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Tanner Muse profile: How he went from baseball star to champion safety to Raiders linebacker

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Clemson’s “Isaiah afterthought” is going to be a linebacker and potential special teams star in Vegas

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 02 ACC Championship Game Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is becoming all too common as I run through profiles of different 2020 rookies around the NFL: though top-ranked high school recruits often have gifts (and advantages) that eventually get them drafted, I’d bet most of the league is made up of players who made up a ton of ground from 18 to 22 in order to get drafted.

As you can imagine, Tanner Muse is no exception.

Born on September 6, 1996, Tanner Muse was brought into this world in between a pair of losses by the Oakland Raiders at the beginning of the 1996 season: A 19-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and 19-3 to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders scored 19 points again three weeks later and they would not finish with 19 points after that until week 15 of the 2009 season.

Why should that matter?

Muse is a Virgo and his life path number is 4. His three main characteristics as a Virgo:

always making an effort to double check whenever feels the need to

learning quickly to solve the same problem using different approaches

always raising and formulating clearly and precisely problems

As a “Mutable” astrological sign (I actually don’t know anything about this stuff, I’m learning about it as I research), his characteristics are:

deals with unknown situations very well

very flexible

likes almost every change

Let’s continue and get back to football before circling around to 19 again.

Muse grew up in Belmont, North Carolina and attended South Point High School. It is the same school attended by former NFL wide receiver Koren Robinson, who was the 9th overall pick in the 2001 draft. Draft pick: 1/9. Robinson was born in 1980, the month of March, and on the 19th day of the month.

South Point High football coach Mickey Lineberger first thought Muse was different than other kids when he was as young as 10 years old; Muse that is, not Lineberger. And this wasn’t even as a football player. Lineberger was a youth baseball coach at the time and he figured that Muse could be a high MLB draft pick one day.

“If it was my son, I would want him to keep that option open,” Lineberger said. “I could work my whole life and couldn’t put a million dollars in the bank, or two million dollars. Who knows? He could go very, very high. I know there’s a lot of pro baseball scouts that have talked to me and they’re very, very interested in him.”

He was also good at football, it turned out.

“From the first time I ever strapped on pads, my dad and I would go out in the front yard, and he bought his own set of shoulder pads and helmet. He said, ‘If you can hit me as hard as you can, nothing else will phase you throughout your playing career.’”

Muse began playing football at age six and that continued through middle school and into his freshman year at South Point on the junior varsity team. JV coach Adam Hodge was impressed with Muse’s “speed and a burning desire to be the best” and by his sophomore campaign, he was playing for Lineberger on varsity as a DB.

Lineberger was also impressed:

“God blessed him beyond measure with great speed, size and athletic ability. Tanner makes everyone around him better. He could electrify the crowd with a punt or kickoff return or take a pitch from our quarterback to the house. Tanner has always been a big time hitter. He loves contact. He could get there in a hurry and arrive in a bad mood. I can still see him on plays like the first offensive play at Shelby getting the pitch and running 80 yards leaving everyone on the field for a touchdown. Or lining up at his free safety position filling the alleys and laying the wood to the ball carriers. Tanner represented our school well and we are very proud of him and his accomplishments. The good thing is that the rest of the story is yet to come. He is writing it daily.”

As a junior at South Point, Muse recorded 47 tackles on defense and rushed for 400 yards on offense. He took his game to another level as a senior, rushing for 1,292 yards on only 90 carries, but also excelling on defense with 150 tackles and four interceptions. At 6’4, Muse doesn’t fit the mold as a running back, but he could fit as perhaps a linebacker or safety. And maybe that unusual size and speed combination is a bit of what held him back as a football recruit.

Ironically had it not been for a football injury, Muse may have never even been in the position to play for Clemson and win two national championships.

During his senior season, a shoulder injury cost Muse his chance at playing baseball that year. Some viewed him as a potentially elite outfield prospect (potentially between the 5th and 8th round) who could also grow into a fearsome hitter. He hit .380 during what swings he did get in as a senior, which is exactly twice as high as .190. American Legion baseball official Jeff Gibson heaped tons of praise on Muses’s abilities.

“What many do not really know was that he became a pro baseball talented prospect during his senior year in high school,” said Gibson. “He had talents that you cannot coach: size and speed. He turned those talents and his abilities into one of the best American Legion baseball seasons ever, leading the Gaston Braves to a runner up finish in the N.C. American Legion baseball championship. He was the anchor in a talented outfield playing center field and could track down a fly ball from foul pole to foul pole because of his exceptional speed ... As great as his football talents are, I think he was one of the best baseball players I have seen come through South Point High School and the G-Braves American Legion program.”

His size and speed may be more coveted to a diamond than a football backfield, but without an opportunity to potentially showcase himself as a high MLB draft pick, Muse committed to play for Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, who at that time had not yet competed for a national title.

If he had, I wonder if Muse would’ve managed to stay on their radar.

Rivals only lists Muse as a three-star prospect, ranking him 44th among safeties and 17th in the state of North Carolina. The top two safeties that year were Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick, an exceptional 1-2 hit for safety evaluations in 2015. He was also a three-star prospect at 247, ranked 48th among safeties, 24th in North Carolina, and 706th overall. But it’s possible he really was a four-star prospect, as some claimed.

Edwin Weathersby of Bleacher Report listed Muse as one of six 2015 prospects who could blow up their recruitment.

Although he is committed to Clemson, Tanner Muse still isn’t a recruit who gets a lot of attention. There’s a solid chance the 3-star prospect will get moved to outside linebacker at some point in his career with the Tigers, but he could show observers he’s a true safety with a strong camp outing or two.

Muse, who is 6’3” and 207 pounds, works with good vision and ball-location skills. However, he needs to shine bright in coverage, plus lock down a few receivers and tight ends in one-on-one drills.

Muse should be motivated to show people he deserves to be ranked higher than No. 526 in the 247Sports composite rankings.

The North Carolina native told the following to Tim Sullivan of TheWolverine.com (subscription required) in October 2013:

Coaches like my speed and physicality. How I come down with a purpose, because I play free safety. On those short routes, I just kind of come down with a purpose of what I’m going to do and then I get to him. Most schools are recruiting me as like a strong safety or outside linebacker.

In one interview earlier this year, Muse says he was interested in North Carolina, Miami, and Florida, but says that Clemson became “clear cut” when he met recruiter Dan Brooks, who he credits with convincing him to play for the Orange. One of the reasons being that Clemson would allow him to play safety, whereas some of the other schools were looking at him as a linebacker. Brooks is also from Kings Mountain, NC, a city about 19 miles from Belmont. But he also liked the Clemson environment, perhaps one of the things that has made the Tigers so damn successful recently.

“It was my relationship with the coaches and the atmosphere there that made them stand out from the others,” Muse said.

He was also being told that he’d be able to play baseball for Clemson, but in order for him to really get to the NFL level he’s at now, he eventually had to give that up for good.

On September 5, 2015, Clemson opened their season with a 49-10 victory over Wofford. Though he was redshirting and would not play this year, this was the first game that happened during his time with the Tigers. The next day, he turned 19.

Muse opted out of baseball following the football season so he could participate in Clemson’s spring practices that year. That helped him get onto the field as a redshirt freshman, sharing Special Teams Defensive Player of the Year honors and playing in 106 snaps on defense. He had a pick-six against Syracuse that season too, the first for a Tigers freshman since Wayne Simmons in 1989; Simmons was a first round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 1993 and his first career interception came off of John Elway that same year.

He returned it for 19 yards.

I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you that Tanner Muse wears number

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 13 CFP National Championship - LSU v Clemson Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

He took over #19 at Clemson from receiver Charone Peake, a seventh round pick of the New York Jets in 2016. Peake didn’t have a long career but he did have 19 catches as a rookie. He was out of the NFL after averaging only 1.9 yards per game in 2018.

Muse recorded one tackle in the College Football Championship against Alabama that year as the Tigers won their first national title since 1981.

As a sophomore, now even further removed from baseball aspirations and more focused on football, Muse stepped into a starting safety role on a Clemson defense that also featured Trayvon Mullen, Isaiah Simmons, Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, and Dexter Lawrence, among other future NFL players. One person who was not in Clemson’s secondary, not on Clemson’s defense, not on Clemson’s team, and not even playing safety was Bryan Edwards. Why would I be talking so much about a player who seems so far removed from Muse and Clemson?

Because as I wrote last week, fellow Raiders 2020 third round pick Edwards was actually recruited to by Clemson. And they wanted him to play safety. Had they been successful, it may not have only removed Edwards as a future receiving option for Las Vegas, it could have also meant that Muse would lose the job that he’d hold for four years, building a resume to one day be drafted by the Raiders.

19 picks after Edwards.

During his sophomore campaign, Tanner Muse recorded 57 tackles, two for a loss, five passes defensed, and one touchdown, which just as the year before came against Syracuse. Except this time Muse had recovered a fumble and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown to tie the game 14-14 in the second quarter.

The Orange ended up stunning Clemson to win 27-24, dealing the Tigers a potentially fatal blow to their title chances.

(It wasn’t though.)

Clemson fought back to be ranked first by the end of the season except much like how Syracuse flipped the result, so did Alabama. After the Tigers beat the Tide in the CFP in 2016, Alabama came back to win with Tua Tagovailoa in 2017.

Muse remained fairly steady as a junior, putting up 61 tackles, 2.5 TFL, two sacks, and five more passes defensed with one forced fumble.

Though they were not ranked first at any point during the season, Clemson was never ranked lower than fourth either. In fact, they didn’t lose a single game and went into the national championship against Alabama once again, with the Tide ranked first and also undefeated. The result was easier than ever and they beat Alabama 44-16.

Muse is now a two-time national champion. Muse won his first national title on 1/9/17. He won his second on 1/7/19.

He was also third team All-ACC.

He returned to school for his senior season, noting that he wanted to work on his man-to-man coverage and that as a bigger defender, it was more difficult for him to cover the slot. He also wanted to put more special teams on tape because he figured it would be a big reason he’d make it to the next level, if at all.

It also wouldn’t hurt to win another national championship.

Muse was on a team that was ranked number one in the country at some point during all five of his seasons at Clemson. The Tigers started 14-0 in 2019, a winning streak of 29 games, and went into the national championship game again — this time against top-ranked LSU with Joe Burrow. Those Tigers were better and they won on the back of four touchdowns by Burrow.

Muse had five tackles and one TFL in the game, bringing his season totals to 54 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, three passes defensed, and four interceptions.

With his senior season completed, Muse went from third-team in his conference to third-team All-American. His 59 career games is tied for the most in school history with Wilkins, Cannon Smith, and K’Von Wallace, his partner at safety over the last four seasons; Wallace was even more under the radar than Muse as a WR/S prospect in 2016 who Rivals ranked as the 38th-best prospect in Virginia. Meanwhile, Cannon Smith’s dad Bill played on Clemson’s ‘81 national championship team ... 38 years before Cannon beat Alabama for his second title with the Tigers in his final career game.

Wilkins was a first round pick in the ‘19 draft.

Muse had put in five years at Clemson, including 3.5 as a starter on a defense that won two national championships. His senior year statistics are a bit inconsequential to me. For one, Muse wasn’t freaking people’s brains out like teammate Isaiah Simmons, who had 104 tackles, 16.5 TFL, eight sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and eight passes defensed. Muse had his best numbers as a senior, but he wasn’t intercepting quarterbacks of consequence (though his final interception was an emotional one, as he picked off Wake Forest in his final career home game with his parents in the stands, as they always have been) and Clemson was perpetually in a state of dominance against lesser opponents.

When that wasn’t the case, such as three games against Alabama and CFP games against Miami, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, he didn’t stand out. Muse had no interceptions, no sacks, no tackles for a loss in any of those six games. He had one pass breakup total in those six games: it came in the second national championship win over the Tide: with the game in hand late in the third quarter, Muse broke up a pass from Tua Tagovailoa which was intended for now-NFL teammate Henry Ruggs III.

But as is often the case, Muse’s presence on a great college team wasn’t necessarily going to make him a day one or day two prospect. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein seems especially down on Muse, noting him as maybe only a special teamer who could make the back end of a roster.

Slow-footed safety with hybrid linebacker tendencies. Muse plays with tight, restricted movement that lacks necessary fluidity to handle coverage duties as an NFL safety and he’ll likely be asked to slide into a full-time linebacker role. He already has linebacker size and his frame should be able to handle additional weight if needed. His field agility and short-area athleticism aren’t anything special despite moving over from safety. Muse’s ability to cover tight ends and handle four-phase special teams duties improve his chances of making the backend of a roster.

His projection of Muse was round six and this was after his combine performance.

As noted in the baseball section of this profile, Muse has an exceptional combination of height and speed. Though he is often described as “slow-footed” on the field, Muse was a bit of a freak in high school, right? I saw at least one place note that he ran in the mid 4.3 range coming out of South Point. At 6’4?

Does he have awful hands, bad route running, or something else?

At the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Muse measured in at 6’2, 227 pounds. The lost two inches between high school and the NFL Draft could potentially fall into the “something else” category as to why Muse wasn’t a tight end or receiver if he has that kind of speed. Does he actually have that kind of speed at all?

Yes, he does.

Muse ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the combine, third-fastest of the year among all safeties and linebackers. Simmons ran a 4.39 at 238 pounds. One scout understood why they’d be so close in the 40;

“He’s real stiff but he ran 4.41 (on the scout’s watch) and he’s got a square jaw. There were times where Simmons races across the field and overruns and whiffs badly, and then Muse, who is stiff as a board, squares the guy up and tackles him. How does that happen? One’s gonna go top 10 and the other one’s an afterthought.”

He also scored a 26 on the wonderlic exam, the highest of any linebacker. Simmons scored a 12. The combine had one scout thinking Muse could go in round three.

“I imagine he could go in the third now. Look at his size-speed ratio. He does play well in the box. He tackles well. I had no idea he’d run a 4.4.”

Muse measured 26 pounds heavier than Alabama safety Xavier McKinney, who ran a 4.63 and also had a shorter broad jump than Muse. McKinney did one more rep on the bench than Muse, pushing up 19 times.

Here he is shown outrunning former Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins:

But there’s been little talk of a Muse as a safety at the pro level.

From The Draft Network:

With that said, his role in Brent Venables defense showcased his versatility and frequently played him in the box where I believe his best fit is at the next level. Muse’s urgency, speed, size and physicality are best utilized as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defense in a pursuit style role. His experience at safety will serve him well in coverage where he should hold his own in the NFL. Muse does have to develop and adjust to life as a full-time linebacker but his proven special teams ability should give him the time needed to transition and excel. At a minimum, Muse should be a quality special teamer and sub package defender but he has the upside to start by year 2/3 as a 4-3 WILL.

“There is some love out there for him as a cover linebacker. I could see him going late in the draft but his safety days are over.” — Director of scouting for NFC team

And I can’t say there’s really much variance in Muse’s different evaluations around the internet. It pretty much always comes down to:

  • Not a safety, potentially a good coverage linebacker
  • High ceiling as a special teams contributor

These two very basic descriptors had most seeing Muse as a mid-day three pick going after round four. The Las Vegas Raiders clearly had other ideas.

After selecting Ruggs at pick 12 and then starting on the pass defense with cornerback Damon Arnette at pick 19, the Raiders waited 61 more picks (61 flipped upside down is 19) before choosing Bowden, then Edwards. As previously mentioned, they waited 19 picks again and selected Muse at the end of round three as the 100th overall selection. He is the third player from Clemson to be selected 100th overall in the last seven years, joining Dorian O’Daniel in 2018 and Brandon Thomas in 2014.

Muse is the third linebacker of note added by Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden in this offseason, joining inside linebacker Cory Littleton and outside linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski.

And Mayock was clear about the team’s intentions to make Muse a linebacker at the next level.

Muse played safety and we questioned him for an hour on linebacker fits and he knew every one. ... We think he’s one of the smartest and most intuitive players in the draft and we expect him to learn both positions in addition to playing special teams.”

One moment during Muse’s career in particular stood out to Mayock:

“I said, ‘You know I watched you stick your foot in the ground against Texas A&M early in the season and chase down a screen from 30 yards behind’. I said, ‘At that point at least you played like a Raider’. He started laughing and loved the fact that we remembered that play.”

It didn’t hurt that more than a week before the draft, Muse was saying he’d be excited to get to play in the Las Vegas “death star” stadium.

Swinney called Muse “the ultimate hybrid guy” and he literally coached Isaiah Simmons.

Hybrid guy? Muse’s astrological sign is “Mutable” — “very flexible” and “likes almost every change.”

Playing linebacker for the first time? “deals with unknown situations very well.”

Sticking his foot in the ground and making up for lost ground? A Virgo is “learning quickly to solve the same problem using different approaches.”

Muse should have close to a 100% likelihood to make the final roster as a rookie, probably backing up/pushing Nicholas Morrow and other vets at WILL and contributing immediately on all facets of special teams. The strong safety position already has Damarious Randall, Jeff Heath, and Erik Harris, not making it very likely to me that Muse will see any significant action in the secondary. The AFC West features tight ends like Travis Kelce, Hunter Henry, and Noah Fant, so a 220-230 pound linebacker who can run a 4.41 could potentially be molded into a player who could at least slow down what could be the NFL’s most dangerous offensive position in the coming seasons.

According to “Numerology Nation dot com,” the number 19 “may indicate that there is an aspect in your life that you have completed” and “it is a sign that you should move to the next level” to “explore your full potential.”

And in the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are 19 copies of Isaiah the prophet — Tanner Muse knows an “Isaiah” quite well himself. Isaiah the prophet is the most mentioned prophet from the Old Testament in The Book of Mormon, which was written by Joseph Smith in the 19th century. And in Chapter 19 of “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith,” on page 230, it goes:

“Those who follow Jesus Christ will be tried and must prove themselves faithful to God. There is no safety...”

There is no “safety.”

“Safety” is the 19th word in that passage.

Later, Joseph Smith will write to his followers east of the Mississippi: “You can’t win in the NFL if you can’t stop tight ends winning in the seam.”

So that is the past and present of Tanner Muse, now a member of the Raiders who is anxiously awaiting his first opportunity to make a hit at the next level. He has gone from a well known baseball recruit, a little known football recruit, an afterthought in 2015 Clemson’s class that would become one of the most successful groups in college football’s modern era, a tweener, a safety, and a number into the 100th pick of the draft and an NFL linebacker.

And he’ll be wearing number ...

55.