Jake Murphy (TE-Utah)
Jake Murphy reminds me of fondue. At first glance both appear odd, perhaps even a bit unappealing, but the results are hard to argue with. When I watched Murphy’s game tape, I was a bit taken aback by his awkward running form. From the camera’s vantage point he looks gawky, perhaps due to excessive upper body movement. I was quickly disabused of my initial impression. By the third time I watched him blow by a linebacker, it became apparent that he possesses deceptive speed and athleticism. His Combine results offer further support; he posted the second-best time in the 20 yard shuttle (4.27 seconds, just one one hundredth of a second off the top mark) and came in fourth in the three-cone drill.
Oh, and those results I mentioned earlier: in his final season at Utah, he racked up 417 receiving yards and five touchdowns, quite impressive considering he missed four of the twelve games after suffering a broken wrist mid-season. He was back on the field by week ten, and closed out the season with two very respectable performances against Washington State (5 receptions/102 yards) and Colorado (8 receptions/93 yards).
Receiving is definitely his strong suit, particularly short to intermediate routes. He has strong hands and excels at snatching the ball from the air. The most exhilarating aspect of his play is the bull-in-a-china-shop approach he takes with the ball in his hands. In the three games I watched, there were multiple instances in which it took three or four defenders to wrestle him to the turf. In the Colorado game, Utah was inside the red zone. Murphy ran a corner route into the heart of the nickel defense, was immediately smacked by two DB’s just as the ball arrived, secured the catch and stayed on his feet into the end zone, dragging one of the defenders with him. A few drives later, a similar scenario unfolded on a slant pattern. After the same two players closed in on him while the ball was in the air, he managed to shake off their initial hits, gaining an extra six yards after the catch. I would say that these impressive plays were merely the byproduct of a terrible defense, but he repeated such feats in the other two games that I saw.
Murphy’s blocking is not so much bad as it is inconsistent. He shows spurts of effectiveness – though he categorically must improve his pad level and hand placement – but too often lapses into lackadaisical territory. The worst of it is his second-level run blocking, which bears a striking resemblance to bumper cars. In these situations, he habitually makes brief contact with the linebacker before pinging off him or simply giving up on the play. The good news is that most of these shortcomings are remediable through a combination of coaching and a more gung-ho attitude on the field.
Murphy looks comparable to Brian Leonhardt, an undrafted free agent out of Bemidji State last season who is currently fourth on the depth chart and very likely fighting for a spot on the final roster. The Raiders are unlikely to keep more than three tight ends on the active list. Murphy faces an uphill battle to replace one of the motley triad of youthful talent brimming with potential in David Ausberry, Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa. I do, however, fully expect the Raiders to stash at least one tight end on the practice squad, which is the most likely landing spot for Murphy this season.
Seth Roberts (WR-West Alabama)
Seth Roberts is a tall, skinny drink of water (6’2’’, 196) out of Division II West Alabama. During a breakout senior season, he hauled in forty catches for a team-leading 857 yards and could have performed twelve touchdown celebrations if the NCAA permitted fun. That is pretty much the extent of the information I was able to wring out of the Internet. Apparently the web still has its limits. Who knew?
While there is no telling Roberts’ particular strengths and weaknesses, it is clear that he faces talented competition from fellow UDFA’s Mike Davis and Noel Grigsby. Not to mention recent waiver-wire addition Greg Little and several players who hung around on the depth chart last season, namely Brice Butler, Juron Criner, and Greg Jenkins. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can give you on Roberts. I blame Al Gore.
Scott Simonson (TE-Assumption)
There is nothing to dislike about Scott Simonson’s game tape; there is nothing to like either because I could not find it. This was not entirely unexpected. Assumption College is off the beaten path of most NFL scouts – and across several mountains too. Thus, the fact that multiple NFL teams sent personnel to Worcester, MA to watch a private workout following Simonson’s penultimate season is a credit to his potential. Simonson had a solid senior season, going for 39/604/5. This resulted in an invitation to the Medal of Honor Bowl, one of the ever-proliferating pre-draft showcases, and “South Carolina’s Premier College All-Star Bowl Game” (though some might say that the words “South Carolina” and “All-Star Game” do not belong in the same sentence without the involvement of Jadeveon Clowney – and they would be correct).
Beyond those plaudits, all that we really know about Simonson are his measurables. He has prototypical H-back size (6’5”, 249) and decent, though not stellar, pro day numbers. Simonson will have to contend with the same medium-long odds that Murphy will, in addition to facing a major leap in the level of competition. If he does not work out with the Raiders, perhaps one of the teams that had him on its radar in early 2013 will give him a shot.
Karl Williams (FB-Utah):
Karl Williams has the sorts of intangibles that make scouts normally in control of their saliva drool. Everything about him screams “blue-collar” – for the record, this is a remarkably stupid term for announcers to use to describe players in a league with a minimum salary that exceeds $400,000 and it should be excised from the booth immediately – from his hardscrabble football journey to his hard-nosed style of play. Williams did not play football until he entered high school, whereupon he scored a 75 yard touchdown on his first carry after being told that he was not running back material. Apparently his high school coaches defined “running back material” as “a player whose first touch results in a touchdown of 76+ yards,” as Williams did not receive an opportunity until his senior year when the starting back suffered injury. He responded with a 996 yard, 11 touchdown season.
This earned Williams a scholarship to the University of Southern Utah. He quickly became disenchanted with the program, however – as he tells it, seeing a San Diego State home game with the full panoply of a big-time crowd, big-time stadium, and big-time ambiance made him yearn for, well, the big-time – and relinquished his full-ride scholarship for a chance to walk onto the Utes squad. He not only did so, but ran over quite a few scholarship players in the process.
Unsurprisingly, he soon became a coach’s favorite, demonstrating the diligence on and off the field that NCAA ads are made of. Did I mention that he is a successful husband and father who awoke before dawn to work part-time jobs to support his family? Yeah, he did that too.
I think it’s fair to say that work ethic will not be a problem for Williams. There are two things that may. First, the paucity of his production at Utah. He started only five games at fullback in three years, compiling less than 100 yards on the ground over that entire span. Coming out of the backfield, he caught nineteen passes for 115 yards and three touchdowns in his career as a Ute. Following his senior season, Williams had the sort of pro day workout – 4.5 forty, 21 reps on the bench – that gets players on Man Crush lists.
Second, the Raiders already have a fullback. His name is Marcel Reece, and the team’s under-utilization of him makes fans tear their hair out. (The nickname “Patches” is skyrocketing in Raider Nation. I expect “Checkerboard Scalp” will soon join it.) The Raiders were sufficiently pleased with Reece’s backup, Jamize Olawale, to resign him this off-season. Given the resources the Raiders have already expended on Reece and Olawale, Williams is unlikely to supplant either one of them. He spent most of his time at Utah on special teams. This is where I expect him to land if he is still donning the silver and black come fall. If not, he can always run for office with a resume that most candidates have to pay expensive consultants to manufacture.