Oklahoma football: Sooner defensive prospects drawing plenty of NFL draft attention

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - APRIL 25: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell poses with quarterback Kyler Murray after being drafted first overall on day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - APRIL 25: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell poses with quarterback Kyler Murray after being drafted first overall on day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

In a world of mass cancellations and postponements because of the coronavirus outbreak, the NFL Draft is still on for April 23-25, and as many as six Oklahoma football players are likely to be selected in one of the seven scheduled rounds.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issue a league-wide memo earlier this week, advising that team facilities will remain closed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 crisis and that the 2020 draft will be “fully virtual,” with general managers, coaches and other team personnel operating separately from their homes.

As they do in most years, the Oklahoma Sooners have a handful of prospects that stand a good chance of having their names called at some point over the three scheduled days of the draft.

While the Sooners under head coach Lincoln Riley have been a national powerhouse on the offensive side of the ball the last several seasons, the OU defense, while showing appreciable improvement last season under new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, has not been blessed with the same level of talent or performance.

Despite the major statistical gap between the Oklahoma offense and defense, there is at least a 50/50 chance that as many Sooner defensive players are selected in the upcoming draft at OU offensive players.

Moreover, the three Sooner defensive players that have the best chance of being drafted could be more tightly bunched among the 214 draft selections over the three-day marathon than the probable OU offensive prospects.

It is almost a certainty that All-American wide receiver CeeDee Lamb will be the first Oklahoma player  selected in the 2020 draft, and a likely top-15 pick. And Lamb may not be the only Sooner to be selected in the first round on April 23.

Linebacker Kenneth Murray is also getting a lot of attention by NFL teams. Murray’s side-to-side speed and ability to finish plays are what draft experts like the most about him. Plus one NFL general manager was overheard commenting that the OU linebacker was the best interview he has had in years.

If he isn’t selected in the first round, Murray is almost sure to be off the board in the second or third round.

Defensive lineman Neville Gallimore is another Sooner defender likely to go in the early-to-mid rounds. A Canadian native, Gallimore made 38 starts in four seasons at Oklahoma. His senior season was his best, with a career-high 7.5 tackles for loss and four quarterback sacks. What NFL scouts like best about him is his speed and quickness for a D-lineman. Gallimore recorded the seventh-best time in the 40-yard dash time in his position group at this year’s NFL Combine.

Most NFL mock drafts have Gallimore going somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. The one drawback about his NFL prospects is that his top performances have come in flashes and lacked consistency.

OU defensive back Parnell Motley also has a good chance of being drafted. Motley came to Oklahoma as a highly recruited DB prospect out of Washington, D.C. He experienced a very up-and-down first three seasons at OU, but had a senior year in 2019 that was consistently graded high by Pro Football Focus. He consistently drew the assignment of covering the opposing team’s best receiver last season and allowed just 43 percent of the passes thrown his way to be caught.

“He (Motley) didn’t have the interception totals of other cornerbacks this past season, but did truly limit big plays,” wrote Cam Mellor of Pro Football Focus.

Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts will also be drafted, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he is the only other Oklahoma offensive player taken.

Hurts had a sensational career playing for Alabama for three seasons and at OU last season as a graduate transfer. Hurts participated in a remarkable four College Football Playoff games and three national championship games in his four seasons of college football.

The former Sooner quarterback, the team’s third different starter in the same number of seasons, has made it patently clear he does not want to change positions in the NFL. The problem is, he is ranked behind six other quarterback prospects in this draft. Best guess is that his number will fall somewhere between the second and fourth rounds, although there is a possibility he could sneak into the first round.

The NFL Draft is set for two weeks from this Thursday, and it appears that Oklahoma will extend its streak of being the only college program to have at least four players drafted every season for the last 12 years.