By: Ellis Williams
Before putting on his Vikings uniform, Byron Murphy, Jr., exercises the same routine.
He sits at his locker and stares at two three-dimensional custom thigh pads. One features a No. 7. The other is a bleeding-heart design inspired by his clothing line, "7 Hearts."
The two pads remind him why he's dedicated his life to football. Murphy first wore the No. 7 in youth football. His 6-year-old son, Malakai, has a seven-letter name. His close cousin Tim has a daughter named Seven.
The heart, on the other pad, means just as much because it completes his "7 Hearts" logo. Murphy said he picked a heart because: "I always show love. That has always been in me. Just family love."
"I just look at them, the 7 and the heart, to remind me who I do it for," Murphy said.
He quickly smiles before adding: "It's also just a cool design. People like it. People ask, 'Oh, what is that?' And I get to tell [people] about my clothing brand and my personal stuff that I really like to do when I'm off the field."
"7 Hearts" is Murphy's clothing line that he started four years ago. He's passionate about creative expression, precisely fashion.
View frame-by-frame photos of Vikings CB Byron Murphy Jr. showcasing his dance moves at practice on June 6.
There is a deep meaning behind Murphy's "7 Hearts" brand. It pays homage to his family, specifically his son and cousin. Murphy said 7 is also a lucky number from God, and of course, it is the number he wore in high school in Arizona. When the NFL changed its rules for jersey numbers in 2021, Murphy jumped at the chance to wear 7 again.
Murphy's son recently started designing for "7 Hearts."
"He knows everything," Murphy said. "He wanted to make his own shirts for himself. He created a whole bunch of 7 Hearts shirts and is even doing photoshoots now."
Murphy is living away from friends and family for the first time as a professional. He said the time away is helping him grow exponentially as a man and father.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks and Murphy were teammates for three seasons in Arizona. Hicks, a father of three, met Murphy's son there and enjoyed seeing Murphy's love for Malakai.
"Byron brought Malakai around quite a bit when we were in Arizona. I haven't seen him much yet here, but it will be good when I do," Hicks said. "There's more to life than just football. So, it just shows the human side of Byron and what is important, which is family and obviously giving back."
NEVER COMING OFF THE FIELD
Murphy is providing leadership for a young Vikings cornerbacks room that has an average age of 24 among the 10 players currently on the roster.
At 25 years old, he's just 14 months older than Vikings rookie cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, but in NFL terms, Murphy is by far the most experienced of the group, despite his relative youth. He's made 48 starts and has five career interceptions. Minnesota's other cornerbacks have combined for four starts (two by Akayleb Evans and one each by Joejuan Williams and Andrew Booth, Jr.). Williams has played in 36 games, and Evans appeared in 10 as a rookie.
Under former Cardinals Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph, Murphy honed his rare ability to play as an outside cornerback or slot defender.
He logged four seasons with his hometown team, which had selected him to open the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Murphy has been playing outside cornerback in Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores' base defense and sliding inside to cover the slot in some packages.
He's athletic, with a frame stout enough to challenge outside receivers, quick enough to handle slot receivers, and strong enough to defend the run.
With the Cardinals, Murphy played 1,722 snaps on the outside as well as 1,483 snaps in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. In _2022, he played 220 snaps of run defense before an injury ended his season. Among cornerbacks with at least 200 run defense snaps, his grade of 73.6 tied for 17th in the NFL, according to PFF.
Every day in Arizona, he competed against All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Now as a Viking, he's logged reps against the league's best receiver in Justin Jefferson.
His ability to battle outside with the game's top receivers while also being a hard-nosed inside defender makes Murphy a vital chess piece in Flores' defense.
"He's a very smart player. He's got position [flexibility]. It affects the room in a positive way, I would say," Flores said. "It allows for us to have a guy who can communicate and play in a few different spots, so for us as a staff, there's confidence knowing, 'Put Byron here, and we'll get the job done. Put him in this situation with this player, and he might be able to help him out.' There's a myriad of ways he's had a positive effect on our team."
Murphy walked off the field a few weeks ago alongside rookie cornerback NaJee Thompson. Murphy was detailing specific cues that Thompson should look for while playing a particular coverage.
Thompson listened. He then countered, pointing in different directions to recreate the play in question. Murphy nodded, sharing another key with Thompson, before participating in a media availability.
"Young guys are listening, and they're learning how to be professionals," Flores said of the attention teammates direct toward Murphy. "That's big in this league, for young guys to follow the lead of an older vet who has done it for a long time, and that's not just on the field.
"That's, 'What is he doing pre-practice? Is he stretching? Is he rolling out? Is he in the hot tub? What's he doing post-practice? Cold tub? Watching film? Is he taking a nap?' All those things," Flores added. "They all lead by example. I know they're vocal, as well, and I appreciate it. I welcome that communication in our room."
Ready for a Reunion
Murphy is an Arizona native. He finished high school at Saguaro (Scottsdale, Arizona) in 2015, won the state championship, and was named the Arizona Cardinals High School Player of the Year. Four years later, after a stint at Washington, Murphy was drafted No. 33 by the Cardinals.
The hometown kid was back. Murphy cherished his time playing for the team he grew up cheering for.
"The people I came into this league with who are still there, they are my brothers from Day 1," Murphy said of seeing his former teammates.
Now, he'll take a moment to reflect on his 7 and bleeding heart logo before placing his thigh pads in his Vikings football pants.
"I wanted to come here, and I don't want to get off the field. I know the type of player I am. The type of competitor I am," Murphy said. "I know the things I want to do that's going to help get [our] goals accomplished. I want to keep going to show my coaches what I can do and the type of player that I am."