The 2020 NFL Draft might not have the deepest talent pool for inside linebackers, but there are still a handful of players who figure to make an instant impact next season.
Among the best? Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray, who just so happens to be a terrific fit for what the Green Bay Packers need at the position.
Murray was an athletic freak for the Sooners during his three seasons with high-end speed and sharp instincts that allowed him to aggressively attack the line of scrimmage. In his final two years alone, he racked up 257 total tackles with 29.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also defended six passes as a three-down workhorse who can cover plenty of ground in the pass coverage.
The Packers’ need for such a dynamic player is obvious and could only grow depending on how they choose to navigate the upcoming free-agency period. Green Bay’s top two options on the inside — Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson — could both be gone before the draft arrives, and the depth behind them hasn’t proved capable of taking the reins. All the more reason for them to target a top-shelf prospect ready to fill the shoes of a starter.
The only problem? Murray could be long gone before the Packers’ first pick rolls around at No. 30 overall, especially after Dylan Moses’ decision to return to Alabama made his stock shoot up.
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What Makes Murray the Right Choice?
Most scouting evaluations of Murray can be summed up like this: He isn’t always the greatest decision-maker but masks most of his shortcomings with range, athleticism and pure physicality. In other words, he would need to put an emphasis on the mental side of his game but also possess unteachable traits that not every athlete is blessed to have.
Murray isn’t the only athlete fitting that bill in the upcoming draft class, as Clemson star Isaiah Simmons is widely considered the best inside prospect on the board. Given that Simmons figures to be taken off the board in the first 10 picks, though, it might be more realistic to see the Packers doing a deal for something slightly lower.
The Packers could potentially find a fit with some of the other interesting options on the board, including LSU’s Patrick Queen. He is known for his pass coverage and put on a tremendous performance for the Tigers in the National Championship Game that caught the attention of numerous NFL scouts. Murray’s speed and power as a 6-foot-2, 243-pound linebacker, though, might set him apart in terms of addressing the Packers’ greatest concern on defense: stopping the run.
Would Packers Be Willing to Trade Up for Top-Shelf Talent?
Should the Packers want Murray, a trade-up seems like it would be necessary with a number of teams above them — such as the Oakland Raiders (No. 19) and New Orleans Saints (No. 24) — also searching for upgrades to their inside linebacker group. But there are a few other things to consider before entertaining such a thought.
The first and most obvious is free agency. While general manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t sound too optimistic last week when discussing Blake Martinez’s future in Green Bay, the Packers could still feasibly address most of their inside needs in-house. They would still need another playmaker to add to the mix, but they could risk investing in a later-round ‘backer instead through the draft.
The open market is also a great resource, where the current list of free agents is dotted with playmakers such as the Cleveland Browns’ Joe Schobert and Los Angeles Rams’ Cory Littleton. Given Martinez is expected to make more than $16 million per year on his next contract, the Packers might decide it better to put that money toward someone new.
If both starters walk and no one new arrives in free agency, a first-round swap might be the best route for the Packers. It would likely cost one of their lower picks, probably a few, but it certainly wouldn’t be difficult to justify it for someone like Murray.