Who is this guy?
Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is just the third defensive back to ever be drafted out of Central Michigan. He declared for the NFL draft following a three-year career with the Chippewas where he started all 24 of 25 games in the last two years. Following his junior season where he made 37 tackles, 26 of which were solo, recorded two interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven pass breakups, he was named a First-Team All-MAC selection and was awarded Central Michigan’s Defensive Player of the Year.
His junior season came after a sophomore campaign that was equally, if not more, productive. In 2017, Murphy-Bunting started all 13 games, recording 49 tackles, five interceptions, 10 passes defensed and two forced fumbles, recovering one of them. In total, the 6-0, 195-pound corner has 104 tackles, 3.5 for loss, nine interceptions, 24 pass breakups and four fumble recoveries across his Chippewa career.
A native of Macomb, Michigan, Murphy-Bunting earned himself an NFL Combine invitation where he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash and recorded a 41.5-inch vertical. His athleticism translate on the field and he’s been touted by Bucs’ scouts and personnel executives as having great control to complement those traits.
What are they saying about him?
Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht:
“With Bunting, what we liked about him: first of all, a superb kid, locker room guy and teammate. We compared our meetings with him to those with Devin [White] in terms of just his infectious personality and I think he’s got a lot of leadership qualities in him. He can play outside, he can play inside, he’s a tough guy. He’s very smart. He’ll get his opportunities at all of those places.
Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles:
“Press ability, man coverage and he’s a ball-hawk. Obviously, he can only get better. We’ll get him in and get him in the program and mix him in with the other guys and try to get him better.”
Cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross speaking on both Murphy-Bunting and fellow rookie cornerback Jamel Dean:
“Both have good size, good length and good speed. They both can cover very well. They should help us out tremendously.”
What can he do?
The Michigan-native seems to be one of those do-it-all guys, showcasing a varying skillset throughout his collegiate career. He’s very concerned with the ball on every play, whether he’s in coverage or coming down to play the run. His best trait is his ability to make a play on the ball, whether it come in the form of an interception or a forced fumble. Take a look at 1:33 in the below game against Kentucky. It’s one of the tougher matchups Murphy-Bunting faced in college and as he comes down to help fill the B-gap, he forces the ball out of Kentucky running back Benny Snell’s hands as he makes the tackle.
Keep watching that game and you’ll need the little pink arrow to figure out exactly where Murphy-Bunting is on the field. He’s aggressive in press coverage and he can run with receivers but is also effective in zone coverage where he has to read his receivers movements. The Chippewas lined him up inside where he would take tight ends or slot receivers on underneath crossing routes. He’s also physical enough to play the run and was used in the blitz on occasion. He’s utilized in all sorts of alignments from what I’ve seen on tape, which will have been good practice as he enters the Bucs’ new defense.
The hesitation here is obviously the pool of talent he is used to going up against in the MAC. It may make his transition to the NFL level a little bit trickier because he won’t be able to rely on just his athleticism to bail him out should a receiver get past him. The good news there is he also seems to be smart, which is a dangerous combination with the speed and talent he possesses.
How can he fit in?
The Bucs’ secondary will look very different going into 2019 and not just because of the incoming personnel. Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles made mention that the competition for the ever-more important nickel corner position is still wide open and a versatile guy like Murphy-Bunting with his size and toughness could be a good fit. Though he played outside corner in college, with incumbents like the lengthy Carlton Davis and former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves likely locking up that position, nickel may be the best route to a starting spot for Murphy-Bunting. He can also provide depth at that outside corner position, upping his value to the Bucs’ defense.
Another place he can add value is on special teams. With his 4.42 speed, he could be a viable option at kick returner along with draft classmate Scotty Miller. He has limited experience returning kicks in college but it's another way to reinforce his position on the team.