On Monday, ESPN analyst Matt Bowen released an article that listed his top-10 rookies that “landed with the perfect teams.” Per Bowen, these are rookies who ended up getting drafted by teams with schemes that will maximize their skill-set at the next level. Among the 10 players included is the Bolts’ newest linebacker, Kenneth Murray.
Bowen hasn’t been the only one to like the fit of Murray and the Chargers, which isn’t surprising given the Chargers’ need for a dominant second-level presence that isn’t only there when Derwin James comes into the box. Murray’s combination of size, speed and range is obviously the main selling point for him as a prospect. He does a lot of things you don’t often see from inside linebackers when it comes to covering ground and finding the football.
“Murray is a three-down linebacker with the traits to fit in Gus Bradley’s defensive scheme,” Bowen says. “The Chargers played zone coverage on a league-high 68.2% of opposing quarterbacks’ dropbacks last season, so expect lots of of three-deep coverage that meshes with Murray’s skill set in 2020. Drop as a hook defender, carry the inside verticals or roam the middle of the field to hunt down crossing routes.
“Plus, with Murray’s second-level range and 4.52 40-yard dash speed, he elevates a defense that ranked 18th versus the run. Hit the gaps and use that sideline-to-sideline ability to make plays on the edge.”
When I spoke with Oklahoma’s inside linebackers coach Brian Odom last week (that interview is still pending on BFTB), he explained to me that Murray wasn’t asked to do a ton in coverage, not so much that he couldn’t, but that they wanted to fully take advantage of his strengths.
Also, he mentioned that the Sooners’ defense is unlike most defenses you’ll see. They are an attacking front to the truest sense of the word. Their defensive line does not two-gap or do much in the way of reading the linemen in front of them. Odom said they imagine playing with the line of scrimmage two yards behind the real LOS. That is why there are times where Murray looks like he’s blitzing repeatedly. He actually isn’t. When he gets a “run” read, he’s supposed to GO. It’s so instantaneous that it’s hard to differentiate between a normal run/pass read and a legitimate blitz call.
Going back to his duties in coverage, I think it will be more of the same when it comes to his time with the Chargers. Sure, they’ll likely refine his skills in that area but the team relies on extra defensive backs and sub-package linebackers for a reason. Murray will likely continue playing in the middle as a QB spy and covering any and all action out of the backfield just like he did at Oklahoma.
Lastly, Murray’s athletic ability should in fact help with covering some of the things Kansas City likes to do in their screen game. Andy Reid loves misdirection and catching defenses off guard. Players are going to be fooled, including Murray, but his ability to stick his foot in the ground and re-direct to the ball will help minimize damage in these situations.
ESPN projects Murray to finish the 2020 season with 102 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, and an interception.