Position: Outside linebacker
Height: 6'5" Weight: 258 lbs
Drafted: Second round, 47th overall (2014)
When the Washington Redskins drafted Trent Murphy in the second round in 2014, some saw him as Brian Orakpo's eventual replacement. When Rak went down with his third pectoral injury in four seasons midway through the ensuing season, that became reality for the rookie out of Stanford, and he played decently until he also ended the season on IR. The Redskins drafted Preston Smith, signed Junior Galette and extended Ryan Kerrigan this offseason, and suddenly Murphy's role became a bit more cloudy, both in the present and in the future.
#1. Trent Murphy played in 15 games and started eight as a rookie, and while he held his own, he didn't make enough of an impact to dissuade new GM Scot McCloughan from using a second-round pick in the 2015 draft on Smith. Still, Murphy figured to earn a heavy workload either as a starter or rotational pass rusher in his upcoming sophomore campaign, until the most recent development with Galette, who is himself a pass-rushing specialist with substantially more empirical evidence working in his favor.
The Redskins were always planning to add some depth along the front seven this offseason and rumors swirled that the team wasn't sold on Murphy as a long-term solution to replace Orakpo. It never hurts to have more pass rushers, and injuries have ravaged the Washington defense in recent years, so it wasn't especially surprising that McCloughan brought in two new guys. What is a bit surprising is the quality of rushers that were brought in; both Smith and Galette are expected to find their names higher on the depth chart than Murphy finds his.
#2. Murphy finished his rookie season with 32 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup, and Pro Football Focus rated him the fourth-best defender on the team last year (behind Kerrigan, Jason Hatcher and Rak). He broke his hand in Week 16 against the Philadelphia Eagles, a week after he recorded a season-best six tackles against the New York Giants. He also might have had a game-ending sack and safety on Tony Romo in the Redskins' Week 8 win against the Dallas Cowboys, but Dallas left tackle Tyron Smith committed a rather egregious hold on Murphy that somehow went unnoticed by the referees.
#3. Smith had a slight edge to start opposite Kerrigan heading into training camp, but Murphy had a season of experience working in his favor. After the Redskins signed Galette, questions began to arise about where the Stanford star who seems to have won or been nominated for every award in college football in 2013 (come on, this is just excessive) would fit in this year. In the early days of camp, Murphy has focused on getting after the quarterback from a variety of positions, including on the edge and across the middle.
#4. One thing Murphy has going for him is outstanding work ethic. He is known to stay after practice and put in extra work on his own, and he has been particularly enthusiastic about working with Taekwondo grandmaster Joe Kim, who has been training the Redskins pass rushers on hand placement, footwork and other subtleties in their technique. Murphy also changed his offseason workout regimen this year; by all accounts he has bulked up — now listed at 258 pounds, he was drafted at around 250 — while also managing to get faster.
#5. Jay Gruden singled him out in June as a player he was especially optimistic about, per Liz Clarke of The Washington Post.
"He's bigger, he's stronger, he's rushing the passer extremely well," Gruden said of Murphy. "He's getting off the ball very well right now. I think I'm expecting him to make the biggest jump from first year to second year on our football team because not only is he bigger, but he knows the position. He's athletic. And when you put on some extra bulk and strength, it's just going to give him more. He's already a smart football player with great instincts. Now you add the extra bulk and we expect big things from him this year."
Fullback Darrel Young also noticed the difference between rookie Murphy and second-year Murphy, again via Liz Clarke.
"I hate trying to block Murphy now!" Young said recently. "He's heavier. It's good weight, though. And he's faster. He's smarter. Last year I'd run a flat out of the backfield, and he'd be looking in the backfield, and I'd outflank him. Well, now he's beating me to the spot! He's been doing a hell of a job. Hell of a job!"
Bottom Line: Murphy's role will certainly be reduced from what it was expected to be four months ago, but he should still carve out a healthy chunk of playing time. His progress this offseason is a terrific first step to earning significant snaps. It's also important to keep in mind how quickly circumstances can change. Galette has plenty of question marks, Smith has yet to play a pro snap and Kerrigan — well, actually, Kerrigan is a beast. But Murphy will have a place in the defense this year, and new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, a former linebackers coach, shouldn't have too much difficulty finding room for him.