If there were any doubts that the Kansas City Chiefs brain-trust saw cornerback as a position of weakness heading into the draft, those doubts were sure laid to rest when three corners received calls from Dorsey. The draft has statistically been proven to be more or less a crapshoot, so throwing numbers at a position of weakness isn’t a bad way to go. And to be fair, only teams with strong rosters are really in a position to execute that strategy in the first place.
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So we drafted three corners, now the question is can any of them play? By play, I mean can any of them come in and be a contributor in their rookie season. KeiVarae Russell seems like the safest answer considering he was the highest pick of the three and played at the bigger college, but consider me intrigued by the 106th overall pick, Eric Murray out of Minnesota.
Murray’s measurables don’t jump off the page at you – he’s 5’11”, weighs a shade under 200 pounds, and runs a 4.49 40-yard dash – which is part of the reason he was available in the fourth round. Another reason, perhaps, would be his lack of gaudy interception numbers; since he became a starter for Minnesota in 2013, he only managed to haul in two interceptions. Unsurprisingly, it’s not his numbers, but his tape, that has me thinking that Murray could be a year one contributor on Sundays.
I’ve looked at a handful of college corners over these past few weeks, and it’s always interesting to see how each of them fare when left on an island in press man coverage. While Minnesota employed a variety of coverage schemes, press man was utilized more often than not, and Murray really stood out in these snaps.
The thing that is instantly noticeable on this play is Murray’s feet. Remember that hot feet basketball drill coaches used to make you do all the time? Well those drills seem to have stuck with Murray because his feet are firing off the ground the moment the ball is snapped. While I don’t recall seeing a cornerback with foot technique quite like this, I must say it’s pretty darn effective.
So back to this particular play, Murray is not at risk of being caught flat-footed, he keeps his center of gravity low, and is sudden with his change of direction once the receiver makes his move. These are all desirable traits when looking for a cornerback to play in a man coverage oriented scheme.
Here’s another play with Murray in press man and all the traits mentioned above are on display here: his feet are active at the snap of the ball, he stays low in his stance, and quickly changes direction once the receiver shows where he’s going. An additional thing to note on this play is his utilization of the boundary. When defending a receiver one-on-one who is going deep, corners always want to ensure their forcing that receiver between themselves and the sideline. This greatly reduces the margin for error for both quarterback and receiver. Murray does a great job of making sure the receiver doesn’t get an inside release on this play and forces him to run his route almost out of bounds early on.
Murray’s press man technique is much further along than some of the cornerbacks taken in the first round, so that’s incredibly encouraging. However, as you’re probably expecting, there are some flaws in his game that need to be patched if he’s to see snaps this season.
Murray is lined up one-on-one at the bottom of your screen in this play and proceeds to ride the receiver for basically the entire route. Over-aggressiveness is something Murray was guilty of quite a bit of, and while the college rules are more lenient in this area, it could lead to some growing pains early on in the pros.
Earlier I mentioned Murray only managed to pull in two interceptions over three years as a starter. Well, plays like this explain why – he needs to work on tracking the ball while it’s in the air. With average height and the likes of Demayrius Thomas, Amari Cooper, and Keenan Allen in the division, Murray could find himself in quite a few jump ball scenarios (should he be playing, that is). It’s a tough skill to develop for sure, and Chiefs DB coach Emmitt Thomas will be spending lots of time with Murray on getting his head turned around and locating the ball while not losing track of the receiver.
Finally, something that you may have picked up on in all the clips above is Murray doesn’t do a whole lot of backpedaling. While I’ve praised him for being sudden with his change of direction, sometimes he has the habit of being too sudden and flipping his hips prematurely.
This causes him to be susceptible on comeback routes, like in the GIF above. Murray’s development in this area between now and September will probably be the biggest determining factor in him seeing meaningful action this season.
It goes without saying that expectations for a fourth-round cornerback should be modest, but Eric Murray looks to be a corner that come in and make an impact on this Chiefs defense. His experience being left on an island in press man coverage, technique which is further along than you’d expect from a fourth-rounder, and solid footwork make for a foundation that can undoubtedly be worked with.
The opportunity is there for Eric Murray as everything beyond CB1 is in flux, and he has these next few months to put in the work and seize it.