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Why Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray is a legit possibility for the Dallas Cowboys at pick 17

Adding strong defenders is always a good strategy.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 Oklahoma at Kansas Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2020 NFL Draft is less than a week away so it won’t be much longer when the Dallas Cowboys will have a new crop of rookies on their football team. Unlike last season, the organization will have a first-round draft pick at their disposal. There are a lot of different directions the team can go as the list of pre-draft visitors are laced with several different defensive linemen, cornerbacks, and wide receivers. But right in the middle of that list is Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray. Would the Cowboys dare take a linebacker with their first-round pick?

For the Cowboys to show any type of interest in him means that there must be a part of them that is actually considering him as a possible draft selection. Considering Murray is one of the top linebackers in this draft, he’s likely going to be taken somewhere in the first round. Regardless of whether or not he’s a candidate for pick no. 17 or a guy they could be targeting in a trade back situation, the fact remains - he’s being considered.

Such a decision wouldn’t exactly thrill Cowboys Nation. Most are hoping for a player who ideally would make an immediate impact and certainly be a strong piece for the future, but would that be the case with Murray? He’s a talented player, but the Cowboys are crowded at the linebacker position. Not only did they invest a first-round draft resource in Leighton Vander Esch a couple years ago, but they also just extended Jaylon Smith with a $68 million deal that can keep him on the team for the next six years. Even Sean Lee got a one-year deal for 2020, and you have to figure as long as he’s healthy, he’ll see some playing time.

So, where does that leave a player like Murray?

On the surface, it just doesn’t make sense to go after Murray, unless there is something going on behind the scenes that we’re unaware of.

When the team drafted Vander Esch, one couldn’t help think that maybe Smith’s progress wasn’t what the team had hoped. Sure, news was always optimistic, but you could see that his lateral movement just wasn’t that impressive during his first year in the league in 2017. But the following year was a different story, as he showed great improvement, racking up 121 tackles. Combined with rookie All-Pro Vander Esch, suddenly the dynamic linebacker duo of Van Jaylon was an area of strength for the Cowboys.

Last year, things took a step back as Smith struggled at times and Vander Esch was a shell of his former self as he was clearly hindered by a neck injury that saw him ultimately miss seven games. What was first diagnosed as a neck stinger turned into a herniated disc that shelved him for the latter part of the season. He had neck surgery in January with a recovery time that should allow him to be ready come training camp, but with this type of injury there is no guarantee that he’ll ever be at full strength again. Just this inkling of doubt means that the linebacker position could be back on the table for the Cowboys.

There are quality linebackers to be had in this draft that don’t necessary warrant such a hefty investment. Akeem Davis-Gaither, Willie Gay Jr., and Jordyn Brooks are all solid linebackers that can be drafted on Day 2. If the Cowboys are genuinely interested in adding another strong linebacker, that seems like a more reasonable way to go, right? This allows them to use that precious no. 17 pick to address another position.

While that is certainly an option, it’s also possible that Murray is just too good of a player to pass up. There may be other positions that need more attention, but if the war room is all about collecting great talent, Murray’s a guy that just might fit the bill. The Oklahoma linebacker is an explosive tackler with great athleticism. He’s a strong player who plays downhill and can fight his way through traffic. He’s a missile to the ball carrier, can race sideline to sideline, and possesses enough quickness to help out in coverage. He may not play a position the Cowboys need the most, but he’s a very good football player.

I posed a hypothetical to the Draft Show fellas asking - if you knew you were getting a 21-year old Bobby Wagner All-Pro type player in Kenneth Murray, would you pull the trigger at 17 despite what the Cowboys already have invested at the linebacker position? Kyle Youmans responded with:

“If you’re guaranteeing me an All-Pro, I’m always going to take it.”

Now, clearly this is just a hypothetical, and in the real world there are no guarantees; however, this type of question allows us to understand the Cowboys thinking if they are super high on a player like Murray. Having adequate players already at the position shouldn’t automatically remove great college prospects from consideration. Plus, things change so fast in the NFL that you never know when a player may come in handy. One minute, you may have a “wasted” draft resource in Connor McGovern playing behind an All-Pro Travis Frederick, the next - he could be your new starting center.

There is also the theory that the Cowboys place a greater emphasis on the front seven versus using premium draft resources on the secondary. The breakdown of their top defensive draft resource over the last 10 years looks like this:

  • Defensive Lineman (3)
  • Linebacker (4)
  • Secondary (3)

The secondary is the only group that didn’t get a second contract with the Cowboys.

Is Murray the name we’re all hoping to hear called next week? No, but he’s probably a more sensible pick than the next best corner if C.J. Henderson is gone. And he’s likely even the more talented choice versus just settling for a safety like Xavier McKinney if all the other top defensive prospects are gone.

Taking Murray may seem like laying up short, but sometimes that’s the right move. You don’t win the Super Bowl by making a great first-round pick, but you can miss the playoffs by making enough bad ones.

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