Of the New England Patriots’ 15 recently signed undrafted rookies, just one played his college football outside of the highest tier of Division I.
But despite his lack of big-time collegiate experience, defensive tackle Bill Murray will enter training camp as one of the strongest candidates to crack the Patriots’ 53-man roster.
Why? Three reasons: talent, competition and contract value.
Let’s start with the latter. Murray, who starred at William & Mary in the Football Championship Subdivision, reportedly received $125,000 in guaranteed money from New England. That’s a notable amount for any undrafted player — linebacker De’Jon Harris ($140,000) was the only 2020 Patriots UDFA to command a higher guarantee — and an especially lofty figure for an FCS product.
According to data compiled by Spotrac and Over The Cap, just one undrafted rookie from outside the FBS signed for more guaranteed money than Murray this year: defensive end Ron’Dell Carter, from FCS power James Madison. The Dallas Cowboys gave Carter $145,000 guaranteed.
Even the highest-paid UDFAs are far from roster locks, but the Patriots’ investment in Murray shows they recognize and value his talent. And talent, he clearly has.
Murray (no relation to the “Groundhog Day” star) was a disruptive force in the Colonial Athletic Association, tallying 46 tackles, six sacks and 11 1/2 tackles for loss last season. Over his four-year career (three as a starter), he registered 132 tackles, 19 sacks, 32 TFLs, six pass breakups, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries — impressive numbers for a D-tackle.
Even more impressive were Murray’s special teams stats. He blocked a whopping 10 kicks during his time at William & Mary. That’s right, 10 — one as a freshman, two as a sophomore, three as a junior and four as a senior, the most by any player at either level of Division I in 2019.
His four blocks last season included two in a late-season rout of Rhode Island and another in overtime against Richmond that helped push his team to victory in his final collegiate game. He nearly blocked another in a blowout loss to Virginia.
In college, Murray won with power and quickness, both on defense and in the kicking game. Listed at 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, he had the strength to overpower offensive linemen and the speed to chase down quarterbacks outside the pocket.
There aren’t any official pre-draft testing numbers for Murray — he wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, and the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out William & Mary’s pro day — but he reportedly ran a 4.93-second 40-yard dash and pumped out 30 bench press reps during an unofficial group pro day in his native New Jersey.
He certainly moves well for a man his size, even making a cameo at wide receiver in one game last season — and scoring a two-point conversion on a trick-play screen pass.
Film review coming tomorrow on Patriots UDFA DT Bill Murray, who looked like a surprisingly competent wide receiver in his final game at William & Mary. pic.twitter.com/FNYhTwBhRy
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) May 26, 2020
Murray also stood out positively in both of his senior-year matchups against FBS opponents.
On one play against Virginia, he drove the Cavaliers’ center directly into the fullback for what should have been a loss of yards. Unfortunately for Murray, his teammates lost contain, and the running back dashed around the edge for a touchdown.
Murray’s primary position was nose tackle in William & Mary’s 3-4 defense. He’s probably too small to play there in the pros — most NFL nose tackles weigh well over 300 pounds, including 2019 Patriots starter Danny Shelton (345 pounds) and his projected replacement, free agent addition Beau Allen (327 pounds) — but could find a role as a 3-4 D-end for a New England team that needs help at that spot.
Last year’s Patriots were shallow along the defensive line, and outside swapping out Shelton (who signed with Detroit) for the cheaper Allen, they’ve done little to address that deficiency this offseason. Allen is the only veteran free agent to come aboard to date, and the Patriots ignored the position in the draft, focusing instead on other needs like tight end and linebacker.
Barring any late additions, New England will carry into training camp a D-line depth chart that features Allen, veteran standout Lawrence Guy, pass-rush specialist Adam Butler, 2019 fifth-round pick Byron Cowart, underperforming fourth-year pro Deatrich Wise, 2019 practice squadder Nick Thurman and three undrafted rookies: Courtney Wallace, Nick Coe and Murray.
Of those nine players, only Guy and Butler are locked into roster spots, and they’re both entering contract years. Allen probably is safe, too, but he hardly saw the field for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season and wouldn’t be the first Patriots free agent to be cut months after signing (see: Mike Pennel, Terrance Knighton, etc.). Cowart, Wise and Thurman all will be on the roster bubble when camp commences.
Add together all of those factors — hefty contract, eye-popping college production, intriguing athleticism, uncertainty within his position group — and the case for Murray as a roster hopeful is a compelling one. Don’t be surprised if he sticks around past cutdown day.