During the opening night of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Chargers surprised the league by trading back into the first round and selecting a second player. After drafting Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert with the sixth overall pick, the Chargers mortgaged both of their Day 2 picks to go up and get Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray at No. 23.
Even though the initial reactions to both picks were fairly split down the middle, both players fit what the Chargers want to do on offense and defense.
The Chargers are likely moving to a more run-oriented offense that will feature more RPOs and quick passes, to help ease the young quarterback into the NFL without asking too much of him. In fact, whether it’s Tyrod Taylor or Herbert behind center, this is the offense they will likely run. With guys like Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen as the focal points on that side of the ball, Herbert will not be expected to push the ball downfield often. I expect it to be a methodical approach to moving the ball from one end of the field to the other.
I also expect Herbert to have the opportunity to use his legs on designed runs in the same manner as Tyrod did when he got garbage-time snaps in 2019. I think Herbert has the upside to contribute on the ground the same way Josh Allen does with the Buffalo Bills. To be fair, any rushing production from the quarterback position will be such a refreshing sight.
When it comes to Murray and Gus Bradley’s defense, expect him to be the force in the run game that the team has been missing for some time. They added defensive tackle Linval Joseph in free agency to help stop the run at the point of attack, but Murray was picked to be the force at the second level.
Like Thomas Davis in 2019, I expect Murray to fly all over the field and be the guy to clean up tackle after tackle. He’s a proper fit for the weak-side linebacker, or “WILL,” in Bradley’s defense, but that defender is usually expected to cover often in the passing game. That’s Murray’s Achilles heel. There’s also a chance he eventually fills in at MIKE in the middle and takes over for Denzel Perryman sooner rather than later.
New Chargers LB Kenneth Murray still needs to improve his play recognition and playing routes behind him in zone, but his range and explosiveness will play in a role that regularly asks him to fire forward off the ball and rush the passer.pic.twitter.com/83sbQjdTNL— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) April 24, 2020
I would guess MIKE is the spot here. He plays like his hair is on fire and, while that may lead to some missed tackles and blown assignments, his best plays are when he hustles and makes plays behind the line of scrimmage after tracking down ball-carriers on the opposite side of the field.
Chargers fans will likely have to wait some time to see if these picks are worth the price. Both guys are not seen as sure-fire stars from the get-go, although each has a fair amount of upside based on their physical gifts and the intangibles you cannot coach. Herbert likely doesn’t start until halfway into his rookie season and, while I think Murray finds snaps toward the beginning of the 2020 regular season, my guess is he spends most of his time on special teams as a rookie.