Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 20: Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

20. Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray

6-foot-2, 241 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.02 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Enthusiastic, high-character playmaker with great athleticism who can play a little out of control

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit, Murray chose the Sooners over Baylor, Michigan, Texas and other schools. He enrolled early and made his impact felt immediately, being named co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and to the Freshman All-America team. Murray had 78 tackles (7.5 for loss), one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 2017.

As a sophomore in 2018, Murray racked up 155 tackles (third-most in the FBS), including 12.5 for loss. He also added four sacks, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery in being named second-team all-conference.

In 2019, Murray made 102 tackles (17 for loss), four sacks and four pass breakups in 14 starts, earning third-team AP All-America and first-team all-Big 12 honors.

Murray, who turns 22 in November, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft. He attended the NFL scouting combine and competed in all the athletic-testing drills, except the 3-cone drill and shuttles. Murray suffered a right hamstring strain on his second 40-yard dash attempt and was unable to work out at the Sooners’ pro day on March 10 (one of about 45 schools to hold a pro day before they were shut down).

Upside: Terrific physique. Rocked-up musculature and nice distribution of weight. Very long arms (80-inch wingspan). Fluid hips and nice flexibility. Timed speed matched speed on tape. Tested as an elite athlete relative to his size at the combine.

Great athletic stamina — can fly around for 60 minutes and still be licking his chops for overtime. Almost never came off the field the past three seasons in close games. Averaged 89 percent of the Sooners’ defensive snaps the past three seasons combined. Logged an insane 28-tackle game vs. Army in 2018 — saved the Sooners’ bacon a few times in that OT win in Norman.

Aggressive and rangy. Makes plays sideline to sideline. Generates immediate speed and burst from the snap. Works extremely well laterally, flowing quickly and beating men to the sideline. Has a good nose for the ball in the run game.

Possesses ideal competitive temperament for the linebacker position. Showed he could walk out to the slot occasionally. Also used as a pass rusher at times (see Houston, Texas games) with moderate success.

Here’s a play against Texas where Murray flies in on a run blitz, and though he doesn’t bring down Longhorns QB Sam Ehlinger, it’s the instincts, timing and disruption of the play that gives a window into Murray’s style and NFL projection. He targets the mesh point of the option to attack and dismantles this play from the get-go:

Although he didn't make the tackle, Murray blows up this option run play.
Although he didn't make the tackle, Murray blows up this option run play.

Played “Mike” linebacker predominantly at OU but could factor as a seek-and-destroy “Will” backer, too. Goes hunting in alleys and can track ballcarriers down from behind. Averaged more than one tackle for loss per game past two seasons. Tries to model his game after Ray Lewis.

Murray helps clean up others’ messes by making hustle plays downfield. This is nice effort by Murray (No. 9) here, as he races from the minus-39 to the plus-40-yard line to make a tackle after his teammate missed initially on Baylor WR Denzel Mims:

Murray makes a lot of hustle plays such as this tackle on a fast receiver 20 yards downfield.
Murray makes a lot of hustle plays such as this tackle on a fast receiver 20 yards downfield.

Natural, fiery leader. Was to the Sooners’ defense the past three seasons what Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts were to the offense. The kind of player a position coach or defensive coordinator pounds on the table for. Nailed his team interviews at combine and pro day. “A special individual,” one area scout told us. Two-time team captain. Elite football and personal character.

Downside: A tad short for the position. Take-on strength is questionable. Tries to duck and dodge blocks over stacking and shedding. Could use more upper-body and trunk strength.

Coverage limitations evident. Zero interceptions, six pass breakups in his career. Has speed to cover in man but needs to develop better zone instincts. Typically stays close enough to his man in coverage but not close enough to prevent receptions from happening on his watch. Less confident and effective dropping.

Diagnostic skills need to quicken and sharpen. Occasionally late to the party because he misses his key or overplays misdirection. Overeager and a bit undisciplined. Could be picked on early by talented receiving backs and tight ends if singled up.

Baylor (and other teams) used play-action and the RPO game to freeze Murray. From the same Baylor game in Norman, watch as Murray (No. 9) bites on the action and vacates the area where the pass is completed:

Murray is still developing his instincts and will take the play-action cheese at times.
Murray is still developing his instincts and will take the play-action cheese at times.

Tackling can be scattershot. Improved missed-tackle rate in 2019 but still needs to clean this up — 50 missed tackles over his 42 games. Comes in too hot and can fly by ballcarriers or deliver glancing blows. Takes questionable angles to the ball and uses reckless form at times. Only one forced fumble in his career.

Game-to-game consistency can be disappointing. Looks like the best player on the field one game and a near non-factor the next. Scouting grades are a bit mixed. Some first-round sentiment but also teams that have third-round evaluations on him. Definitely a beauty-in-the-eye prospect.

Best-suited destination: Projected as a downhill, tone-setting linebacker, either as a “Mike” or “Will.” He might need to develop his pass-coverage instincts and learn to be a more sure tackler, but any club needing a disruptive player and dose of energy in the middle of its defense would be wise to consider him.

Among the teams that could be interested: Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals.

Did you know: The son of a pastor (his father) and retired police officer (mother), Murray and his family adopted and raised three children with special needs through his father’s church, starting when he was 11.

Murray and his biological sister have taken pride in helping their parents raise their adopted siblings Lenny, James and Nyia — all of whom inherited a chromosomal abnormality known as “deletion,” which presents them with significant physical and cognitive challenges in their daily lives. The two boys cannot speak, and one can’t walk; Nyia’s challenges are less severe, but she has difficulty with some routine tasks.

“I tell people all the time I feel like I raised three kids already, because just having to be the oldest out of all of them, having to be able to take care of them, having to be able to help my parents with that type of stuff,” Murray said at the combine. “So that’s pretty much how I came up, that’s pretty much how my family is. That’s who I am.

“It really changed my life, to be honest. … You have to be selfless in that situation. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I learned is just how to be truly selfless to be able to help. I think another big lesson that I learned is just being grateful for life. …

“Seeing my little brothers not being able to play sports, it just makes me grateful for what I have and the ability I have. So it just makes me want to go out there and give my best every time, because literally on an everyday basis I see my two little brothers who can’t do what everybody else can do.”

They said it: “They're getting a straight dog. A killer. That's really as simple as I can put it.”

— Murray to ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, on what type of player an NFL team is getting in him

Player comp:’s Lance Zierlein compared Murray to the 49ers’ Kwon Alexander. Even if Murray is bigger and more explosive athletically, that’s a terrific comp for their playing styles.

Expected draft range: Top-40 pick

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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