We know no king but the King in the North, whose name is Byron Murphy.
Since May, LSU cornerback Greedy Williams has long been associated at the country’s #1 cornerback prospect for 2019. Just this past week, Williams made his candidacy official, announcing he was leaving LSU to go pro. Williams will be a coveted prospect come April.
But CB1, he is not.
No. You see, that honor, should he want it, belongs to young Byron Murphy of the Washington Huskies. A redshirt sophomore, Murphy is a corner after my own heart.
I have a type at cornerback. I’m super fond of twitchy, quick footed cornerbacks who can explode on the ball. My track record at cornerback affirms this natural bias, as looking over my CB1 from each of my five years in the industry:
-2014: TCU’s Jason Verrett
-2015: Washington’s Marcus Peters
-2016: Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey
-2017: Washington’s Sidney Jones
– 2018: (Tie) Ohio State’s Denzel Ward and Louisville’s Jaire Alexander
My track record also suggests we are due for another Husky to claim the top spot, as Murphy would be the third in six seasons.
But why? There have been dozens of twitchy, quick footed cornerbacks to pass through the NFL Draft process over the last half-decade…what makes Murphy the next in line to be a great one?
I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a peek at some of his film to find out.
2017 – Redshirt Freshman
Byron Murphy announced himself on the scene in a big way, logging two interceptions against Rutgers on the road to open the season in Week 1 last year. This was a game I was in attendance for, Murphy’s route instincts were clearly off the charts in person, despite it being his first college game.
You can imagine my crushing disappointment to find out this player was at least two years away from being a factor in the Draft. But I filed him away, hoping to catch more glimpses of this kind of ball production along the way.
What a wonderful job by a redshirt freshman in his first game to not get suckered by the route vacating away from him. This patience was rewarded with a gifted interception: a ball that had no business being thrown. But it was. And Murphy was in position to make them pay.
Murphy’s ball production fell off a cliff shortly after, however, thanks to a broken foot suffered in practice. Who knew it was hard to be productive on the sideline? It would be two months before Murphy would see the field again, though it wasn’t long thereafter that he was making his presence felt yet again.
The Apple Cup is one of the featured rivalries across the country on Rivalry Weekend in college football, and Murphy darn near blew the Washington State Cougars out by himself.
A few things to appreciate from Murphy here. First and foremost, how about the anticipation to see this quick throw develop and defeat two potential blockers with his short area quickness? That’s great preparation on the part of this staff and Murphy.
And Murphy’s aggression yields a forced fumble because he attacks the football on his tackle challenge. Something to remember about Byron Murphy? He’s listed at 5-foot-11, 182 pounds. While that might bother some teams, it sure as hell isn’t bothering me if he can hit like that.
And like this.
That’ll do just fine. So remember if and when Murphy declares to scoff at any suggestion that he’s not physical due to his size. That’s nonsense. Also nonsense? Murphy’s awareness in zone coverage as a player playing in his fifth career football game against Coach Mike Leach’s spread.
How smooth is that? There’s a few things to note on this pass break-up by Murphy, starting with how free and easy he’s able to throw his hips open and keep his eyes in the backfield. Murphy is a free-mover, flexible and pliable in all the right ways to allow for smooth change of direction.
This is also excellent understanding of the route concept. Murphy’s eyes see Falk key on this throw and when peeling off of his primary responsibility, Murphy gains ground towards the line of scrimmage to cut in front of the route and challenge the football.
These are high end fundamentals for such a young player. But what if I told you he’s only gotten better this season?
2018 – Redshirt Sophomore
One marquee match-up from Murphy’s 2018 season? A date with in Eugene, Oregon with Ducks QB Justin Herbert. Herbert took his shots at Murphy, though the vast majority of the afternoon featured Murphy slamming throwing windows shut. Here is a great turn and run rep from Murphy for a deep pass defensed.
Murphy (top of the screen) does a good job to stay leveraged over his route at the line of scrimmage before filtering his receiver inside for a vertical release. Why does this matter? Because Washington is playing single high (Cover-1) coverage, so Murphy knows reducing his Safety’s angle to help defend a potential target is important.
Bad news: Murphy’s safety freezes as the front side post bangs into the middle of the field (it’s open, too). Herbert holds the throw and with the safety out of position takes his shot at Murphy.
But look at how loose Murphy is down the field! He flips his hips twice, once to mirror as the receiver bends his route towards the back pylon and then again to open back to the throw and bat the football away. Terrific stuff. Here’s another look at the same play:
Shortly after in this football game, Oregon pushed the ball into the red zone and looked at a one-on-one match-up for a potential score.
Murphy’s quickness to flip his hips and accelerate on this shallow stem are excellent. His receiver takes a hard inside release, putting Murphy in the trail position immediately. Yet check out Murphy’s hands at the apex of this route stem. He’s not grabbing or hooking this receiver, but he is feeling him. That allows him to work from outside leverage to inside positioning and undercut the route.
And as he feels the receiver with his hands, where are Murphy’s eyes? Keyed on Herbert, who has cocked his arm to throw. If the ball is on the body of the receiver, it’s an interception.
A redshirt sophomore cornerback who is highly proficient at zone coverage since day one now illustrating turn and run cover skills? Yikes. That’s scary stuff.
I’d be remiss to not mention Murphy’s PAC-12 Championship game performance. His two interceptions were key in the Huskies’ 10-3 victory over Utah. Hell, Byron Murphy outscored the Utes by himself with his pick-six in the third quarter.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. But in Murphy’s case? I’d be willing to concede that he’s both here. Murphy will have until January 14th to decide if he wants to join the 2019 NFL Draft player pool. I, for one, hope to see CB1 there.