Former Sooner among PFF’s top LB rankings entering 2021

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The role of a linebacker is pivotal to the success of a defense. Whether it be blitzing the quarterback or being tasked with covering a tight end or running back in man coverage, LBs are given multiple assignments to disrupt an offense. Over the years as pro offenses have evolved, more offensive coordinators are incorporating tight ends into the formation for the nightmare mismatch over the middle of the field that many create.

With their size and pass-catching ability, it makes it difficult for linebackers to contain. Against cover 3, offenses typically use short routes and underneath passes with the middle of the field opened up. This puts added stress on linebackers and eliminates a team’s pass rush.

Many premiere linebackers still exist across the NFL and PFF highlights their top 32 linebackers ahead of the 2021 season. Former Oklahoma Sooner Kenneth Murray appeared among the stellar compilation. He checked in at No. 23.

Rookie linebackers have struggled hugely to hit the ground running in the NFL over recent years, but Kenneth Murray did as good a job as any of the bunch a season ago. He endured the typical struggles in coverage but brought an obvious physical presence to the Chargers’ defense, making three pass breakups. Year 2 could be when we see Murray really emerge as a star at the position.

Murray, the Los Angeles Chargers‘ first-round draft pick in 2020, found his rhythm in the second half of the season. He passed Derwin James’ single-season franchise rookie tackle record with 106. At Oklahoma, Murray typically covered running backs out of the backfield but had to transition and expand his duties in the NFL. He had to drop back additional yardage to cover tight ends.

As expected from a rookie, there was an acclimation period. Murray was quickly thrust into action and became a day one starter, having to learn the ropes as he went along on the turf. The speed of the game is much quicker in the NFL and diagnosing/calling out assignments is a big role for any player, much less a rookie. He flashed rare athleticism and showcased enough as a first-year player to land on PFF’s radar.

Down the stretch he became more comfortable in the Chargers’ scheme that led to faster play. Against the Patriots in Week 13, Murray bulldozed ball carriers with relentless pursuit and collapsed the pocket around Cam Newton. His talent is evident and in year two, Murray has the capability to ignite the Chargers defense to a dominate force in the AFC West.