There is no doubt that linebacker remains to be a huge need this offseason. We saw major turnover at the position where only Germaine Pratt, Jordan Evans and Brady Sheldon remain from last year’s roster.
With that much of a need, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cincinnati commit their second draft pick to the position, and one of the prime targets could very well be Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray. At only 21 years of age, Murray is coming into the league at a time when athleticism at linebacker is a premium. Murray confirmed his freakish athleticism by running the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds and had jumps of 38” and 129” on the vertical and broad jump. Let’s see what else Murray has to offer.
Weight: 241 pounds
Projected Round: Late First/Early Second
Murray possesses the size and speed NFL teams are looking for from modern linebackers. He has a burst to the football that is reminiscent of being fired out of a cannon. He also has a very impressive second effort that really helped make quite a few plays that should’ve been wins for the offense. Murray also has some experience as a pass rusher off the edge. His athleticism has also put him in situations where he beat his blocker to the spot, which created negative plays. Finally, he is probably one of the most forceful tacklers in the draft. Rarely does he let the ball carrier fall forward.
As far as negatives, his instincts aren’t as quick as some of the elite linebackers. He also doesn’t shed blocks as well as you’d like. He wasn’t tasked with playing much man coverage at Oklahoma, so that is something he will have to learn at the next level. There is also some concern about him having to adjust the angles he takes in the NFL after being very aggressive in college.
Fit with Bengals
One of the first things any Bengal fan will ask about a linebacker is whether they can cover, and that is a pretty big question mark for Murray. He never really had to play man coverage in college, but he did show he can take away swing passes and quick screens on the perimeter, which was one of the biggest problems the past few seasons for this defense.
One of his most underrated traits may also be his ability as a quarterback spy. On several occasions he showed elite ability to keep the quarterback from creating an easy run for a first down, and he tip toes the line of containing and rushing the quarterback perfectly. That will become more and more important as the years go on as dual threat quarterbacks are becoming the norm, and the Bengals already have to play Lamar Jackson and the Ravens twice a season.
Murray may end up starting as a rookie, but there will be some obvious growing pains. The one thing that should keep fans feeling positive through those struggles is Murray has all of the physical traits to grow into an elite every down linebacker, but it may take him a season or two to grow into that role.
Cincinnati addressed their linebacker needs by signing Josh Bynes, but they still need more bodies and a long-term answer next to Pratt. Murray checks all the boxes the Bengals look for in linebackers. He may not instantly come in and be a strength of the defense, but in a few seasons, he would probably be viewed as a foundation piece.