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All-22 analysis: Buffalo Bills free agent defensive end/linebacker Trent Murphy

Former Washington guy Trent Murphy comes to Buffalo following positions changes, PED suspension, and catastrophic injury. Here’s what we’re hoping they found.

The Buffalo Bills added pass rusher Trent Murphy during their first volley of free agency earlier this week. Murphy was drafted by Washington in the middle of the second round in 2014. Originally selected to play outside linebacker in Washington’s 3-4 defense, he spent two years in that role. In 2016 he was asked to put on approximately 30 pounds and try his hand(s) at defensive end (again in the 3-4). An injury to Junior Galette led to him being asked to drop that weight again and come back to the linebacker corps.

In 2017, Murphy was suspended four games for a PED violation. Before serving that suspension Murphy tore his ACL (left) ultimately missing the entire season. The suspension time was served during the injury recovery, coming via the route of lost game checks. Murphy’s playing time (around 60%) led to decent returns with 15 sacks and 111 combined tackles. A year away from the game due to a catastrophic knee injury and a PED violation aren’t precisely positive signs. If he comes back to form, let’s see what he brings to the table.

Play 1

You don’t see this a whole lot. Murphy starts pushing back into the tackle during his bend to get to Dak Prescott. The pause shows that the tackle has good foot position while moving. Murphy demonstrates excellent strength here and knocks over his man. That tackle by the way is five-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro Tyron Smith. This is Murphy’s upside in the strength department. He’s not always able to get leverage to use it, but when he does it can be impressive.

Play 2

Here he is matched up against Smith again. Another upside shot here as Murphy shows good bend after the initial contact. Murphy displays better balance from this side, and even still can be inconsistent. As this was his first year truly learning defensive end, the upside he displays is encouraging.

Play 3

Remember, he’s still learning the position. The spin move on the first play (Cowboys) is alright, as is Murphy’s ability to disengage from the block. Against Green Bay, his swat is ineffective and the swim move is less than ideal. It’s again encouraging that he’s attempting such a wide variety of moves, but there’s some work to do overall on technique.

Play 4

One thing that stands out as a major asset for Murphy (and a plus in the “process” column) is his awareness. Murphy can often be found around the play due to heads-up recognition. For this play, he sees the better angle of attack is running across the formation. The last pause shows when the ball is released. Murphy is in the QB’s face frequently, and this is a good example why.

Play 5

Murphy was drafted as a pass-rushing linebacker and performed this role for two years in Washington. While this isn’t this receiver’s best route, that’s Cole Beasley he’s matched up against and does a pretty good job shadowing. Against TEs and RBs, Murphy is often a solid match up.

Play 6

This double-leg takedown is probably all Sean McDermott needed to see. Not only for the love of wrasslin’ but this play highlights a lot of the positives noted above. Murphy cuts through the trash using strength and speed to make the play.

Trent Murphy’s career path leaves far too many questions to be sure of how he’ll do in Western New York. Past position changes and corresponding weight fluctuations place him somewhere between linebacker and defensive end conceptually, but should serve him well as a 4-3 defensive end. The PED violation can’t be ignored either. It’s hard to know how much of his athleticism might disappear afterwards. For the record, his official story was a tainted supplement in the “I wasn’t sure what I was taking” category of defense. The drastic weight change he was asked to undergo might suggest he was less cautious than he should have been to add mass. It could also suggest he may have elected to take a shortcut.

With plenty of supporters in his corner vouching for his character, the Bills are banking on the PEDs having had a minimal impact on Murphy. If they’re right, and he can continue developing as a defensive end, the Bills could easily have a diamond in the rough.