2020 NFL Draft: Don’t Sleep on Oklahoma’s defensive talent

Oklahoma's defense has been the team's Achilles Heel the last few seasons. However, the Sooners boast several talented players for the NFL Draft.

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Apologies, Sooners fans

The days of OU churning out defensive talents for the NFL Draft have faded recently. In total defense from 2015 through last season, Oklahoma’s defense has finished 39th, 82nd, 67th and 114th. These are the numbers that have cost the Sooners a chance to play for at least 3 national championships (2015-Clemson, 2017-Georgia, 2018-Alabama) and have become a running joke among college football fans.

It gets worse when you look at their passing defense numbers during those years: 34th, 112th, 87th,129th (last in CFB). For a program that used to always contend for having a top-10 defense, those numbers are dreadful. While they have ruled the Big 12 the last few seasons, Oklahoma’s success nationally ranks well behind other teams.

The last few national title winners in Alabama and Clemson have each ranked consistently in the top-10 in total defense over that same span. Oklahoma finally fired Mike Stoops after their loss to Texas, but interim coach Ruffin McNeil didn’t do any better (and in some areas the defense got worse). For a program that has boasted the nation’s top offense the last few years, the defense has never played up to that caliber.

The good news for Sooners fans? New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has the goods and inherits a talented defense just waiting to be unleashed properly. The coaching staff has recruited well and rebuilt the defense.

Sooners in the draft

The Sooners in the draft have had poor luck on defense, with only five defensive players drafted since the 2015 NFL Draft (Clemson under former OU DC Brett Venables had four defensive linemen drafted in the 2019 NFL Draft).  For the first time since Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma can have a defensive player drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. I’ve discussed their offensive talent here and here for PFN before, so I had to dedicate an article to the defense.

DL Neville Gallimore

I said above that Oklahoma has players capable of being a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Neville Gallimore is one of those names for the Sooners. The Canadian is a freakishly gifted athlete. He recently appeared on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List from The Athletic as the #2 freak in all of college football. Feldman had this to say about the Sooner:

“The Canadian import who grew up playing soccer, basketball and volleyball moves up one spot from last year. He’s down to 305 pounds from 330, but he bench presses 500 pounds and squats 800. He cleans 405. The most impressive number of all is that he clocked a 4.76 in the 40. The fastest 300-pounder at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine — 303-pound Quinnen Williams — ran a 4.83, which is remarkable.”

That athletic ability shows up on tape. Gallimore has remarkable explosiveness and quickness for a big man.

Teams were double and triple-teaming Gallimore all season long, but he fought through it often. While that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, Gallimore is in line for a big season. If he continues to develop his hands and technique like in this rep below, his ceiling is sky-high.

Gallimore was being used as a nose for Mike Stoops, but new DC Alex Grinch has told Gallimore to just go attack, and the staff has high hopes for him this season. Lincoln Riley said he is starting to become a complete football player for their defense.

The NFL loves freakishly athletic defensive players. Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, and Rashan Gary were all top-12 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Gary had zero technique to his game, but off of athleticism alone, the Packers had to take him. If the Sooners defense takes that next step this season, expect Gallimore to be a big reason why.

LB Kenneth Murray

Linebackers have been the most drafted position from OU’s defense recently, with guys like Jordan Evans, Devante Bond, and Corey Nelson being drafted, but the last time OU produced a linebacker of Kenneth Murray‘s caliber was Curtis Lofton way back in 2008. Remember what I was saying about how the NFL loves athletic specimens? Murray is jacked up and plays with a hot motor and always flies to the football. Murray posted 28 tackles in the game against Army setting the school record for tackles in a single-game.

Kenneth Murray will need to take that next step mentally in pass coverage but quoted new DC Alex Grinch as a great influence. Grinch is challenging Murray and the defense to have no excuses and Murray has stepped up to be a leader for the Sooners this season.

Athletic ability? Check. Leadership? Check. Murray is set to take the national spotlight this season and potentially hear his name called early in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Don’t forget about…

DB Robert Barnes

Robert Barnes came to OU as a former 4-star player and delivered last season. While he only posted one interception, his clutch play against the Texas Tech Red Raiders last season helped Oklahoma avoid the upset.

Robert Barnes will need to stay healthy and develop better instincts in pass coverage, but the talent is there for him to be a draft-worthy talent.

EDGE Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson‘s name doesn’t get a lot of notoriety because he doesn’t fill up the stat sheet with sacks, but Jackson has some good traits to his game. He’s quick off the edge and his use of hands has improved year to year. The guys at Pro Football Focus have him valued very high, which is encouraging to see.

I want to see Jackson take that next step by cornering better to make up for average bend and I want to see him play the run better at the point of attack. That kind of pass-rushing ability can’t be ignored though. If OU can improve in pass coverage, Jackson’s numbers could skyrocket.

AJ Shulte is a writer for PFN covering the Big 12. You can find him @AJDraftScout on Twitter.

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