They came, from the Pacific Northwest to the desert, with different pedigrees – a pair of second-round draft picks and an undrafted rookie.
They came, one at a time, three years in a row.
But Budda Baker, Zeke Turner and Byron Murphy can’t help but smile now that they have been slowly reunited in Arizona with the Cardinals after playing together as defensive backs at the University of Washington.
“It feels like we’re back in college again, just at the next level, living out our dreams together as one,” Turner said. “It’s crazy.”
Baker came first, with the Cardinals trading up in 2017 to get him early in the second round, the first of a host of NFL-ready secondary products out of Washington. A Pro Bowl special teamer as a rookie, Baker was solid in 2018 but new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph plans to put Baker into a playmaking spot at safety where Baker flashed in his first season.
Turner, a safety in college, signed in 2018 and was almost immediately moved to linebacker where he’d be a better fit. He excelled on special teams a year ago as well, himself earning some Pro Bowl consideration.
Then came Murphy this year, the first pick of the second round when many thought he wouldn’t get out of the first. He was already expected to be the Cardinals’ likely nickel man as a rookie, but with Patrick Peterson’s suspension, he may yet end up with some starts at cornerback.
“It shows all our hard work is paying off,” Baker said. “Just because we are here doesn’t mean we are going to stay here. We are going to keep working, and to do with some guys that you were not only on the same team with (in college) but also the same group with, is special.”
NFL-style practices and NFL-style defenses in Washington for the secondary is why Huskies’ defensive backs are so popular, Baker said. Recent draft picks like Sidney Jones and Kevin King join the Cardinals’ group, and Taylor Rapp and Jordan Miller were Murphy teammates that were also taken in the 2019 draft.
But it’s the relationships Murphy – who was redshirting as a freshman in 2017 when Baker was his teammate – said make this important to him. It’s not like Murphy didn’t already have an advantage coming to the Cardinals, since this is not only his hometown but high school teammate Christian Kirk is also on the roster. But at Washington, the defensive backs had frequent outings to a barbeque joint as team bonding, and that doesn’t even include the video game battles with Madden or NBA2K.
“Having those types of players makes you more comfortable because you have that connection already,” Murphy said. “I know how they play, they know how I play.”
“Right now, being a rookie, I’m kind of locked in trying to do all my stuff right now,” Murphy added. “They know more than me. On the weekends, I’m still going to go to Budda’s house, play some games. But right now, I’m just focused on trying to become something on this team.”
Murphy’s arrival wasn’t a complete surprise, at least to Turner – “I just had a feeling, ‘Watch him end up here,’ ” – in part because the Cards were in need of cornerback depth and Washington has proven to be proficient in that area.
“We’re spitting them out now,” Turner said with a smile.
And a bunch of them are ending up as Cardinals.
“Them just being on the same team as me makes me proud but seeing them make plays, they are like my brothers,” Baker said. “That definitely makes me proud.”
Images from the Cardinals going through "media day" prior to their mandatory minicamp