If you haven't heard the names Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen, you haven't been following Ravens draft talk.
Since February, Murray and Queen have been the two inside linebackers most consistently linked to the Ravens in mock drafts. But which would be a better fit for Baltimore's defense? And will they be available at pick No 28, or would the Ravens need to trade up?
Many mock drafts have had one or both linebackers off the board by the time the Ravens are on the clock. General Manager Eric DeCosta said he expects both to go in the top 40 picks.
"It really just depends what flavor you like, Murray or Queen," DeCosta said during a Thursday conference call. "I think they're looked at side by side as probably two of the very best inside linebackers."
Inside linebacker is one of the Ravens' thinnest positions in the aftermath of Josh Bynes signing with the Cincinnati Bengals and Patrick Onwuasor signing with the New York Jets. There is obvious room for a three-down inside linebacker to fill the void left by C.J. Mosley, the four-time Pro Bowler who departed to the Jets in free agency last year.
It's possible the Ravens may find an inside linebacker later in the draft who can earn playing time as a situation player. DeCosta named inside linebacker as one of the draft's deeper positions. However, Murray and Queen are viewed as the inside linebackers with the potential to start from Day 1 as Mosley did as a rookie.
There's no doubt Murray would feel at home in Baltimore's locker room. He'd be the fifth Oklahoma player drafted by the Ravens over the past two years, joining Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., wide receiver Marquise Brown and offensive lineman Ben Powers.
Murray also has an incredible life story that leaves no doubt about his special character. He has saved a stranger’s life by performing CPR, and he has three siblings with special needs.
However, drafting a defensive player from Oklahoma would be a different twist for the Ravens. The Sooners have struggled defensively in recent years and gave up 27.3 points per game last season, including three games in which they yielded at least 40 points. But Murray was by far Oklahoma's best defensive player with 102 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and four sacks. DeCosta has watched enough tape on Murray to know that he was special on a defense that wasn't.
"Tremendous athlete, a cerebral guy, he's got really good length," DeCosta said. "He's been a really good defensive player on a team that really hasn't had a lot of really good defensive players lately. He's a great student of the game, he's got great intangibles."
Murray (6-foot-2, 241 pounds) is more of a throwback linebacker, bigger than Queen (6-foot-0, 229 pounds) but also a playmaker. Queen was a little faster at the Scouting Combine, running a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash compared to 4.52 for Murray. They both suffered hamstring pulls.
DeCosta thinks Murray and Queen fit the mold of what NFL defenses are looking for, and he did not see Queen's size as a deterrent. He made 85 tackles including 12 for loss at LSU, showing his ability as a blitzer with three sacks while also excelling in pass coverage.
"Not as big as Murray, (but) very explosive," DeCosta said. "LSU has put a number of really good defensive players in the league over the last four or five years. He's a guy that's sideline to sideline, he can play downhill, he's a very good cover linebacker.
"He was not a household name before this year. He played his best football probably over the second half of the season, really good performances in the playoffs and national championship."
Whether the Ravens draft Queen or Murray remains to be seen. But both players have the overall qualities NFL teams are looking for.
"I think the league has kind of morphed into more of a speed league in some respects, guys that can run, cover, and blitz and do all those things." DeCosta said. "But you also need a guy that can effectively play the run and take on guys. In a perfect world you'd like to have a bigger guy, but you're also looking for a bigger guy who can run."