Ray, Golden, Morse and Murphy prepare for NFL Combine

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Ron Davis, 23 Sports-

Thursday, Feb. 19

The NFL Combine begins this weekend, and over 300 athletes will get a chance to show all 32 NFL teams their athletic abilities. Of those 300 plus prospects, only four played their last game in a Missouri Tiger uniform: defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden, offensive lineman Mitch Morse, and running back/kick returner Marcus Murphy.

Ray was the only Tiger to declare early for the draft, and he made the right call, as several draft analysts have him penciled in as a top-ten pick. ESPN’s draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. currently has Ray going No. 3 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars in his latest mock draft.

Seniors Golden, Morse, and Murphy all had very productive careers in the Black & Gold, but aren’t getting the hype Ray has all year long. Golden has been projected anywhere from a late first-round pick to a third-round pick, while Morse and Murphy have been mentioned as possible late round picks in either the sixth or seventh round, but there’s no guarantee that they will hear their name called at all.

The Combine gives a chance for Ray to solidify himself as a freak athlete and top-five pick, and the rest to improve on their current draft stock.

Ray reportedly ran a 4.40 forty yard dash in the offseason last year, which is rare of for a defensive lineman. If he matches that or somehow improves it, he will go likely go in the top five. Ray also can bench over 400 pounds, so he’s likely to crank out several reps of 225. It also helps that he has production to go along with the freakish athleticism-owning a school record 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss.

Golden was held back from a hamstring injury for the middle part of the season but was arguably more of a force when healthy than his partner on the other side of the line. He had 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in his last season in Columbia. A bit undersized at 6-foot-3 260 pounds, he will move up if he does well on the bench press and shuttle run.

Morse was the only true stability on the offensive line this year for Missouri, as it was derailed by injuries and inconsistent play early on. He is in a similar situation to last year’s tackle Justin Britt, who was projected as a late round pick. But with an excellent combine, he shot all the way up to the second round. If he can prove his strength on the bench press and impress in footwork drills, he can climb up a round or two.

Murphy was Missouri’s most dynamic player this year, and that was evidenced by his four rushing touchdowns and three return touchdowns. Standing at just 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, he relied on his elusiveness and ability to shift gears to avoid tacklers. He doesn’t have the straight line speed that most NFL teams desire in return specialists, but if he can dazzle in the shuttle run and cone drills, there will be a team that will take a flyer on him in one of the later rounds.

It’s an opportunity that few NFL hopefuls have to participate in the Combine. Ray, Golden, Morse, and Murphy have proven that they are among the elite in college football by getting the invite. Now they have to prove they are among the elite athletic wise. However if they do disappoint with their results, they will have an opportunity to showcase themselves once more in the comfort of their own teammates at the Missouri Pro Day on March 19.