Murray was one of those “Yeah, but…” players for many during his draft class, but I liked him a lot. So did Earnest Byner and Sam Gash…
I’ve done a Murray flashback in the past, but I have a little story to add. Murray was one of the options I most wanted to see at the Senior Bowl. The Sooner followed Adrian Peterson and had an amazing beginning to his career before injuries deemed him a “disappointment” in many folks’ eyes. I studied his tape before the all-star game and came away impressed with his maturity and toughness in the same way Edgerrin James and Frank Gore impressed at various points of their careers while playing with injuries that robbed them of their high-end athleticism.
Murray’s decision-making popped off the screen, especially in contrast to his early years when he looked like a bigger stronger Reggie Bush with Darren McFadden’s gait. Player interviews aren’t really my thing at the Senior Bowl. Some writers really get off on the opportunity to talk with these athletes, but there are only a few players whose personalities really stood out in a way that transcended the typical player-writer interview: Marvin Jones, Michael Sam, and in this case, Murray.
I didn’t expect Murray to be the type of interview that I’d enjoy, but after seeing his tape I wanted to gauge how the humbling process of fighting through multiple injuries affected his outlook at football. Some of the humility and maturity that he gained from the experience shines through in this Q&A for the New York Times.
Murray looked great during practice. He was one of the better pass protectors on the field in back-on-backer drills — moving his feet well to keep up with his hand placement — even if his tape displayed opportunities for improvement. The back also routinely turned certain losses into positive gains when he faced penetration into the backfield during scrimmages.
It was also a good lesson in sticking to your guns with what you see, because some of the veteran writers I knew were talking about how much Murray hurt his draft stock and his pad level and gait weren’t suitable for the NFL. I wondered to myself if I was missing something important about him.
However I learned that I wasn’t the only one impressed. I was standing by the fence watching Murray during one of those morning practices when then-Jaguars running backs coach Earnest Byner and Lions position coach Sam Gash walked to the fence and flanked me on either side to watch.
Byner is one of my favorite all-time players and it was one of the few moments I felt starstruck encountering a football player. Gash was a terrific fullback in his day, too. I knew I’d have to say something to Byner about how much of a fan I was of his game, but for the first 30 minutes I kept it cool and continued taking notes.
But when Byner and Gash openly commented on Murray bouncing a play outside and taking the edge on three defenders with great angles, calling the runner a ‘thoroughbred’, I got lost in the moment and joined the conversation uninvited. Byner listened to me talk about his decision-making in the hole and his power, and smiled.
“You sound like his agent,” he quipped.
“Do I look like an agent to you?” I responded with a grin, pointing at my old pair of shoes that didn’t resemble the styles that I see on most agents (by the way, some of them couldn’t look casual if their life depended on it).
Byner and Gash laughed and continued to hang around the fence talking shop while I got back to taking notes. I did pick my spot to have a fan moment with Byner once practice ended, but the real takeaway was Murray.
Here is a quick overview of my thoughts on Murray pre-draft. You can click the link at the end for the full report.
Overall Positives: I’m extremely impressed with the maturity that Murray has acquired as a runner. He has the lateral cutting skill, change of direction/wiggle, and speed to make defenders miss to generate huge gains. But when called for, Murray can run the ball with the pad level, no-nonsense decisiveness and smarts of a back that commonly has a fraction of Murray’s athleticism.
The most impressive aspect of what I just described is that he generally knows when to turn on the flash and when to be the punisher. He’s not the power runner that Mark Ingram is, but he might be more versatile. He’s more elusive, faster, and solid in pass protection and as a receiver. He’s not as sound of a blocker as Ingram, but every bit the receiver if not better.
Murray has a gliding style, but he’s also physical. He moves a little like Darren McFadden, but with better techniques. I think Matt Forte could be a better comparison.
Overall Criticisms: Murray’s blocking needs more work. He tends to shoot too low on cut blocks and he has to be more consistent delivering an initial punch. He’s missed games due to four injuries. His running style is stiff in the hips like Darren McFadden, but he manages to generate more power and he can get his pads much lower than the Raiders runner. If he can improve his flexibility and stay healthy he’s a great all-around prospect as a runner, receiver from the backfield, improving pass protector, and kick return specialist.