Secret Superstars: Washington Redskins
Few teams need a Secret Superstar more than Washington. Only two fared worse than the Redskins on Pro Football Focus’s Top 101 players list, where Ryan Kerrigan made the cut. With Brian Orakpo now on Tennessee’s roster, and the drama that surrounds the offensive side of their game, Washington’s fans are looking for some hope. Trent Murphy may have the skills and drive to fill that role.
While injury prevented Murphy from significant play time in his first two years at Stanford, he hit the ground running in his junior year, putting up noteworthy numbers: 6.5 sacks, 10 tackles for a loss, and 25 solo tackles.
The impressive stats continued on into his senior year, where he did not miss one game. He had 10 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, 38 solo tackles, and an interception returned for a touchdown. He was named to the All-Pac-12 first team and the AP All-American third team.
He returned for a second senior year, in which he recorded even more eye-popping numbers (15 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss, and 37 solo tackles) and once again earned accolades. He also received the Jack Huston Award for exceptional performance and unheralded efforts in both of his senior years.
As expected by most scouts at the time, Murphy went in the second round of the NFL draft, with the 47th overall pick. Scouts saw him to have good instincts and toughness, but also thought he’d take a few years to develop.
In the first half of the season Murphy played third downs, often as a tackle, sometimes as a substitute for Kerrigan or Orakpo and got off to a middling start.
Murphy broke his mediocre streak in Week 4 against the Giants, in which he graded positively in both pass rush and run defense with a particularly nice series starting in the third quarter at 3:33. To begin, Murphy lined up as the LOLB but the runner rushed to the opposite side. Murphy was not in the right place to make the tackle, but instead of giving up on the play, he pursued and caught the cutback. A few plays later (at 2:14) he stretched himself across the line to haul down the runner and finally, at 1:32, he powered around the right tackle and applied pressure to the quarterback.
Increased Playing Time
Murphy’s playing time jumped significantly starting in Week 8 due to Brian Orakpo’s season-ending injury. He started the rest of the season, and played 92% of the defensive snaps, excluding Week 17 in which he left the game with a broken hand. Up until that Week 8 contest, he had been playing in only 39% of the team’s defensive snaps.
His first game as a starter was against the Cowboys, and their extraordinary offensive line. Murphy was up to the challenge and came away with a QB hit, three hurries and a batted pass.
In Weeks 11 and 12 Murphy had his top two games of the season. Week 11 featured his highest pass rushing grade of the year — the high mark best reflected by a play in the first quarter at 11:58. Lined up as an inside linebacker, Murphy split the right guard and tackle before bowling over the blocking back to notch a sack, forcing Tampa Bay to kick a field goal. In week 12, his pass rush wasn’t the highlight, but his run defense grade was tops in the league for 3-4 OLBs by a wide margin. He recorded six tackles and five stops as well as a QB hit.
Play Until the Whistle
Murphy’s relentlessness in finishing plays is demonstrated numerous times throughout the season. He rarely quits on a play, even if he is far removed from the ball. This tenaciousness is best demonstrated in that Week 8 game against the Cowboys. At 2:23 of the first, Murphy rushes the quarterback while the ball is handed off. Finding himself 5 yards behind the play when he turns to start pursuit, he doesn’t stop and ends up in perfect position to recover the fumble after the safety strips the ball. With that type of doggedness, he will find himself in many fortuitous situations.
Looking to 2015
There is much to be excited about in Trent Murphy’s game. He posted the sixth-highest grade in run defense for all 3-4 OLBs and showed well as a tackler, recording only two misses while posting the 15th-best highest Tackle Efficiency at the position. Where his game could use a step forward is in pass rush. It’s worth noting, however, that half of Murphy’s negatively-graded pass rush games came after he tore his PCL in Week 11. With the right tutelage from Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry, who was a linebacker himself, and Murphy’s fortitude, he could be a powerhouse OLB to match Ryan Kerrigan.