Trent Murphy had a breakout season in 2016 with the Washington Redskins after juggling positions in his first three years in the league. The sky seemed to be the limit heading into 2017. A PED suspension and ACL tear took away the entire 2017 season, and that was the end of the Murphy era in Washington. With the Buffalo Bills looking to upgrade their defensive line, they took a gamble on Murphy returning to his nine sack, 25-quarterback-hit form from 2016. Did Murphy come back full strength from his injury? Let’s take a peek!
Here’s one of Trent Murphy’s nine quarterback hits from this last season. It’s a near certainty that Murphy’s high motor was a primary factor in the decision to take a flier on the defensive end. Cut blocks are fairly effective against Murphy, and for quickly developing plays, it’s likely the way to go. As seen above, anything that takes some time might see Murphy go full Undertaker and rise back into the action.
Murphy typically reads and reacts to plays quite well. As illustrated above, he sees Derrick Henry and takes away the edge. The run should be over quickly, but Quinton Spain manages to block half the defensive line by himself and opens up a lane.
I noted in my offseason preview of Murphy that he really only had the 2016 season at defensive end in the NFL. As a result, he appeared to be learning finesse moves on the job. Murphy seems to be putting the work in, looking more natural with a variety of moves. In this clip, he anticipates the right hand and catches the wrist before it reaches his body. This negates Jonnu Smith’s leverage, and Murphy runs right by him.
Murphy still struggles to consistently display his strength, but this clip shows his upside. Trent Murphy forces Jack Conklin way back with a one-handed shove. Conklin has one All-Pro season under his belt if you’re wondering about quality of competition.
Murphy puts on a show in one snap. A quick stunt with Lorenzo Alexander causes a little confusion with three of the Tennessee Titans’ linemen. Held up by Ben Jones, Murphy uses a spin move and finds Marcus Mariota. At speed, Murphy shows agility and heads-up play by avoiding contact that might draw a penalty.
Trent Murphy has excellent top-end tools for his position, but he sometimes struggles to use them. A common problem appears to be his balance, especially as a result of overextending while leaning. This is a bit of an exaggerated example, but if he’s unable to impact a play, it’s likely because he used a high or off-balance stance and couldn’t find leverage.
When Trent Murphy gets moving, he can be like a freight train. After shoving aside a block, he still has enough momentum to knock over teammate Harrison Phillips. Murphy keeps on going and gets close enough to Mariota to give the quarterback something to think about.
One more peek at how Murphy has come along in learning the finer points of the defensive-end position. Even in 2016, it’s hard to fathom him pulling off a spin move this quickly and with such fluidity. Going back to his limitations (even though it’s not in the clip), Murphy stumbles and falls a couple steps out of the spin.
Trent Murphy showed flashes of his 2016 form and remains an intriguing player when it comes to potential. At age 28 and with only two seasons at defensive end under his belt, it’s not unreasonable to think Murphy might improve some. To be clear, Murphy simply becoming more consistent with a few skills should lead to improvement.
It’s hard to separate the Trent Murphy conversation from the Shaq Lawson one, with both players primarily working from the left defensive end position. When healthy, it was clear that Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier preferred Murphy (as evidenced by snap counts). Missing three games and needing to be eased into a few others to accommodate for injury, Murphy’s durability is a concern. Shaq Lawson also had a better season than expected. Both factors could lead to Murphy being a surprise cut, though I personally don’t see it happening.