October 22, 2020

What drafting Trent Murphy does and does not tell us about the Redskins

As a 3-13 team, the Washington Redskins entered the 2014 NFL Draft with a laundry list of needs. Their first pick, however, was for a player who plays the same position as Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.

What gives?

Offensive line, nose tackle, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety are all positions of need, but instead the Redskins went for Trent Murphy, an outside linebacker out of Stanford.

Drafting one of the few positions in which the team did not have a pressing need has caused wild speculation over the motive for the pick. Let’s look at what drafting Murphy actually tells us and what it doesn’t:

What it does tell us:

The Redskins are serious about improving their pass rush.

After the Shanahans were booted, the defensive staff paraded around the media much like in The Wizard of Oz singing the “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”

Evidently Mike Shanahan “handcuffed” the defense and all the talk has been on how defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will be able to improve the pass rush this year.

Murphy led the nation in sacks in his senior season with 15. Pass rush is definitely his strength.  Even though he will backup Orakpo and Kerrigan, there are packages that call for three outside linebackers and it is likely Murphy will see some playing time this season.

By drafting a pass rushing specialist, it shows all the talk about improving the pass rush were not just idle words.

The Redskins do not expect to keep both Orakpo and Kerrigan

The Redskins placed the franchise tag on Orakpo that is good for only one year. Kerrigan’s current deal will expire at the end of the 2015 season. Both are very good players and both will want significant long-term deals when their current one’s expire.

Keeping them both may just be too expensive.

Murphy is not going to be ready to start by opening day, but the long-term plan is for him to be ready to start by next season. Think David Amerson.

Amerson was the team’s second round pick last season, one year before Josh Wilson’s deal expired. Amerson was not expected to start, but was expected to play and develop into a starter by year two. This is exactly what they are hoping for Murphy.

The second round is too high to draft someone who’s ceiling is as a depth player. A team is not going to draft a player that high if they do not believe he can develop into a starter. A 3-13 team with as many needs as the Redskins is not going to draft a player if they do not believe they will have any use for him in the near future.

The Redskins expect Murphy to start for them and they expect it to be in place of either Orakpo or Kerrigan.

What it does not tell us:

The Redskins are switching back to a 4-3 defense 

When Haslett was first brought in as defensive coordinator, it was to build the 3-4 defense in Washington. The Redskins could have sent Haslett packing with the rest of Shanahan’s staff at the end of the 2013 season, but he was retained.

Haslett isn’t coming back just to blow up the defense he spent the last four years building. If the team wanted to do something that drastic they would have hired someone else to do it.

With all due respect to Murphy, if you believe one second round pick is enough to suddenly morph this defense into a 4-3, you’re grossly overvaluing him.

There’s a difference between being a team’s first pick and a first round pick. Yes, Murphy was the Redskins’ first pick this season, but he’s still a second round pick and his inclusion on the roster doesn’t instantly make the defense 4-3 ready.

Fans are massively inflating his value because he was the team’s first pick, but really it is where he was taken overall that is more indicative of the type of player he is projected to be.

Three outside linebackers were taken in the first round and two more in the second before Murphy; if teams thought Murphy would be ready to start opening day in 2014, he would have been drafted much higher.

Could he dazzle at training camp and show the team he is ready to start? Sure, but even if he does the team won’t decide to change their entire base defense mid-training camp. Unless he out performs Orakpo or Kerrigan, he will still be below them in the depth chart.

These sorts of draft surprises are the exception, not the norm. The Redskins would not bet their entire defensive playbook in the hopes they had found one of those hidden gems.

If the Houston Texans aren’t going to switch to the 4-3 for Jadeveon Clowney, the Redskins aren’t for Murphy.

Murphy will switch to inside linebacker

Inside linebacker is a bigger need for the Redskins and outside linebacker has the word ‘linebacker’ in it. It’s right there in the back. So switching from outside linebacker to inside linebacker can’t possibly be that hard. That has to be the plan for Murphy, right? Move him to the inside?

Switching from outside to inside is possible, but it’s not as simple as one might think. The pass rushing and coverage responsibilities of the two positions are very different.

Murphy also never played inside in college, he’s always been on the outside. A position switch from college to the NFL is not unheard of, but it doesn’t really make sense in this case given Murphy’s strengths as a player.

The main difference between the two positions is that the outside linebacker’s primary function is as a pass rusher, while the inside linebacker is a run stuffer. This is a ridiculously simplistic description, but if you boiled down the positions to a single function, those would be it.

As I said before, Murphy’s strength is as pass rusher. Drafting someone who fits so well on the outside with the plan of switching him to the inside would be a massive gamble.

The next inside linebacker taken in the draft after Murphy came in the third round, 26 picks later. There were no inside linebackers good enough to take at that point in the draft. If there had been, I think the Redskins likely would have taken one.

Yes, there are questions as to whether Perry Riley and Keenan Robinson are the long-term answers on the inside, but Murphy is not in Washington to answer those questions.

About J.J. Regan

J.J. Regan is a contributor to District Sports Page. He also is a college football and NHL blogger for CSNwashington.com and CSNbaltimore.com and has a master's degree in interactive journalism from American University. Regan follows all DC sports but focuses mainly on the the Caps and college football. You can view his online portfolio at regansports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

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