When quarterback Cam Newton’s Panthers traded for receiver Louis Murphy on Monday, the two got exactly what they needed.
Not because of any small sample of chemistry they may have developed during their brief time together as Gators, but because of how they need each other now as professionals.
On one hand, Murphy is hoping Newton can help revive his career much the same way he resuscitated star wideout Steve Smith’s with a sparkling rookie season in 2011. Murphy led all Raider receivers in catches (75) in his first two years, but he was sent packing after the third for a conditional seventh-round draft pick. Injuries, a crowd of wideouts and the fact that Oakland is transitioning from a vertical offense to a West Coast system suddenly made Murphy expendable.
However, the speedy Murphy — who has a career average of 15.4 yards per catch — now looks to benefit from the cannon attached to Cam’s right shoulder in Carolina’s big-play offense. Newton set numerous NFL records for a rookie quarterback last season, including passing yards by a rookie in a season (4,051). Smith was on the receiving end of Newton’s flick-of-the-wrist rockets last season, and now Murphy will look to use his 4.32 speed to do the same.
Meanwhile, Newton will benefit from Murphy in several aspects, most importantly by having a legitimate target other than Smith and the Panthers’ No. 2 wideout Brandon LaFell of LSU. LaFell finished with 613 receiving yards last season, a far drop from the heavily targeted Smith’s 1,394. Murphy — who many expect to be the No. 3 wideout — will undoubtedly add size (6-foot-2, 213 pounds) and depth at a position where David Gettis was limited in summer workouts as he recovers from ACL surgery, and Armanti Edwards is in danger of being cut.
Murphy can also help Newton in two different scenarios when his quarterback decides to tuck it and run, which Newton did to the tune of 706 yards and 14 touchdowns, two of those aforementioned rookie records. Murphy can provide running room for Cam on the sidelines by luring away cornerbacks who follow him on deep routes, and he can also take them out of the picture with the superior blocking ability he possesses as a wideout.
It’s an unexpected pairing for two players who were teammates at Florida in 2007 and 2008 before Newton transferred three days before the Gators’ national championship victory over Oklahoma. First to Blinn College and eventually to SEC-rival Auburn, where he won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy before being drafted first overall by the Panthers.
But Murphy’s once-promising career in Oakland — which drafted him in the fourth round of the 2009 draft — was mostly derailed by injuries. Murphy’s first two NFL seasons were particularly impressive considering his quarterbacks had been JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, and Jason Campbell. During that time, Murphy racked up 75 catches, 1,130 yards and six touchdowns. He also had memorable moments as a Raider, highlighted by his heroics in an upset of the Steelers in his rookie year. That game, Murphy caught a 75-yard touchdown with 5:29 to go in the fourth quarter before hauling in the game-winner from 11 yards out with nine seconds left in a 27-24 shocker.
Murphy was looking to build on an equally solid second season, but he missed the first five games of 2011 with a groin injury and never got on the same page with newly signed quarterback Carson Palmer. He finished the year with just 15 passes for 241 yards. Now, his new beginning in Carolina has been slowed after tweaking his hamstring and he is questionable for the start of training camp this Friday.
However, a hamstring isn’t going to stop a highly motivated Murphy, who says he played hurt last season and never felt 100 percent. He’s out to prove last year was simply an aberration.
“I have a big chip on my shoulder,” Murphy said in early June. “I have a lot to prove. I hear the outside talking, and it’s just part of me, with my mentality, that I have a lot to prove. Even if I don’t, I just feel like I do.”
It’s no surprise that the Raiders, who’ve made no secret of their infatuation with speed over the years, had their eye on Murphy. But apparently the Panthers did as well.
Four years later, they brought him back to the East coast.
“He’s a big receiver who we liked when he came out of Florida,” Panthers general manager Marty Hurney told The News & Observer in North Carolina. “His first two years with the Raiders were productive. He’s got some big-play ability and can run.”