Sooner Elite: Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray has star potential at next level

Photo: Jay Biggerstaff - USA TODAY Sports

As a true junior, the Oklahoma Sooners have counted on linebacker Kenneth Murray to be a mainstay in the middle of their defense for three straight seasons now. While his production speaks for itself — 232 tackles in his first two years in the Crimson and Cream — his projection to the next level, based on tape in those first two seasons, was unclear. Murray’s play in 2019 is starting to make more of an impact on the field, as opposed to just the box score, however. As a result, we’re finally starting to see the 6’2, 243 lb. junior linebacker put it all together.

It has rejuvenated his draft stock. In fact, several early 2020 NFL mock drafts have him featured in the first round. That’s a testament to how excellent he has been for the Sooners' defense this season. In 2017 and 2018, Murray struggled mightily with the mental aspect of the position. He leaned on his athletic gifts far too often, rarely trusting his instincts and hesitating on his reads. Murray runs a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, but his play speed on film was nowhere near that time. He played two steps slower than his freakish athleticism indicated.

Thus, this season was a prove-it year for Murray to many scouts. He needed to show that he’s taken that next step from a mental processing standpoint so that his athletic gifts are accentuated. Murray has done more than just ‘take the next step’ in 2019 — he’s on a whole new flight of stairs.

Throughout his career, Murray has shown the flashes of his freakish explosiveness and sideline to sideline range. But this year has been different. Instead of flash plays here and there every other week with multiple mental miscues, he’s starting to play smarter and more consistent, while also maintaining his explosive style as a linebacker. It has resulted in him rising higher than any linebacker prospect on my 2020 NFL draft board from last year’s tape to this year.

Just from a physical profile and the eye test, Kenneth Murray is probably the most visually-appealing linebacker prospect in this class. He looks like a legitimate bodybuilder, but he can also change directions and run like a strong safety. This combination of size, speed, and power already has him on the inside track in the scouting world, but now that he’s starting to play with more confidence, consistency, and a quicker mental trigger, those traits are finally being unlocked for the world to see.

Murray is the X-factor in Oklahoma’s CFB championship hopes, and if he continues this kind of momentum as someone who is playing as good as any linebacker in the country, he will have a legitimate shot to hear his named called on the first day of the 2020 NFL draft.