Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen haven’t strayed too far from each other over the last few years.
The top two pure linebackers in the 2020 NFL Draft, Murray was the 23rd overall pick when Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco made yet another uncharacteristic move this offseason and traded up from round two, while Queen went five picks later to the Baltimore Ravens. Three years ago, Queen was four spots ahead of Murray on Rivals top-ranked linebackers in the 2017 recruiting class; last Thursday Murray was taken five picks ahead of Queen; and today they’re linebackers roaming in the AFC beginning next season.
What’s happened in the last three years?
Murray was a four-star recruit out of Missouri City, Texas, the 35th-ranked player in the state. It is always fascinating to me that despite the fact that while over 8% of America does live in Texas, they still produce a well above-average number of NFL players.
Players ranked ahead of Murray in 2017 include fellow rookies Jeffrey Okudah, J.K. Dobbins, CeeDee Lamb, K’Lavon Chaisson, Jalen Reagor, and very potentially some names that I missed. For one state to provide that many first and second round picks and only three years after they went to college, is unbelievable. And Murray has qualities that make him a standout in big pond.
Murray played at Elkins High and a strong senior season blew up his recruitment and probably raised his “three star” status to something a little shinier. He turned down Nebraska, Texas, Texas A&M, and UCLA to stay firm to his commitment with Oklahoma. Murray stays firm with all commitments.
At 10, Murray’s family adopted three special needs children, two boys and a girl, and Kenneth Murray immediately treated them like blood relatives just the same.
“Dad,” he told Kenneth Sr. “If something ever happens to you and mom, I will take care of them. I will make sure they get whatever they need.”
In football, Murray excelled early on as a defensive leader by the time he was a sophomore, graduated high school early, and was hard at work for Oklahoma so that he could be prepared to take a big role as a true freshman on the defense. He recorded 68 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, one sack, and one forced fumble that season as the Sooners finished third in the country.
As a sophomore, his 155 tackles was second in the country and the most by a player at Oklahoma since 2007. 28 of those tackles came against Army, a school record.
But for all that logo power, it was a 2018 game against Army that Murray hopes scouts don’t miss. He considers the Sooners’ 28-21 overtime win over West Point as the pinnacle game of his college career. Army’s triple-option offense uses cut blocks and a committed rushing attack to grind defenses down, and on this day, the Black Knights converted a 78-9 run-pass ratio into 26 first downs. With a stunning time-of-possession advantage of 44:41 to OU’s 15:19, Army’s methodical, plodding offense dragged the heavily favored Sooners’ beleaguered defense into overtime, tied 21-21. Murray countered with a school-record 28 tackles. He remembers laying on OU’s home turf in exhaustion after the 23rd and summoning a reserve tank of energy to get up and finish with five more. According to head coach Lincoln Riley, he did it while battling a nagging stinger injury to his shoulder.
What Murray does on the field exemplifies a rather special football player thus far through high school and college. What he does off of it is equally rare.
After QB Kyler Murray saved OU’s playoff hopes with a game-winning TD pass to CeeDee Lamb, Kenneth tracked down every Army player he could on the field to personally shake their hands. He got to at least 10 of them before they exited the visitor’s tunnel at OU’s Owen Field.
“I have a huge respect for what the military does for this country. They put their lives on the line for everybody back home,” Murray said. “I’m a warrior on the football field but that type of warrior doesn’t compare to the type of warrior that goes out there and faces bullets and armies and the craziness that comes along with being in the armed forces.”
Oklahoma finished fourth in 2018 and seventh in 2019. Murray add 12.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks to his tackles total as a sophomore, then 102 tackles 17 TFL, and four sacks as a 20-year-old junior at the start of the season.
At The Draft Network, Murray draws praise in most areas from Benjamin Solak. Criticisms include shedding blocks, playing tepid rather than making quick decisions, some “exasperating moments on film,” not being nimble, and lacking experience in pass coverage though there is potential.
Summary: Kenneth Murray is a Day 2 linebacker prospect with a higher ceiling in a different scheme. Behind the slanting front of Alex Grinch and against complex, pulling Big 12 offenses, Murray struggled to generate a high impact play between the tackles, as he was frequently scraping and working to redirect his momentum into the backfield. Murray projects best to a 3-4 SILB or 4-3 SAM role, that allows him to play directly downhill into the trees and blow up blockers, while making strong plays into the boundary with his unique speed and length at his size. Murray is a high upside prospect if deployed correctly, and is a candidate for Year 2 starting responsibilities if he improves his zone coverage drops.
Expecting great performances from top prospects at the combine, Murray didn’t disappoint.
He is 6’2, 241 pounds, and he ran a 4.52 40-yard dash, sixth-fastest among linebackers. Also there was Patrick Queen. After playing sparingly as a freshman and sophomore, Queen had 85 tackles, 12 TFL, three sacks, and an interception as a junior on a national championship team. The two had much different college experiences on the field, but were once again being measured and compared against one another.
Queen was 6’, 229 pounds, and ran a 4.5.
Murray was practically as fast, but at 12 pounds heavier. Ignore that Isaiah Simmons ran a 4.39 at 238 pounds, if you please.
The Chargers may have no drafted Simmons, but they got an athletic linebacker nonetheless.
Murray’s 38” vertical was sixth-best, his 21 reps on the bench ranked tied for fourth, and his broad jump was third behind Willie Gay Jr and Simmons. Which recent linebackers have similar athletic profiles to Murray? Other than Gay and Shaun Bradley (second and sixth round picks this year), there are these players:
Roquan Smith, Bruce Irvin, and Haason Reddick went in the first round. Zach Brown went in the second round. Demario Davis and Malik Jefferson went in the third round. His athleticism is remarkably similar to that of Gay, who went 63rd overall to the Kansas City Chiefs.
But at this point, what was there not to like about Murray, other than the areas of his game that would need improvement but could certainly be addressed with coaching and time? Certainly we do not have to worry about Murray’s motivation to correct his flaws, nor his willingness to accept that he has flaws. For all those reasons, the LA Chargers couldn’t stick to their old ways and simply accept that they wouldn’t have a player they greatly coveted.
Telesco traded picks 37 and 71 to move up for Murray at 23. Jordyn Brooks then actually became the next linebacker off the board to the Seattle Seahawks at 27 (uncharacteristic of the Seahawks not to trade down, but they had an equal infatuation to Brooks as the Chargers did to Murray), followed by Queen.
Telesco, likely more obsessed with Murray by draft time than Simmons, and feeling uneasy that his only real option at pick six was to take one of the quarterbacks, couldn’t have waited. He had a high character, uber athletic, high floor 21-year-old linebacker who he could immediately start in the middle of his defense next year, coming closer and closer down the pipe. If the Seahawks were set on Brooks (I imagine they probably preferred Murray due to his close profile to Irvin) and the Ravens on any of the available linebackers, then obviously there was only one move to make.
He could have waited on Willie Gay maybe. But the Chargers can’t wait anymore.
They were 12-4 two seasons ago, they had plenty of games they were close to winning in 2019 that they lost, and they’ve added win-now players in spite of the fact that we know there’s going to be a conservative approach at quarterback no matter who starts. The Chargers want players who they know are committed to a quick turnaround.
Murray wasn’t even in LA last season, but I imagine he’s up to that commitment.