Why the Chargers were excited to trade up to draft linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr.
He is so athletically gifted that he finished among the top six at his position in four of the six drills at the NFL combine, the totality of his “measurables” almost immeasurable.
Given that dominant physical prowess, it is hardly surprising that Murray considers his intelligence to be one of his overlooked qualities, this linebacker who said he would study film up to six hours a day while at Oklahoma.
Murray is so committed to preparation, in fact, that he even practiced how he would react upon being drafted.
“I used to do it all the time with my siblings, all the time with my family, with my girlfriend,” Murray explained. “Every time we watch the draft, I’m like, ‘Yo, this is what it’s going to be like when I get up there. I’m going to hold the jersey up like this.’ ”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Murray didn’t have the opportunity to raise a Chargers jersey when they selected him Thursday in the first round, at No. 23 overall.
The Chargers selected UCLA running back Joshua Kelley in the fourth round and Virginia wide receiver Joe Reed in the fifth among four picks Saturday.
That still didn’t diminish the significance of the moment for the team (the Chargers believe in Murray enough that they traded their second- and third-round picks to move up to get him) or the player (Murray admitted he cried).
He is an addition who, while initially arriving in the shadow of quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers’ pick at No. 6 overall, could eventually have a similarly profound impact on the franchise’s direction.
“His tape is pretty easy to watch to see how explosive (he is) and how much range he has,” Telesco said. “He’s one of those guys that, between scouting staff and coaching staff, boy, there was a 100% buy-in to add him to this football team.”
From the start of the Chargers’ first preseason group stretch, Murray is expected to compete for the starting weak-side linebacker job. He possesses the range and attitude to make tackles all over the field.
Murray brings the speed this team has sought in its attempt to keep up with offenses like the one in Kansas City, where the Chiefs blurred their way to the latest Super Bowl title.
“He’s really intense,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “At the [weak-side] position, you may have to run vertical a little bit more and cover a little bit more. It’s really good that he’s able to do that.”
The main questions about Murray center on his aggression, how he‘ll sometimes over-pursue, how, especially now in the NFL, he might need to add patience to his arsenal.
He produced 17 tackles for loss last season, a year after he had 155 total tackles for the Sooners. In a game against Army in 2018, Murray finished with a typo-sounding 28 stops.
Telesco described Murray as having “a really violent mentality” before adding, “It’s almost like he’s built to play defense.” Lynn likened Murray’s style to that of “old-school linebackers.”
Growing up, Murray said his eyes were drawn to Ray Lewis, the Hall of Famer who spent 17 seasons with Baltimore. To this day, he prepares for games by watching highlights of Lewis.
Murray called football “a lifestyle” and cited his work ethic as one of his greatest strengths. The Chargers believe he could, over time, emerge as a leader.
“You’re getting a guy that’s extremely passionate about the game,” Murray said. “I’m a guy that loves to win, that is a winner, and a guy that loves to play great defense.”
He was born in Texas, Murray’s father a pastor and his mother a retired police officer. The couple has two biological children and adopted three others, each with special needs.
The environment, Murray has explained, was one that required him to mature quickly and assume responsibility. Those intangibles caught the Chargers’ attention, Lynn said.
With the sixth pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Chargers selected Justin Herbert. Or was he the one who selected them?
Murray also has displayed an ability to excel under extreme pressure, never more so than last summer when, on the way home from church, he stopped and performed roadside CPR to help save the victim of an auto accident.
Murray attempted to leave the scene without drawing attention, the story becoming public only because a reporter from Oklahoma’s student newspaper happened to drive by and notice him.
Murray was one of the Chargers’ top targets before the draft began, Telesco formulating a scheme in case he had the opportunity to trade up under the right circumstances.
“[Tom] executed that plan to perfection, I thought,” Lynn said. “It was really cool.”
And now the Chargers have another defensive piece, perhaps a pivotal one as they attempt to rebound from a 5-11 finish while transitioning to a new quarterback for the first time since 2006.
Physically blessed and mentally dedicated, Murray has been readying for this exact moment.
“I’m going to come in and work extremely hard,” he said. “That’s just who I am. That’s where I make plays. That’s where I get it from — from my preparation.”
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