2023 CFL Draft profiles: Concordia REC Jeremy Murphy has confidence back after 2021 hamstring tear

Photo courtesy: Kyran Thicke/Concordia Athletics

In the riverboat gambling exercise that is the CFL Draft, there seems to be no more uncertain wager than those placed on the receiver position.

Still a staple part of every team’s starting ratio, potential difference makers are valued highly but so often under-deliver. For every Philpot twin shining as a rookie, there are half a dozen disappointing first-rounders. Meanwhile, some of the league’s finest pass catchers, like Saskatchewan’s Kian Schaffer-Baker and Toronto’s Kurleigh Gittens Jr., have been selected in the mid-rounds.

This year, Pittsburgh pass catcher Jared Wayne has already started to generate buzz for the first overall pick, while Northern Illinois’ Cole Tucker is expected to be a focal point at this week’s CFL Combine in Edmonton. The hype train for Guelph’s Clark Barnes is close behind thanks to his elite athleticism.

Though he is far from under the radar, Concordia’s Jeremy Murphy has been the man lost in that conversation. The All-Canadian receiver has his share of fierce defenders in CFL circles but has yet to capture the same degree of publicity as his contemporaries.

That’s nothing new for the 23-year-old, who believes he’s been underestimated and overlooked since his days as a U Sports hopeful at tiny Champlain College St-Lambert.

“When you come from a Division 3 CEGEP, no one really expects too much out of you. Even though schools recruit you, the players themselves don’t know you like that. The coaches trust their guy one-on-one to get to you,” Murphy explained during an interview with 3DownNation earlier this offseason.

“It’s just the reality for a lot of kids in D3, the financing isn’t the same as the other leagues in CEGEP. You don’t get full-time coaches or you don’t get any coaches at all. My last year we didn’t have a receivers coach. He ditched us halfway through the season and we had nobody.”

Despite those humble beginnings, the St. Bruno native was a dominant player in the Quebec system and received interest from schools across the country. Financial constraints at home limited him to just two local options: Montreal or Concordia.

The Carabins staff, led by current Alouettes general manager Danny Maciocia, sold him on the provincial powerhouse but worries about academic writing in French led him to sign with the Stingers. It proved to be a fortuitous decision, as the misfortune of one Concordia star led to the lucky break that freshmen often dream about.

“I was supposed to be behind [future Alouettes’ seventh-round pick] Vincent Alessandrini, who back then was a U Sports All-Canadian,” Murphy recalled. “They were gonna throw me out to Z, field-side wideout, but then he wasn’t medically cleared for a shoulder injury at the time.”

That thrust the youngster into a pivotal offensive role in his first university game and he never looked back.

“I finished five catches for 90 yards in that game or something like that. I caught two corners in the first half that totalled probably 60 yards and I thought, ‘This is just like CEGEP, it’s not that different.’ These guys bleed like me, they go to the bathroom like me, they do everything like I do,” he grinned.

“When Alessandrini finally came back, I’d done enough to keep my spot and I kept it for the rest of the season.”

Forming a sensational one-two punch with James Tyrell, Murphy finished the season with 34 receptions for 491 yards and four touchdowns. That was good enough to earn the Peter Gorman Trophy as the top first-year player in the country, cementing him as one of the fastest-rising stars in U Sports.

While the COVID pandemic derailed his sophomore season, all signs pointed to a record-setting follow-up when teams returned to the field in 2021. Despite missing the first game due to a high ankle sprain suffered during the final practice of training camp, he set a prolific pace over the next three outings and posted 24 catches for 307 yards and four touchdowns.

It was at the peak of that run that things went horribly wrong. Three quarters into a 150-yard performance against Sherbrooke, Murphy broke deep on a vertical route and suddenly felt something snap in the back of his thigh. Unable to finish the game, he was assured by the training staff that the injury wasn’t serious and was sent home. The receiver knew better.

“I really couldn’t move my leg at all — I couldn’t even go to the bathroom. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t sit on my leg,” he explained. “Monday when I got to the treatment room, I take the tape off for the trainer and pull my pants down and my leg is dark blue from my butt to my knee.”

His hamstring was torn, effectively ending his season. Though he did make a rushed return for the playoffs, the leg was not healthy enough to be effective. After having his door to the field opened by a career-altering injury to a veteran, he wondered if the tables had turned. Would he ever be the same?

“It was the first time I got really hurt, so it was a big setback. It really attacked me and when I suffered a quad pull at East-West Bowl, the confidence just kept going down and down and down,” Murphy admitted.

“It was really a big hit on my confidence and my knowledge of who I am as a receiver. Am I gonna run as fast as I was running before? Am I gonna jump as high? Am I gonna be as explosive off the snap? It took me a while to be like, okay, you’re still the same receiver, stop thinking about it and just play.”

Pushing up against the crushing self-doubt, it took until Week 3 of 2022 for the Stingers’ top target to find his footing. Once he did, the product was a career year — 29 receptions for 589 yards, two touchdowns, and his first All-Canadian selection.

Most importantly, he was able to stay healthy and expunge any fear of physical decline from his mind.

“Going through this entire season and being healthy, I gained that trust back in my body,” he acknowledged. “That was my biggest challenge.”

It also checked a critical durability box for CFL talent evaluators, who have been intrigued by Murphy’s physical skill set since he first burst onto the scene as a freshman. Though he needs refinement as a route runner and lacks the suddenness out of breaks that typically rockets receivers up draft boards, his production is unlike any other player in this class.

He believes that is a credit to the Concordia coaching staff, namely receivers coach Seydou Junior Haidara and offensive coordinator Alex Surprenant, who have put a revolving door of slots and wideouts in a position to succeed despite often playing catch up to bigger schools on the recruiting circuit.

“Coach Supe, that playbook, it just works well. We love to throw the ball in that spread, air raid offence. We’re always top five or top 10 in the nation, even though with our record it doesn’t make sense,” Murphy explained. “It’s just we do what the coaches tell us to do. When you listen to your coach, it’ll work.”

That is only part of the equation, however, as the six-foot, 190-pound target’s stock has far surpassed that of any of his predecessors. Comfortable lining up outside or in the slot, he seems to play larger than his frame and is known for the strength of his hands, becoming something of a contested catch savant.

“I don’t like dropping the ball. I don’t like when other DBs catch the ball,” he stressed. “[Montreal cornerback] Kaylyn St-Cyr had a pick on me this year and it was the first time in a very long time — since CEGEP and even maybe further back — that a DB picked me in a one-on-one battle. I take it personally. I always fight for the ball like a madman.”

Teams hope that aggressiveness can translate on special teams as well, where most prospects are forced to cut their teeth. He played on almost every unit at some point with the Stingers, with experience doing everything from long snapping to returning at some point in time.

“I could be a gunner because I know how to tackle. I mean, I played corner and safety back at CEGEP, so I’m not afraid to go hit somebody,” Murphy noted. “I’ve never done kickoff or field goal, but I’ll do it. I don’t care, as long as I can play.”

Having already tested himself against NCAA competition at the College Gridiron Showcase in Fort Worth, Texas this January, the three-year starter enters the CFL Combine with a chance to prove he deserves to be discussed among the top 20 prospects in this year’s draft. Either way, he is likely to be a valuable mid-round selection — unheralded on draft day but capable of making an early impact.

If recent history serves as any indication, that just might be the best thing to be.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.