Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy were already household names in the Pac-12 conference, but the NFL world has been buzzing about the duo in the wake of Stanford's demolition of Oregon's high-powered offense.
Skov and Murphy spearheaded a dominant defensive performance that showcased the physicality, toughness and awareness that scouts covet in elite defensive prospects. Watching a replay of the performance, I marveled at the relentless energy and effort displayed by the Cardinal defense, particularly Skov. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior finished the night with nine tackles, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Those numbers are certainly impressive on their own merit, but they pale in comparison to the Skov's dominant presence on the field. He controlled the game between the hashes, serving as the designated enforcer against quarterback runs when Marcus Mariota executed the zone-read.
Most importantly, Skov brought the passion and intensity that has keyed Stanford's transformation from Pac-12 lightweight to BCS contender over the past few seasons.
Speaking to an NFC South scout about Skov, he told me that the Stanford standout has "everything that you want in a defender except foot-fire (speed and quickness)." He raved about his instincts, motor and toughness, while describing him as "the point on the sword" (leader) on the Cardinal defense.
When weighing the scout's comments with my own observations of Skov's play, I believe he is destined to thrive as an inside linebacker in a 3-4. He has a knack for making plays within the box, yet displays enough athleticism to work in space. Although his speed deficiencies will limit some of his effectiveness against the pass, he is a "three-down" linebacker with the ability to make an impact in the middle.
Murphy, a fifth-year senior with 10 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 2013, didn't necessarily stuff the stat sheet against Oregon, but he made a handful of plays that confirmed his standing as one of the top edge players in college football. He is active and aggressive on the corner, with a relentless motor that allows him to gobble up sacks on extra effort. Although he is not the explosive athlete some defensive coordinators value on the edges, Murphy's combination of tenacity, toughness and desire makes him an effective player against the run or pass.
When I asked the NFC South scout for his assessment on Murphy, he said the Cardinal star is a "tough guy" with a high motor. He described him as a "limited athlete", but sees him as a disruptive player who will play with his "hand in the dirt" as a pro. While there are certainly some concerns about his ability to play in space, the fact that most defensive coordinators can tweak their scheme to make him a primary pass rusher minimizes that issue at the next level.
Given the strong play of Skov and Murphy during their final college season, more scouts will start fielding questions about the talent and potential of the this impressive defensive tandem.