Stanford scheme, he has experience rushing from both sides from the end and linebacker position, so he is comfortable attacking and rushing the quarterback from both sides, though he does seem to favor the left side, which is good because that is likely where he will end up the most in the NFL anyway.
His closing speed is not great because he does not turn all that well, so he is like an alligator where opponents have to zigzag to get away from him, which means he can run down guys in a straight line, but has issues with guys who can be quick in small areas. Murphy can generate power quickly so even if he is not able to get a running start and is making the hit on the quarterback from a stopped position, he can bring a good hit and has no trouble getting them on the ground.
In addition to his ability to rush the passer, Murphy is a player who will jump up and try to deflect passes when he cannot get there and he is a huge player to try to throw around, so he has had success knocking down passes and was able to intercept one and had other opportunities.
Murphy’s ability to contribute in coverage is limited and while he has been used both in man coverage as well as zone, it is best that he avoids man coverage as much as possible. Murphy’s length enables him to cover more ground and he is fine when he is able to keep things in front of him and run in a straight line. Murphy does a good job of getting a jam on receivers that come into his area or in man coverage, but he gets exposed when he is forced to change direction quickly and flip his hips. Especially when he is lined up near the line of scrimmage, Murphy gets into his drops quickly and Stanford also uses him as a nickel backer in coverage at times.
While he can do a decent job, it is a more effective changeup than a standard role and when he is not attacking up the field, it seems like a favor to the opponent. Murphy does have tremendous ability to react and track the football even in close proximity to the quarterback and can not only get his hands on the football with the ability to potentially intercept passes or at least deflect passes that can be picked off by himself or a teammate.
The beauty here is in the eye of the beholder as Murphy could play as a 5-technique end or as an outside linebacker in the elephant position in the 3-4. He is better suited to play as an end, but he does have the ability to contribute as a linebacker who has some range and can attack downhill from a standup position, who can also contribute as a defensive end in pass rushing situations. As a 5 technique, he can play the end on running downs and either kick inside to defensive tackle or stay as a left end in pass rushing situations depending on what size he ultimately ends up playing.
A 4-3 team could look at Murphy as a power end and someone who can control the running game as well as rush the passer from the left side. He could kick inside and be a rush tackle in obvious passing situations, but he is able to generate a rush from the left side as is. The options are wide open and Murphy could play the elephant linebacker position at close to 275lbs, play power end at 275-285lbs, and then could easily play as an end in the 3-4 and get up to close to 300lbs. It will be interesting to see how Murphy ultimately approaches the draft and what size he tests out and does the post-season circuit. The New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, and Tennessee Titans are all teams that seem to love these types of linemen that can play all over the place and they just put the best group out there for a given situation, but just about every team in the league could have an interest in him at a number of different positions.
|Sat, Sept. 7||vs. San Jose State|
|Sat, Sept. 14||at Army|
|Sat, Sept. 21||vs. Arizona State|
|Sat, Sept. 28||at Washington State|
|Sat, Oct. 5||vs. Washington|
|Sat, Oct. 12||at Utah|
|Sat, Oct. 19||vs. UCLA|
|Sat, Oct. 26||at Oregon State|
|Thu, Nov. 7||vs. Oregon|
|Sat, Nov. 16||at USC|
|Sat, Nov. 23||vs. Cal|
|Sat, Nov. 30||vs. Notre Dame|
Although Stanford will be a heavy favorite, the first game against San Jose State will be one worth watching. Stanford needs to win it to set the tone for this year and the Spartans’ David Fales is capable of leading an upset, which they almost did last year in a game that came down to the last possession. Washington was able to upset Stanford last year with heavy contributions from running back Bishop Sankey and Murphy and the Cardinal defense will need to find a way to contain him and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in check if they are going to avoid being beaten again. The game against Oregon is a nationally televised affair and puts strength up against speed in that matchup, which is a good test for Murphy who is more of a power player. USC on the road is another potential stumbling block for Stanford and they will want to control the line of scrimmage and get pressure on the quarterback to reduce the amount of opportunities Marqise Lee has to beat them. Lastly, the regular season finale hosting Notre Dame could be a hard fought defensive affair that will come down to which defense can hold up longer.
Murphy could come into the league as a much more developed version of Israel Idonije, the long time Chicago Bear. Idonije came into the league with the same height and similar weight and started out as a tweener and developed into a player that could play at both end and tackle in the Bears defensive scheme. Murphy should be able to contribute faster than Idonije but could ultimately have a similar impact.
Based on what he possesses in his athletic ability, technique, and potential, Murphy looks the part of a Top 100 pick, but if he can get more powerful and improve as a run defender and is simply more willing to vary up his attacks as a pass rusher, he can up his stock and potentially end up a Top 50 pick or perhaps higher. It stands to reason that Murphy will be invited to one of the post season All-Star games such as the Senior Bowl and it will be interesting to see where he practices and plays down there, but he seems to be a true Swiss army knife type player who gets on a team and just forces them to find ways to use him in their defense.