Though neither ended up being drafted, it seemed that the Pittsburgh Steelers held an especial interest in two raw wide receiver prospects from the 2015 class, both of whom were former collegiate quarterbacks hoping to make the conversion to wide receiver in order to find a home in the NFL.
Tyler Murphy, the quarterback at Boston College, and Devin Gardner, who quarterbacked at Michigan after playing some receiver there, both visited with the Steelers prior to the draft. Murphy was signed as an undrafted free agent, and Gardner was eventually claimed off waivers from the Patriots.
The reason for the interest in them that those around the league did not share, however, is that the Steelers wanted to explore both of them as quarterbacks as well as wide receivers, potential hybrids.
While raw, both players managed to find some success transitioning to wide receiver, exploiting their size at times to make plays. Gardner tended to get more work at wide receiver, while Murphy stayed more at quarterback.
After Gardner suffered an injury that resulted in him being waived, Murphy’s role morphed more strictly into the role of wide receiver, which seemed to culminate during one practice last week in which an off-hand comment by head coach Mike Tomlin to the gathered media made headlines—including on the team’s own website.
Tomlin was extolling Murphy’s virtues as a blossoming wide receiver, and it seems somehow less than a coincidence that that comment received heavy traction all throughout the Steelers media.
It was an opportunity to reset the narrative, a narrative that reached its zenith on the field yesterday afternoon as the rookie cemented himself as a wide receiver and as a legitimate front runner for a place on the practice squad.
Murphy led all receivers on both sides with four receptions to go along with 61 receiving yards. He had two standout plays during the fourth quarter, which showcased his deceptive speed and agility, even if he doesn’t necessary exude grace.
After a three-and-out forced by the defense, Landry Jones took over close to midfield early in the fourth quarter on a drive that culminated in a 22-yard touchdown reception by Murphy. The former quarterback made two defenders miss near the goal line with surprising deftness before walking in.
On the Steelers’ next drive, with Jones facing a third down with six yards to go, the quarterback began to scramble, but as he was on the move, he found Murphy getting himself open. Getting the ball to his receiver, Murphy proceeded to show burn to get to the corner, winning the sideline and racing for a 25-yard gain.
He added a six-yard reception on the next play, and earlier in the game recorded another third-down conversion. He was also targeted twice on two-point conversion attempts, the second of which was clearly a poor decision, although in the case of the former, Jones at least put the ball in a spot in which only his receiver would be able to get it.