For Eric Kendricks, it’s been a spring rerun. He’d been through all this years before with his brother, Mychal. Currently with Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles, people doubted Mychal for many of the same reasons that some doubt Eric.
Mychal was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. But he was questioned because he was ‘too short’, at 5’11”. Mychal has recorded 264 total tackles, nine sacks, three interceptions, and five forced fumbles in his three-year career. Eric isn’t shy about mentioning this.
"How is he answering that now?" Eric asks, laughingly. Mychal is living proof of the importance of the outlier, the player whose metrics are of limited importance. This is a point at which you also consider how genetics may play a role. It’s ironic, but the ‘too short’ Mychal has been making a name for himself slowing tight ends.
Coming out of UCLA, Eric has outshined even his brother up to this point. He is the 2014 Butkus Award winner, given to the nation’s best linebacker. Von Miller won it, too. Eric won the Lott IMPACT Trophy, given to a college player who shows great character in addition to elite athletic performance. At 6’0” and 232 lb., Eric is very close to the measurables of Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall when they came out. He’s an inch shorter than Danny or Brandon. I don’t think that inch matters.
What does matter is that Kendricks can play inside or outside linebacker. He’s smart and makes good decisions quickly. Even in the Phillips odd-front defense, the key to Denver’s linebackers remains that they are fast, disruptive, and effective in both tackling and coverage. The fact that Kendricks can play at multiple positions is an added bonus.
Chase Goodbread quotes an unnamed scout:
"He can run, instinctive, nose for the ball. He just lacks size. He's a second-, third-round guy," the scout said. "He'll be a starting [weak side linebacker] somewhere."
He can play either inside spot, too. If he’s there at the end of the third round, Denver would have to consider taking him. Some would likely do so late in the second. Eric isn’t as explosive as Mychal, but he’s effective against the run and the pass. He attacks the pocket well, too.
I think the retirements of Niners linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland was a warning call. Make sure you have enough players for the box each year. They are often injured. Some don’t come back, during each season. Some are going to decide that brain function is more important than football each year. More power to them.
Way, way back in my archive on Danny Trevathan is the recurrent complaint that ‘he isn’t big enough’. He was big enough to lead the SEC in tackles, two years running. He’s big enough to be a three-down force on defense. I have the same complaint in my archive for Brandon Marshall. It’s there for Von Miller, too.
When John Elway says that the Broncos aren’t going to draft All-Pros but develop them, I think of Eric. Eric should be able to get 10-12 lb bigger and stronger. Nothing stands in his way. He has the physique to handle it without losing speed.
Sometimes scouts only see the player that he was in 2014. It’s up to the position coaches and trainers to determine who he can be in three years. Kendricks is the kind of player that makes your team better every year.
I think that he’ll start out as a valuable special teams guy and backup Will. He can also backup inside if he lands with an odd-front team. Where he’ll settle may depend on where they have an injury. It’s equally possible that a team with major linebacker needs starts him this year. He’s earned his awards and could start immediately for some teams.
NFL.com's draft profile compares Eric to our old friend Wesley Woodyard. I beg to differ on one level. Woodyard had trouble getting his weight to up to 232 lb. Kendricks is already there. He’s still gaining. On the basis of his quickness, coverage, intellect, and effort, I’d say sure to the comparison. He’s shown the sides of Wesley that I liked. I believe he can overcome the aspects that hurt Woody’s performance (mostly via injuries). He’s heavier and more of a hitter.
As a senior in 2014, he totaled 149 tackles (11.5 for loss), four sacks, two passes broken up, three interceptions, and one forced fumble. That’s the kind of productivity that the Broncos are looking for. Put him on special teams, plug him in at Will, rotate him in at nickel and dime sub packages. He’s the kind of player that you’ll find needs for. If he’s there at the end of the third, he’s a fine pick. If he goes in the second, I wouldn’t be surprised. Denzel Perryman and Benardrick McKinney are upper-echelon options.
With Trevathan, Marshall, Miller, Todd Davis, and Reggie Walker already, they might get lucky. Lamin Barrow, Cory Nelson, Lerentee McCray, and Shaq Barrett also provide quality depth. But to deal with the inevitability of attrition? It couldn’t hurt to have a big-upside player fall into their lap.
Eric would fit right in.