The way the NFL plays offense is changing. More and more offenses are looking to the college game for inspiration as they try to get production from their young players, as well as for ways to score more points.
As a result, the NFL is also having to change the way it plays defense. Any player who has to play in space is getting lighter and faster, and the ability to play in coverage is being highly prized. The New York Giants have long needed to draft an off-ball linebacker to shore up their defense, but the traits prized in those players have changed dramatically since Antonio Pierce roamed the middle of the field.
Where size and hitting power were once the priced traits in a middle linebacker, now athleticism and range are coveted at every linebacker position. Fortunately, Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray fits the prototype of a “modern” linebacker. Murray is also very highly regarded as a leader on the Oklahoma locker room and around the community. As a mark of what kind of young man he is, Murray takes pride in helping his parents raise his three adopted siblings with special needs.
Could he be a potential steal for the Giants on the second day of the draft?
Prospect: Kenneth Murray (LB, Oklahoma)
Games Watched: vs. Houston (2019), vs. Texas Tech (2019), vs. Baylor (2019 - Big 12 Championship), vs. LSU (2019 - College Football Playoffs)
Red Flags: none
Games Played: 40
Tackles For a loss: 36.5
Passes Defensed: 6
Games Played: 14
Tackles For a loss: 17.0
Passes Defensed: 4
Best: Instincts, competitive toughness, athleticism, versatility
Worst: Play strength
Projection: A starting middle linebacker with scheme versatility.
Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray has an athletic frame with good height, long arms, and a solid build throughout. Murray is a very athletic linebacker who is able to play with true sideline-to-sideline range, move fluidly in space, and has a great downhill burst. He also shows a high football IQ in the pre-snap phase of the game, actively communicating with, and lining up, his teammates before the snap. Murray has very good instincts and football IQ, showing a quick, accurate first step and the ability to diagnose the offense and act on his diagnosis with little hesitation.
Murray is a good space player, showing the ability to drop into coverage, getting good depth while reading the quarterback’s eyes. He generally shows good awareness of the play around him and shows an understanding of offensive passing concepts. Murray also shows the ability to turn and run with most tight ends and running backs in pass coverage.
He shows a very quick trigger as a run defender. Murray wastes no time coming downhill when he identifies a run play, leveraging his gap instantly and often beating blockers to a spot with a great burst through the hole. Murray is also a good blitzing linebacker, showing good timing to attack gaps as well as good hand usage to keep blockers from disrupting his rush.
While Murray is great going downhill and has the ability to deal with tight end and running back blocks, he doesn’t quite have the play strength to routinely deal with offensive linemen one-on-one without room to maneuver. Murray can also take overly aggressive angles to the ball carrier, which can lead to poor tackle attempts.
Overall Grade: 6.4 - Murray has the traits to start early in his career and should immediately be an important contributor for any team that drafts him. [Grading Scale]
Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray projects as a starting middle linebacker at the NFL level. He has the football IQ, competitive toughness, leadership qualities, instincts, and athleticism to be a three-down field general for an NFL defense.
Murray is almost custom built for defending a modern NFL offense. He has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends over the middle of the field, has the discipline to defend screen plays, and the ability to be a disruptive force as a blitzer. While Murray might be a “thumper” in the traditional sense, he is at his best flying downhill. Murray can break up underneath passes, blow up running plays, and rush the passer. He has great instincts and football IQ and is frequently able to simply beat blockers to their landmarks, using his hands well to swat away attempts to disrupt him.
Murray is also adept at timing his feet and hands to sift through the trash around the line of scrimmage, quickly getting to the ball or finding an open gap through which he can shoot into the backfield.
It sometimes seems as though Murray is faster than he realizes and he gets to the play before he is ready. A bit more experience and development will allow him to play fully under control and maximize his already impressive skillset.
Murray should be able to find the field right away in just about any NFL defensive front and should be an every-down starter in short order.