Veteran Chris Ivory was brought in on a free-agent contract to serve as the primary backup to Pro Bowler LeSean McCoy, but through the first two preseason games, Marcus Murphy has staked his claim not only to a spot on the 53-man roster, but as the primary backup to Shady.
Especially following Friday night’s 19-17 win over the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, when Murphy not only led the Bills in rushing (39 yards on four carries for a robust 9.8 yards per rush average), but directly set up a field goal before halftime with a huge punt return.
Through two preseason games, Murphy, a seventh-round draft pick out of Missouri in 2015, has rushed for 74 yards on 11 carries (6.73 yards/rush) with one touchdown, and has added four receptions for 30 yards.
“I just want to make a play. Whenever an opportunity is given, I just want to make the most of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s being a running back, punt returner or kick returner. I just want to be a playmaker whenever I get the chance,” Murphy told Branson Wright of The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“I’m not the prototypical running back at 6-foot, 230 pounds,” said Murphy, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds. “I have a chip on my shoulder. I want to prove that I can run between the tackles, pass-protect and run outside. I get a little shine when I have the ball in my hands, but it’s about all of us working together.”
This after an impressive performance in the regular-season finale of 2017. With the Bills fighting for the playoffs and with both McCoy and Travaris Cadet sidelined, Murphy, a former member of three teams’ practice squads in 2017 — the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, and the Bills — rushed for 41 yards and added two receptions for seven yards in a 22-16 victory.
In Buffalo’s preseason opener, Murphy carried seven times for 35 yards and caught four passes for 30 yards. He demonstrated his patience, elusiveness, and cut-back ability when he scampered into the end zone on a seven-yard touchdown run to put the Bills up 17-7 heading into halftime vs. the Panthers.
On Friday night, another big play from Murphy, this time in the return game, again helped set up a late first-half score. Murphy’s nifty 39-yard punt return put the Bills in range for a Stephen Hauschka field goal as Buffalo took a 10-7 lead into intermission.
That punt return, which could have gone for at least 20 more yards had Murphy not gotten tripped up over his own feet avoiding a defender, showcased the versatility he displayed at Missouri, where he was an All-SEC running back.
In his senior season, he rushed for 924 yards (5.2 per carry) while catching 28 passes for 212 yards with five total offensive TDs. In the return game, Murphy averaged 29.4 yards on kickoff returns, and an additional 10.4 yards on punt returns with three special teams TDs. His seven career kickoff and punt return TDs broke Jeremy Maclin’s old school record.
Murphy, who was drafted by the Saints, came into the league with a solid reputation as a jack-of-all trades guy who could help as a runner, as a receiver, and in the return game.
Through two preseason games, Murphy has not only earned a spot on the 53-man roster, but he is making serious waves in his attempt to take over the No. 2 role from Ivory. Murphy needs to demonstrate proficiency in pass protection, but if he does, there’s no reason why he couldn’t excel as Shady’s handcuff. His explosive running style, and his abilities as a pass-catcher, would certainly serve as a nice compliment to McCoy.