Ahead of Thursday’s NFL Draft, Lincoln Riley held a teleconference on Wednesday to field any questions about the Sooner prospects that will have their name called in the coming days.
With at least two players expected to go in the first round plus a number of other guys who could get selected, there was a lot for Riley to tackle in a short time period – so here is what the Oklahoma head coach had to say:
Q: How far has Jalen Hurts come in the year under you, and how close is he to being an NFL quarterback?
“He’s definitely come a long way,” Riley said. “He’s played in a lot of different systems and seen a lot of different defenses…I think he’s a guy who’s very intriguing and trending in the right direction.”
Lincoln has touched a few times now on Hurts having been able to win in different systems playing a different style as being a big positive for him that could help his draft stock, and it is certainly a valid point and perhaps one of Jalen’s biggest selling points right now. Riley also touched on the development in his passing as another key thing that teams should look at as a reason to believe he can have success in the NFL.
Q: With all the revamping of the defense, what would it mean to see Kenneth Murray go in the first round?
“I think it means a lot, it’s proof of the concept and what we’re trying to do,” Riley said.
Having a defensive player taken in the first round is going to be nice for Oklahoma to start to try and shift the narrative that they don’t play any defense. Last year the defense took big strides under Alex Grinch, but still has a lot of work to do to change the minds of the country and shake off that stigma. Riley also touched on what the system did for Parnell Motley and his future in the NFL after he was not considered a next-level player before last season.
Q: What was the key to unlocking Kenneth Murray’s potential?
“You take good physical ability and continue to develop that…I think this system really brought out the best in him,” Riley said. “Kenneth deserves the majority of the credit, but I give a lot of credit to Coach Grinch and Coach Odom – those guys did a phenomenal job.”
Riley has been clear over the past year or so what he thinks of Alex Grinch and has mentioned previously his belief that he will be a head coach one day. This just reaffirms Lincoln’s belief that the defense is absolutely headed in the right direction and that he has the utmost confidence in Grinch as the leader of the defense going forward.
Q: What made it so clear that CeeDee Lamb was special early on and how do you evaluate his route-running?
“We thought he had a chance to make an impact pretty quickly,” Riley said. “He’s an extremely versatile route runner…elite ability to separate. Not only is not a concern, but with the people I have spoke to in the NFL, it is considered a strength of his.”
It didn’t take long for CeeDee Lamb to make a name for himself in Norman, essentially being one of the top receivers on the team as soon as he got to OU. He continued to progress and get bigger and stronger each year with the Sooners and now is sitting as one of the very top receivers in this year’s draft class – a guaranteed first round pick.
Q: Have you seen an uptick in defensive recruiting with what you have done with Kenneth Murray, Neville Gallimore, etc.?
“Without a doubt we definitely have,” Riley said. “I know the last game is fresh on everybody’s mind…but that doesn’t take away the way we played during the 13 games and how many big strides we made defensively and the recruits have certainly seen that.”
There were some duds last season, obviously most notably against LSU in the College Football Playoff, but the Sooner defense was undoubtedly a lot better last season in the first year under Alex Grinch. Lincoln makes it clear here that recruits know that they ran into a buzz saw that was the LSU Tigers last season while missing multiple key players, and that they still know the way the defense is trending – is upward.
Q: How pleased will you be to see Parnell Motley get taken in the NFL Draft given the ups and downs of his four years?
“I am proud of him, I am…when you look back to kind of what Parnell came from and some tough things that have happened in his life that have not went his way, for him to be in the position he is in right now – proud that were able to help him have the year that he did.”
Parnell Motley has certainly had an interesting college career with many peaks and valleys, but there is no question the guy finished with his best year. He was legitimately very good last season under Alex Grinch, and the fact he did not receive an NFL Combine invite still boggles the mind. Whether or not he will get drafted is hard to say due to that lack of an invite, but he certainly has a chance to get taken late and even if he doesn’t, he will have a chance to make it at the next level if he can continue to make strides like he did last season.
Q: Can you quantify how important the NFL Draft is to recruiting, especially at a time when normal recruiting is impossible?
“It’s important. Kids want to win championships but also each of these kids have individual dreams and goals. To hear your name called no matter if its the first pick or the last one it means a lot of things went well. Because every player that puts on a college football jersey has a dream of that and it just doesn’t happen for many,” Riley said.
This is very well said by Lincoln Riley. Of course every player in high school is looking forward to a successful college career and hopes that wherever they go they will compete for a national championship, but the light at the end of the tunnel is to play professionally in the NFL. If your program produces high draft picks, it makes you instantly much more attractive to top recruits. I mean, OU had back-to-back quarterbacks get taken #1 overall, which all but guarantees them heavy consideration of every single top high school QB recruit for the foreseeable future. That’s a huge advantage.
Q: What kind of team would be best for Jalen Hurts in the NFL?
“I think the #1 thing for him would be to get into a situation where he has some continuity,” Riley said. “I think he could be successful in a number of different offenses but there are certainly some right now that are moving the quarterback around and taking advantage of athletic skill sets similar to what the Ravens have done for Lamar (Jackson).”
Jalen Hurts is definitely a big case of needing the right place to tap into his full potential. If put into the right system, I genuinely believe he could be a quality starter in the league or at the very least hang around as a good backup option for years to come. The comparison to Lamar Jackson is an interesting one, because while nobody thinks Hurts has the athleticism that Jackson does, he does have a legit running ability and honestly probably a pretty comparable throwing ability to what Jackson had coming out of Louisville. Trying to make Hurts something he’s not would be the biggest mistake a team could make when it comes to Jalen and that is what Riley is alluding to here.
Q: You had 8 guys drafted last year, do you think that number may be hard to reach again and how many guys do you have on the current roster who you expect to be drafted in the coming years?
“I think some of that is just a pure number standpoint…we had a really special class of players,” Riley said. “I honestly believe we will have several years like that and they’ll be balanced out as far as the number of offensive and defensive players that are drafted here in the near future.”
If Alex Grinch keeps having success and OU is able to produce quality defensive players, then there shouldn’t be much question that the Sooners will have lots of guys drafted every single year. Because as long as Lincoln Riley is running the show, Oklahoma will have offensive players be drafted high consistently every season.
Q: Do you think it makes sense for the Arizona Cardinals to look to add CeeDee Lamb and also what kind of advantage would that give them considering the chemistry Kyler Murray and Lamb already have?
“It’s probably hard to imagine that trading for Hopkins would help CeeDee’s case,” Riley said. “In terms of value, honestly I think its more short term value at least at the beginning for CeeDee to go in there with a quarterback that he knows and has a relationship with and already been through the battle together.”
The Arizona Cardinals are probably not going to take CeeDee Lamb with 8th overall pick even though Kyler Murray would certainly like them to. It was without a doubt on the table up until they made the deal for DeAndre Hopkins, but now it seems wise for them to look to improve the team elsewhere. But, should they decide to make a splash and surprisingly do it, I don’t think there is much doubt the amount of electricity that offense would have with all those weapons and then, as Lincoln mentioned, the built-in chemistry of Lamb and Murray.
Q: Do you have any level of disappointment for the players that they don’t get to experience the draft in the traditional sense due to the Coronavirus precautions?
“Yeah especially for a couple of our guys that would have been invited to the actual draft because that’s a unique experience…but at the same time, you’re getting drafted, you’re there with your friends and your family, that’s pretty darn good too.”
It is a shame for the top guys in this year’s NFL Draft that they won’t get the opportunity to walk across the stage, but like Riley said, they can still enjoy the moment with their family. The disappointment of not being at the actual draft will most likely be completely washed away the moment their name is actually called.
Q: Have you gotten any inquiries about Lee Morris and what do you think he could bring to an NFL team?
“Yeah he’s honestly been one of the players I have been asked about the most,” Riley said. “I think there is a ton of interest and it’s easy to see why with how productive and versatile he was for us.”
Lee Morris is a really interesting guy because he was never a flat out star in his time with OU, but he did have a tendency to make plays here in there that would make our jaws drop. He is clearly a really athletic guy, and as Riley said, very productive on special teams which could give him the opportunity to fight his way onto an NFL roster. Lee Morris is certainly a guy to keep an eye on in the coming weeks and months.
Q: How important is it for guys like Motley and Morris that they got to have an actual, traditional pro day before the pandemic shut everything down?
“Very important, especially for those guys that aren’t going to be first or second round picks. People got to work them out and see them…we were lucky because the world basically shut down the next day,” Riley said.
OU getting to have their pro day just in the nick of time was absolutely massive for guys like Parnell Motley and Lee Morris. If you aren’t invited to the combine, that is really one of your very best chances to show off your skills in front of NFL talent-evaluaters. Those guys should consider themselves quite lucky that Oklahoma was able to get that in, because other schools were not quite as fortunate.
Q: CeeDee Lamb is the final guy from the 2017 offense to be drafted, what foundation did the group lay down for you and how special was it?
“Obviously it was a really special group,” Riley said. “You had really impact players at each position and then on top of that high character guys that played well together and because of that you had a historical year at offense.”
The 2017 Oklahoma Sooners offense was insane, and with each passing year it gets more wild looking at the amount of talent that that unit had. Baker Mayfield, CeeDee Lamb, Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews…the big names never stop coming. Definitely a historic group of players that will be looked back on for decades to come.
The NFL Draft begins tomorrow night on ESPN and NFL Network, and you can follow along with every Oklahoma Sooner to get selected throughout the week right here on The Franchise beginning tomorrow evening.