Following an exciting slate of Conference Championship action, there was also a big announcement from PFN’s Tony Pauline in regards to a top NFL Draft underclassmen. Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray leads the Week 15 NFL draft underclassmen declarations as it appears he is headed to the 2020 NFL Draft instead of returning for his senior season in Norman. The junior sparkplug helped Oklahoma defeat Baylor on Saturday, wrapping up the 2019 Big 12 Championship.
Below, I will take a look at Murray’s impact at Oklahoma this season, while profiling his best fit at the next level and what kind of impact this news could have on the 2020 NFL Draft. Could Murray sneak into the Draft’s first round? All that and more declaration news in my Week 15 NFL Draft declaration wrap-up below.
Murray could challenge to be the first linebacker drafted
The Sooners needed overtime to defeat Baylor and give themselves a chance at entering the College Football Playoff. They got the win and clinched the number four spot in the College Football Playoff. That wasn’t the only big news out of Norman, Oklahoma, on Saturday. During his Week 15 Live Blog, Pauline mentioned his sources believe linebacker Kenneth Murray will join receiver CeeDee Lamb as Sooner underclassmen declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Pauline says that Murray could slide into the “late part of round one next April.” Pauline also rationalizes this prediction by labeling Murray as the undersized, but quick sideline to sideline presence that the NFL values these days. I will take that prediction a step further and say Murray could threaten as the top pure, off-the-ball linebacker taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. He has been the unquestioned leader of the Sooners defense all season and is a legitimate top-20 prospect.
Murray has the explosive closing speed to track down ball carriers behind the line, while consistently adding pressure when asked to blitz the quarterback. Before this year, Murray was widely considered a second or third-rounder at best, but he has taken his game to the next level in 2019. The speedy linebacker is a player that jumps off the screen when you watch the Oklahoma defense and will be an impactful starter from day one in the NFL. Take a look at this explosive play made by Murray on Saturday, where he appears to overrun the play, but comes back to collect the sack on Baylor’s Charlie Brewer.
Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray is at his best when he’s using his elite burst and fantastic effort.
We see both of those traits on display here, as he comes ALL the way from the left edge to make the sack. pic.twitter.com/H0VehyRRLY
— Carter Donnick (@CDonnick3) December 7, 2019
Murray also displayed excellent awareness and ball skills on this pass deflection against Baylor.
Kenneth Murray with a nice deflection. Been all over the field today. pic.twitter.com/lt5tK8YjfW
— Jake Schyvinck (@JakeNFLDraft) December 7, 2019
Murray is not quite in the same class as Devin White or Devin Bush from last season, but he would slot in directly behind those guys if I had to rank Murray against those former first-rounders. He’s a better prospect than former Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson, who has found a starting role in Cleveland in 2019. I also see him as a better player at this point than former Sooner Curtis Lofton, who had a decent NFL career after leaving Oklahoma.
In terms of a player comparison, I would say he shares characteristics with Lofton, but his speed relates more favorably with Jaylon Smith of the Cowboys. Both players can make tackles from any point on the field and have the ability to get into the backfield when needed to make a big play. Off-the-ball linebacker needy teams like the Giants and Raiders could come calling for Murray early in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Other nuggets from Saturday
Another Oklahoma player we’ve mentioned on this blog before was center Creed Humphrey. We learned that his decision likely would not be made until Oklahoma’s potential postseason run is over. In Week 15, Pauline said that Creed is still “a ways from making a decision” on whether he will be one of the NFL Draft underclassmen declarations. Pauline has Humphrey ranked as his third center prospect, but I believe he will challenge Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz as the top player available at the position when all the dust settles.
Lastly, two Boise State Broncos appear ready to join the Week 15 NFL Draft underclassmen declarations. Linebacker Curtis Weaver and offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland are “heavily leaning towards entering the draft,” according to Pauline. Weaver has been a steady presence in opposing backfields for Boise State this season, racking up 13.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss. He has 34 career sacks and will likely hear his name called before the end of day two and could end up as a surprise first-rounder.
Cleveland is a big left tackle prospect at 6’6″, 310 pounds, and has done a great job protecting the young Broncos quarterbacks this season. The junior blindside protector is one of the better offensive linemen in the Mountain West and helped Boise State to a Conference Championship win Saturday against Hawaii. He has the look of a potential mid-rounder in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the NFL Draft. Find him on Twitter: @sgormanPFN.