For the Arizona Cardinals to break their five year post season drought in 2021, several players will need to take that ever important “next step”.
Some immediate names that come to mind are the likes of LB Isaiah Simmons, RB Chase Edmonds, and WR Christian Kirk (among others).
Then there’s CB Byron Murphy, the former 33rd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Murphy has been solid, not special, to begin his young NFL career. During his rookie campaign, he was quickly thrust into the starting lineup thanks to an injury to Robert Alford and a suspension to Patrick Peterson.
By in large, Murphy did an admirable job as a 21 year old rookie poised with the daunting task of covering the opposing team’s top targets. He started all 16 games, recording 10 PDs and an interception in the process.
His 2020 sophomore campaign, however, was somewhat of a disappointment for the former Washington Husky. Even after a year entrenched in defensive coordinator’s Vance Joseph’s system, Murphy was labeled as a “part time player”. Furthermore, he was quickly saddled with the role of “slot corner”, losing valuable playing time in the process.
In fact, Murphy logged nearly 200 less snaps in coverage in 2020 (493) compared to 2019 (691).
Yet even with the lesser playing time, Murphy’s talent was continually on display. His physical nature stood out in a Cardinal cornerback room that was too often allergic to contact.
Additionally his coverage marks, while somewhat pedestrian at 63.3, still led the entire Arizona CB group. His run defense grade (74.7) also led the unit.
So when the Cardinals opted to let starters Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick walk this offseason, many assumed the franchise would look for wholesale changes at the position.
Instead, outside of a modest free agent deal to Malcolm Butler, the powers at be have slow played their efforts in remaking the team’s secondary in large part because of their belief in Byron Murphy.
“It all starts with Byron”, said Vance Joseph in reference to the Cardinals starting CB group.
Anyone who follows this team knows that Joseph doesn’t mix words when referencing his defensive talent. Nor does he shy away from sitting players if they aren’t performing up to his standards, both on and off the field.
Which is what makes the following development so encouraging if you’re a Cardinal fan.
Murphy has been running with the first team Cardinal defense, and more noticeably has been covering on the outside rather than his traditional slot position.
His physical appearance has also changed considerably from a year ago.
Byron Murphy appears to be in tremendous physical condition.— Johnny Venerable (@JohnnyVenerable) May 19, 2021
Big year en route... pic.twitter.com/NQfhz4hE2X
Uneducated media will gasp at the thought of a Murphy-led cornerback group, especially with the loss of Cardinal great Patrick Peterson. Yet those who study tape will understand that both Peterson and Kirkpatrick were, by in large, liabilities last year.
Murphy has a chance to be a significant upgrade for the Arizona Cardinals.
So while the national pundits continue to lament the Cardinals for not aggressively addressing the cornerback position this offseason, the team is rightfully leaning on a homegrown player that should benefit from years of stability and continuity.
Byron Murphy will be 23 years old when the 2021 NFL season begins. He possesses all of the physical tools to be an elite level player at this level.
The stars appear to be aligning for Byron to become one.
At least the Cardinals hope so.