ARIZONA CARDINALS

Frelund: CB Byron Murphy is Cardinals’ most underappreciated

Jun 5, 2021, 7:14 AM
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy (33) runs after recovering a fumble by Los Angeles Rams r...

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy (33) runs after recovering a fumble by Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

You might argue that the Arizona Cardinals’ most tenuous position group would be the cornerbacks.

A stockpiling of draft picks and free agent additions there would lead us to believe the team agrees. But among the certainties at corner is in the slot, where third-year pro Byron Murphy appears to have the trust of defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

The numbers bear out well for him.

NFL.com’s Cynthia Frelund even believes that Murphy, a 2019 second-round choice, is the most underappreciated Cardinal on the roster.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know: Arizona’s defense posted the lowest completion percentage (41.5) and yards-per-attempt allowed (8.2) on downfield passes (20-plus air yards). In fairness, I wouldn’t have guessed that if I weren’t aggressively tracking this stuff, which helps explain why Murphy’s underappreciated. His five passes defensed as the nearest defender on an attempt of 20-plus air yards ranked as the sixth-highest figure in the NFL last year. Murphy has improved his ball tracking (measured by his hips facing the ball) at the second-highest rate of improvement over the past two seasons. His body control (measured by recovery once contacted, avoiding penalties) also increased dramatically in Year 2. And he’s still just 23 years old.

Murphy was thrown to the wolves his rookie season in 2019 as one of the most preyed upon defensive backs in the NFL.

Likely, there was a residual effect his second year as teams tried him often, but he handled himself just as a more experienced player would.

Murphy took a huge step forward his second season, as he posted 51 tackles with eight passes defensed, two fumble recovered and two sacks last year.

Frelund adds that the cornerback’s Pro Football Focus run grade on defense improved from 43.6 in 2019 (fifth-lowest among CBs) to 74.7 last season.

Murphy spent time both on the outside and in the slot, but where he lines up in 2021 depends more on what Arizona unearths around him. There’s a lot to uncover there before Week 1.

Free agent addition Malcolm Butler will get a crack as the No. 1 cornerback, while the fight for the second outside corner includes Robert Alford, rookies Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan, plus free agent additions Darqueze Dennard and Tae Hayes.

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Frelund: CB Byron Murphy is Cardinals’ most underappreciated