Recruiting ROI, No. 6: Kenneth Murray

Parker Thune

Every Tuesday and Thursday, SI Sooners unveils a new installment in the Recruiting ROI series. Over the course of 10 weeks, the series examines 20 Sooners over the last 20 years who dramatically exceeded expectations in the crimson and cream.

Kenneth Murray is an absolutely frightening football player.

A linebacker that stands 6-foot-2, 241 pounds just isn't supposed to be able to run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.

And it's not only the physical tools that make Murray so fun to watch on the gridiron. As any Sooner fan can attest, he plays the game with relentless vigor and a motor that simply doesn't stop. He pursues with passion, hits hard, and leads fearlessly.

That's why the Los Angeles Chargers saw fit to select Murray in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft back in April. In the span of three years in the crimson and cream, Murray emerged as perhaps the most feared linebacker in the nation.

But he wasn't always regarded as a pure terror, an enforcer, a future Pro Bowler. It wasn't that long ago that Murray journeyed to Norman as little more than a depth addition amongst a deep 2017 recruiting class. The three-star Missouri City, TX native chose Oklahoma over Baylor, Michigan, Ole Miss and a host of other schools. However, Levi Draper and Addison Gumbs were the Sooners' prized 2017 recruits at the linebacker position. Comparatively, Murray wasn't expected to make much noise, and he certainly wasn't expected to start as a true freshman.

However, Murray soon made it abundantly evident that the Sooners had found a diamond in the rough. After enrolling early, he wowed the Oklahoma defensive staff throughout spring and summer practices. Come September, it was Murray - not Draper or Gumbs - that earned a starting nod for the season opener against UTEP.

It would be the first of 42 consecutive starts in a Sooner uniform for the young linebacker.

Though still somewhat raw as a freshman, Murray finished second on the team with 78 tackles and earned freshman All-American honors. His most productive game came in the Rose Bowl loss to Georgia, as he recorded nine tackles (2 for loss) and a sack.

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Murray flexes after a sack against Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2018.Robert Hanashiro

By 2018, Murray had emerged as the emotional leader of the Sooner defense. Many viewed the Sooners' hulking middle linebacker as a breakout candidate, and Murray validated those beliefs, as he doubled his production from the previous season. He finished the year with 155 total tackles, the most by a Sooner since Curtis Lofton registered 157 in 2007. Murray added four sacks and a fumble recovery on the year, but somehow only nabbed an All-Big 12 second team nomination.

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Murray celebrates a 66-33 Oklahoma victory over Baylor.Kevin Jairaj

Murray's 28 tackles in the Sooners' win over Army remains the highest single-game total by an FBS player since 2000. He capped his outstanding sophomore season with 15 tackles in an Orange Bowl loss to Alabama, and as he headed into his junior campaign, draft experts were already fawning over Murray's stock.

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Murray brings down Alabama running back Josh Jacobs, recording one of his 15 tackles in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29, 2018.Mickey Welsh

As the football calendar rolled over to 2019, Lincoln Riley named Murray a defensive captain. Led by new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, the Sooners' defensive effort vastly improved, and Murray's excellence took center stage again. He recorded 102 tackles (17 for loss), four sacks, and four pass breakups. At season's end, Murray made the cut as a semifinalist for both the Bednarik and Butkus Awards, and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors.

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Murray celebrates a tackle for loss as Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) searches for answers.Kevin Jairaj

Though Lincoln Riley and the Oklahoma coaching staff lobbied Murray to return for his senior season, the allure of the NFL won him over. Murray announced his intentions to enter the 2020 NFL draft in January, and after a jaw-dropping combine performance, he became the first inside linebacker off the draft board. The Chargers' 23rd overall selection will now head west for his first crack at professional action.

Though it won't be an easy task for Oklahoma to replace Murray in 2020, Sooner Nation will no doubt watch rapt as their former defensive stalwart earns his keep as a pro.

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