Yesterday, the Jets claimed running back and return specialist Marcus Murphy off waivers. We're going to take an in-depth look at what Murphy brings to the table.
The 25-year old Murphy is 5'9" and 195 pounds and was drafted in the seventh round out of Missouri by the New Orleans Saints in 2015. In his two seasons with the Saints, Murphy was almost exclusively employed on returns, averaging 21.3 yards per kickoff return and 9.3 yards per punt with one touchdown.
Murphy played for four years at Missouri, starting off mainly as a return specialist but gradually developing into a major offensive contributor by his final season.
After scoring a career high 10 touchdowns in his junior year, Murphy's role expanded further and he posted career highs in rushing yards (924), yards from scrimmage (1,136) and receiving (28 catches, 212 yards, 7.6 average) as a senior. He ended his college career with 1,957 rushing yards at 5.8 yards per carry and 50 catches for 318 yards.
As a return man, he was one of the best in the nation with seven touchdown returns in his career. He was sixth in the nation in kick return average in his senior year having been second in the SEC for punt return average in his sophomore year.
At the end of his college career, Murphy posted disappointing workout numbers, but was still drafted in the seventh round by the New Orleans Saints.
In his third game, he made an immediate impact by returning a punt for a 74-yard touchdown. However, he only saw action on two offensive snaps over his two seasons and was inactive for 13 of the 16 games in 2016. He averaged 21.3 yards per kickoff return with a long of 35 and 9.4 yards per punt return.
The Jets claimed Murphy off waivers after his release earlier this week.
In preseason action with the Saints, Murphy has only ever been used as a running back. However, at Missouri, he would sometimes line up in the slot or out wide and also took a few wildcat snaps.
As you can see from the chart below, Murphy posted disappointing workout numbers at the combine, as he was dealing with a hamstring issue.
He improved on most of these numbers slightly at his pro day and ran a 7.13 three cone drill. However, all of these numbers were still below average. He looks athletic and shows good balance and breakaway speed on film though.
Murphy posted good numbers throughout his college career and racked up 130 yards on 32 carries in preseason action with the Saints. However, his style is a little boom or bust as he seemed to get stuffed in the backfield or at the line quite a lot and only boosted his average with big gains when he had a lot of room to run.
Nevertheless, once Murphy gets up a head of steam, he's capable of bouncing off or spinning out of tackles and shows good burst and acceleration.
This was perhaps his most impressive run in preseason action with the Saints:
Most of the time he would have success on pitch or counter plays that allow him to use his speed to get to the edge, although his burst and lack of size can be an asset in terms of squirting through small gaps when running up the middle:
Murphy has scored plenty of short yardage touchdowns at the college level and also had a three-yard touchdown run in his first ever NFL preseason game. He'll usually work the edges in these situations and has the quickness to find a crease and dive for the goal line.
At the NFL level, he's caught 16 passes for 138 yards in preseason action, but all of these have basically been dump-offs.
However, he has shown a wider skill-set while in college. Missouri coaches actually referred to Murphy as the second best wide receiver on the team early on in his career, so he obviously has pretty good route running skills for a running back.
From time to time Murphy would be targeted downfield at Missouri, even though most of his production at that level also came on short passes. On one play, he made a nifty side line catch keeping both feet inbounds, but that was negated by a penalty.
Here's a nice play where he is open on the outside, makes the snag and picks up the first down:
Murphy has pretty good hands for a running back and can hang on to the ball even when a hit is coming.
Murphy had one drop in a preseason game but only a couple in his senior year. This was a bad one on a play where he was open down the field though:
Ball security is a bit of a concern as he muffed a few catches on kick returns. He had three fumbles in his rookie year and has had two more in preseason action, although only only one of these was lost.
This one was a huge play with the scores tied late in a regular season game against the Giants. Murphy's fumble was recovered by his teammate Willie Snead and a facemask penalty assessed on the tackle of Snead ended up setting up the winning field goal:
You wouldn't expect Murphy to stay in and pass protect very often due to his lack of size but he proved capable of staying in to pass block several times a game without surrendering pressure most weeks at Missouri.
The Saints only required him to do it a few times in preseason action. Here he just about slows up the rusher coming off the edge enough to enable the quarterback to get his throw off for a big play:
As with most players signed at this time of the year, special teams play will be crucial for Murphy. However, it's even more important for him because he has the potential to extend his career as a sought-after return specialist.
As previously mentioned, Murphy had seven touchdown returns in college, of which this one against the Florida Gators is one of the best:
He also had this amazing return in a preseason game, showcasing his tackle-breaking and change of direction abilities:
(GIF via Black and Gold review)
Murphy perhaps needs to improve upon his vision and decisiveness at times when playing running back but shows good instincts in the open field as a return man, as you can see on this return:
He hasn't had a penalty at the NFL level and the only one he had in his senior year at Missouri was when he stepped out of bounds before catching a pass.
Saints coaches had been praising Murphy for his hard work last month, noting that he'd been doing extra work on ball security drills and catching punts having recognized that this was what cost him playing time last season.
Prior to entering the NFL, Murphy was regarded as a player who gave a good effort and showed heart and toughness.
Murphy played in 52 games in four years at college and was healthy for most of his rookie year but then ended up on injured reserve right at the end of the year after suffering a high ankle sprain.
In 2016, he missed 13 games but that was as a healthy scratch. As previously noted, he was limited by a hamstring injury at the combine.
It seems likely that Murphy would only be used on special teams if the Jets opted to sign him. However, if there were some injuries, he has shown an ability to contribute as a runner or receiver and it would be interesting to see if he could produce at the NFL level. On one of his two offensive snaps with the Saints, he caught a three-yard pass.
Murphy is a player who I was particularly high on prior to the 2015 draft, writing that he was "perhaps the most impressive" return man in that year's class.
He's had some modest success at the NFL level, although his regular season numbers haven't been quite as good as his preseason or college numbers and, as noted, he's had some ball security issues. That's also the case with Lucky Whitehead, who is likely to be in direct competition with Murphy and perhaps some others for a return role.
This is a great opportunity for a guy like Murphy with the job wide open, at least for those first four games when Jalin Marshall is suspended. Hopefully the extra work he's put into improving his ball security will pay off because he definitely has the potential to upgrade the Jets return game and, who knows, may have some untapped potential on offense too.