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Cardinals Want Byron Murphy To Play Slot Cornerback

Second-round pick has bounced around as a rookie

CB Byron Murphy lines up in the slot against the Browns.
CB Byron Murphy lines up in the slot against the Browns.

Four cornerbacks have missed time for the Cardinals this season, which has forced Byron Murphy Jr. to move around as a rookie.

Outside cornerback Kevin Peterson is the most recent to leave the lineup – landing on injured reserve with a shoulder injury – but Murphy could be done being the Band-Aid.

While Murphy has split time between outside cornerback and nickel this year, coach Kliff Kingsbury believes the second-round pick's natural position is in the slot, and would "like to" get him primary work there the rest of the way in preparation for 2020.

"It's been tough, him having to play corner and play half the season going against their best wideouts" due to Patrick Peterson's suspension and Robert Alford's injury, Kingsbury said. "That's a tall task for him. We drafted him to be that nickel-type body. He's a ballhawk around the football."

While the nickel corner used to be a backup, it's a de facto starter in the present-day NFL, as teams use five defensive backs the vast majority of the time. In an increasingly-pass-happy league, it's actually one of the most premium positions on the field.

"That's not a spot that we don't covet," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said.

Murphy played outside cornerback in college and is fine with either, but sees how his skillset may be more suited for nickel.

"I feel like inside is kind of a better fit for me," Murphy said. "I like it because I've got to be more physical, which is something I love doing. Guarding those slots, it's a lot of speed guys, a lot of guys I like to guard. On the outside, you've got more of the bigger guys. Wherever I'm put at, I'm going to go 100, so really I have no pick. I just go out there and play."

Cornerback Patrick Peterson believes Murphy can play the same type of role as former Cardinals All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu.

"It reminds me a lot of how we used Tyrann," Peterson said. "Using Tyrann at the nickel, using Tyrann at the safety, as a rover. He's kind of like that wild card for our defense."

Murphy is not Honey Badger caliber yet. According to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed 63 receptions on 98 targets for 598 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception this season, which equates to a passer rating of 107.4.

While Murphy has taken his lumps, he is looking at the positives from switching back and forth between outside cornerback and the slot this season.

"I got a great amount of playing time, and I could see a lot of stuff and get a better feel for how everything's going, how fast the games goes," Murphy said. "It gives me a better look so this year I can learn from it and next year come back and have a feel for it."

Kingsbury believes the experience has been a good thing, too, but now wants Murphy to settle into the slot.

"He's been playing, really, out of position, which has been good for him," Kingsbury said. "He's had to grow up a bunch and face some ups and downs, and I think it'll pay dividends down the road, but it hasn't always been exactly fair to him throwing him out there in some of those situations."