Who is Ryan Murphy?

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Seattle drafted an athletic and semi-anonymous defensive back with a large wingspan on the last day of the NFL draft. Well, this year it happened twice, including 7th round selection Ryan Murphy. Like many of these late round defensive back selections, Murphy figures to spend his rookie season primarily on special teams. Let’s take a look at how he ended up on the Seahawks and project his future with the team.

High School & College

Ryan Murphy is a native of Oakland, California and attended the same high school, Oakland Tech, as his cousin Marshawn Lynch. Murphy played running back and defensive back in high school rushing for 1,983 yards and 18 touchdowns as senior. Following high school, Murphy attended Oregon State University where he recently graduated with a degree in human development and family science.

Murphy redshirted his first year, followed by playing in all 12 games as the nickel cornerback in 2011. In 2012 he won the starting free safety job, which he held for the remainder of his college football career. For his career he tallied 235 total tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, 21 passes defensed, and 7 interceptions. He was twice named a Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention (2013, 2014).

NFL Draft

Most NFL draft pundits projected Ryan Murphy as a 7th round draft pick or undrafted free agent. Like many late rounders, he was a productive but incomplete player. On the plus side, he diagnoses plays well and is an aggressive competitor with good ball skills. However, he will take poor angles when pursuing the ball carrier and is only average in coverage. He is, however, a capable kick returner, averaging over 22 yards per kick return with one touchdown last season.

Last year’s Oregon State versus Stanford game provides ample examples of both his strengths and weaknesses. This first quarter red zone interception and fourth quarter pass breakup in the end zone are perfect examples of the play recognition and ball skills that indicate he can play in the NFL.

On the other hand, he also missed two different tackles that resulted in touchdowns  and was beaten badly for what should have been a third touchdown if he hadn’t held the receiver (although probably a smart penalty if he recognized he was beaten).

Athletically, Murphy is well above average for his position and perfectly matches the Seahawk archetype for defensive backs: he’s over six feet tall and possesses 32” arms. Additionally, his 4.45 forty-yard dash, 1.54 10-yard split, and 39-inch vertical are elite for the safety position. Ultimately his measurables put him in the 86th percentile among NFL safeties according to his SPARQ score. This is very good.

Seahawk Outlook

Ryan Murphy was drafted to provide cheap labor at the backup safety position and play a ton of special teams – basically replace the recently departed Jeron Johnson. As a rookie, he should have no problem jumping straight into special teams, including as the primary backup kick returner behind Tyler Lockett.

Since Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas have the starting safety positions locked down, I think the ideal ceiling for Murphy is a hybrid safety/corner role that would allow roster flexibility for Seattle – essentially he could backup either safety position and play corner in a pinch, otherwise known as the Deshawn Shead role. He certainly has the athleticism for this role; it’s just a matter of how well he can turn Seahawk’s legendary secondary coaching into production on the field.