By now we know the Seahawks generally don’t draft cornerbacks early. Shaquille Griffin (round three) is their earliest pick at the position in the Pete Carroll era. Aside from that the norm is to wait until day three and find their prototypes.
The chances are that will be the case again this year.
Yet a couple of things have just made me pause on that thought…
Last week I was listening to Brock & Salk. Brock Huard does a daily segment called ‘Blue 42’. He answers three football questions on various topics. In this particular edition he was asked by Salk which position might be a target with their first pick. I was expecting a pretty standard answer (eg pass rush). Huard suggested cornerback.
I don’t have the exact quote to hand or a link to the audio but the gist is Huard wondered whether this would be the year they take a corner early. He suggested if there was a really talented player at the position available in the late first round they might feel obliged to pull the trigger.
At the time I found it pretty surprising. Then I read this mock draft by Eric Galko. I’m not sure how connected Galko is to the Seahawks or anyone who would know their thought process — but he paired Seattle with Washington cornerback Byron Murphy with the following blurb:
“Often linked to Murphy by league people, he fits what they need now. Potential surprises would be Delware’s Nasir Adderley or Maryland’s Darnell Savage. They have interest in both.”
So at the very least people ‘in the league’ are talking about the Seahawks and Byron Murphy.
This could all just be a red herring of course. They might just take a pass rusher with the first pick. That’s where the safe money is. Receiver, quarterback and a couple of other positions might be in the running. However — I still want to consider the thought process just in case there is some truth to this.
The Seahawks have essentially lost one key starter since 2018 — Justin Coleman. You could argue Earl Thomas but we all know they’d pretty much moved on from Earl a year ago and played most of the 2018 season without him anyway.
They’ve already replaced J.R. Sweezy. They re-signed K.J. Wright, Mychael Kendricks and D.J. Fluker. They’ll need to replace Shamar Stephen but they can do that in this draft class (John Schneider said on 710 ESPN yesterday he’d not seen a D-line class like this in 27 years).
Coleman is the one quality player they’ve lost.
Pete Carroll stated at the end of last season that he felt they have a competitive roster capable of contending. It just needed a bit more development and competition. If he truly believes that — replacing Coleman and then using the depth at D-line could be a possible plan. Here’s Galko’s line about Murray: “He fits what they need now.”
Even while writing this I have to check myself. They plucked Coleman from the Patriots and turned him into a big-money free agent. They just re-signed Akeem King to try and develop as a replacement (and he’s not the only corner competing for that role currently on the roster). If there’s one position they can draft and develop it’s cornerback.
But what if Huard’s point is crucial here? What if they’re willing to consider replacing Coleman with their first pick if a truly standout cornerback is available?
That’s where Murphy comes in. He’s a quality player. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and felt he was the most natural defensive back in this draft class. Here’s what I wrote about him in mid-October:
I spent some time watching Washington corner Byron Murphy last week and was wowed by his potential. I just wonder if he’d make a fantastic safety. He’s not the biggest (5-11, 182lbs) but he has that gliding running ability, he’s so quick to the ball. He’s physical and will deliver a jolting hit. Every snap I watched at corner — I kept thinking, ‘I’d love to see him at safety’.
And there was this note from November:
Murphy is undersized at CB but he’s sudden, quick to the ball and extremely physical. I’d love to see if he can convert to free safety.
When you watch Murphy you certainly see the kind of sudden athlete the Seahawks like. He’s incredibly physical despite his lack of size and a real force defending the run. There are some snaps where he competes for the ball and knocks it loose that are very reminiscent of Chris Harris Jr. He made plays on 31% of his targeted throws over two years and recorded seven interceptions and 20 pass-breakups in just 87 career targets.
In addition to his top-ranked overall grade, Murphy ranked inside the top-20 in forced incompletion percentage (24.2) and yards allowed per coverage snap (0.66) among the 189 cornerbacks with 50-plus targets in 2018. He also ranked inside the top-20 in passer rating allowed (54.5) and yards allowed per target (5.16) among the same group.
Isolating Murphy’s play to just targets of nine or fewer yards, he led the nation in forced incompletion percentage (26.7), ranked tied for third in yards allowed per reception (5.0) and fourth in yards allowed per target (3.3). He ranked tied for fifth in coverage grade (90.1) when targeted in that area of the field, as well.
Numbers aside, Murphy dominated the short and intermediate areas of the field – both in coverage and when playing the run. He earned an impressive 86.7 run-defense grade and logged eight run stops this past season, an aspect of his game he holds in high regard.
Here’s how PFF compared Murphy in various aspects to the ‘average’ for the 2019 draft class:
He loves to tackle and deliver jarring hits:
This is why I thought he might fit at safety. You don’t want him matching up on the outside against taller, faster cornerbacks. Put him inside in space and let him fly to the ball and tackle and he can be a major factor.
Increasingly we’re seeing safeties switch to the ‘big nickel’ in college and I wonder if that’s Murphy’s role at the next level. If the Seahawks are prioritising replacing Coleman with a dynamic hybrid defender — Murphy fits the bill even if he isn’t their prototype for outside corner.
Then you have to factor in his grit, his maturity, his exceptional character. Murphy has the attitude and the motivation (already a father) to succeed. The Seahawks will likely love his personality and the way he plays the game.
What about his testing? At the Washington pro-day yesterday he reportedly ran a 4.15 short shuttle and a 6.83 three cone. Had he worked out with the other safety/big nickel types at the combine — that would’ve been the fourth quickest three cone (behind only Marvell Tell, Amani Hooker and Taylor Rapp). It would’ve been the eighth fastest short shuttle but he was only marginally slower than Darnell Savage (4.15) and he was quicker than Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (4.20).
For those reasons — I’m inclined to not totally rule out Murphy-to-Seattle with their first pick. They’ll be trading down from #21 and it’s possible he won’t be there when they make a selection. If he is though — he might be a name to keep an eye on.
It also fits in line with some of the other players they’re meeting with. Galko linked Darnell Savage and Nasir Adderley to Seattle. They’re two more physical, tenacious defensive backs who could fit the big nickel position. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson met with the Seahawks and he switched to nickel for the 2018 season. Juan Thornhill is a former cornerback converted to safety and could also be viewed as a big nickel. They’re looking at guys who can play this position.
Murphy is a better player than the names above. He’s a better fit for this specific position. I think people look at the safeties visiting the VMAC and believe they’re looking for an Earl Thomas replacement. We’ve been saying for a few weeks — it’s probably more likely they’re looking for a versatile nickel.
It’s something I hadn’t really considered with their first pick but I’ll be keeping a more open mind going forward. Murphy to Seattle? Or one of these nickel prospects? Possibly. The game’s changing. Justin Coleman played 67.81% of the defensive snaps last year. The Seahawks play nickel in base like everyone else. Finding someone who can fit that role while defending the run and being able to tackle isn’t easy. That’s what Murphy can do. He’s not a burner, he’s not an outside corner. He’s a guy who will fly around and hit you while also having a knack for making big plays.
Their draft history says it’s unlikely but don’t dismiss Murphy being picked first up.
The counter to this? The fact they’ve done absolutely nothing to upgrade the defensive front and have actually lost players (Shamar Stephen, Dion Jordan) from last season. It’s possible they intend to fill out their D-line in the middle rounds but it’s risky. They need more up front. More pass rush, better run defense.
Seahawks interested in Greg Gaines?
“Gaines has watched his draft stock take off since the Senior Bowl and I’m told the hometown Seattle Seahawks like Gaines and have their eye on him.”
It’s an interesting note from Tony. We’ve been discussing Gaines for a couple of years, dating back to the start of his blossoming partnership with Vita Vea. The two were a great double act. Gaines consistently impacted games — he just lacked the frame and traits to stand out.
The Seahawks in the Carroll era haven’t drafted a defensive lineman with sub-33 inch arms in the first two days. Gaines had 31 1/4 inch arms.
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