Will need to add weight to play end in a 4-3 defense
Summary: Murphy was one of the leaders of Stanford's tough defense over the past three seasons. He was a dangerous pass-rusher off the edge and a physical defender who set the tone for the Cardinal's front seven. In those three years, Murphy steadily improved his game to the point where he was the best pass-rusher in the nation as a senior.
Murphy made an impact in 2011 with 40 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks as a sophomore. 2012 was a breakout season for Murphy as he totaled 56 tackles with 10 sacks, 18 tackles for a loss, four passes broken up, one interception and a forced fumble.
As a senior, Murphy was one of the best players in college football. He started out his season with a multi-sack game against San Jose State and stayed consistent through the end of the year. Murphy had an interception returned for a 30-yard touchdown against Washington State. Versus Washington, he had two sacks and deflected a pass that was intercepted near the end zone late in the fourth quarter to protect Stanford's narrow win over the Huskies.
Murphy had other multi-sack games against UCLA and USC. Against Oregon State, he was an animal, totaling eight tackles, 2.5 sacks, two batted passes and 4.5 tackles for a loss. In 2013, Murphy put together 15 sacks, 24.5 tackles for a loss, 62 tackles, six passes batted, one forced fumble and an interception returned 30 yards for a touchdown. He led the nation in sacks. His only ugly game came at the hands of Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin, as the likely first-round pick was able to shut down Murphy.
At the Senior Bowl, Murphy continued to struggle with Martin but was able to win some pass rushing one-on-ones against other tackles. Murphy checked in a little smaller than advertised and looks like he fits as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He would need to add weight to be a base end in a 4-3 defense. Coming from Stanford's 3-4, Murphy has experience lining up in a variety of spots and has used his pass-rushing ability to beat guards and right tackles as well. He also can execute in pass coverage.
Murphy is a physical defender who beats linemen with power and technique. He is fast enough to get by as an pass-rusher in the NFL, but he won't be a speed demon off the edge. Murphy has a nice repertoire of moves with good hands to fight off blocks. He is instinctive and consistently puts himself in position to make splash plays. Murphy also does a nice job at defending the run. He can hold his ground and shed blockers to make tackles in the ground game. Murphy is skilled in pursuit of ball-carriers, which is one reason why he is such a good pass-rusher. Murphy also showed some ability in college to function dropping into pass coverage.
The only thing keeping Murphy from being a first-round pick is a lack of speed and elite athleticism. However, plenty of good NFL players had the same criticism coming out of college. Murphy has the intangibles and enough of a skill set to overcome that. He could easily end up being a steal as a second-round pick. Murphy may not be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but years from now teams could be regretting not taking him on Thursday night.
Player Comparison: Connor Barwin. Barwin and Murphy are similarly styled players, but this writer believes that Murphy will end up being a better version. Barwin (6-4, 260) is almost identical in size to Murphy. Both have edge-rush ability, but don't have special speed or explosion off the snap. In the 2009 NFL Draft, Barwin was a second-round pick of the Texans, and he had 11.5 sacks in 2011. Barwin has had some production in other seasons with the Texans and now the Eagles. Murphy should at least end up being a player comparable to Barwin, but could easily end up being better and more consistent.
NFL Matches: Arizona, San Diego, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Green Bay, Seattle, Houston
As an early-round pick, there are a number of teams that could consider Murphy. The Cardinals got a good season out of John Abraham, but they need a long-term edge rusher for their defense.
The Chargers also need an outside linebacker to rush off the edge. Dwight Freeney was a stop-gap player and Melvin Ingram hasn't broken out yet, in part because of injury. San Diego needs to improve its pass rush this offseason.
Philadelphia needs a 3-4 edge rusher, and Murphy would be a nice scheme fit. Plus, Chip Kelly showed he likes to draft players who hurt him at Oregon, and Murphy would fit that bill.
At the Senior Bowl, WalterFootball.com heard that the Packers and 49ers were both interested in Murphy. Each team could use some pass-rushing depth, and Murphy fits those clubs' defenses well.
The Seahawks signed Michael Bennett to a 1-year deal, and if they don't bring him back, they could use another edge rusher. Houston also needs to get an edge rusher to pair with J.J. Watt.
My criteria for this mock is what I would do at each pick, not what I think will actually happen. I still try to tie the picks to reality as much as possible, but this far out, it just isn't realistic to try and make predictions. When the rumor mill really starts plugging away, I'll make some real guesses.