Mychal Kendricks - ILB - California, 5-11, 240 lb
A former running back, and the son of UCLA running back Marvin Kendricks (who led the Bruins in rushing twice in 1970 and 1971), Marvin Mychal Hendricks out of Cal had the best 40 time among linebackers at 4.47 seconds, edging out North Carolina's Zach Brown by .03 seconds. He also lead the LBs in the vertical leap at 39.5 inches, the broad jump at a remarkable 127 inches, and the 20-yard shuttle with a time of 4.19 seconds. As you’d expect after that, he is extremely athletic and he has played both inside and out in the past, so he’s also very scheme flexible. At just over 5’11”, Mychal is shorter than your average linebacker. Of course, Mike Singletary was barely six feet tall, and ten pounds lighter than Kendricks, and they said that about him before he started piling up running backs and Pro Bowls. Height can be useful, but it’s not always the measure of a man - or a football player. Kendricks can play the Mike or Will slots in a 4-3, is experienced in Cal’s 3-4, and could even play Sam for some teams.
Mychal started for Cal for most of three years. He started eight games in 2009, three of them inside and five outside. He was an outside starter for them in 2010 and then moved inside for his senior season. Like a certain better known Broncos LB, he spent the last half of the season sporting a cast on his right hand following thumb surgery. He was also hampered by a shoulder problem during the 2011 season, but despite the two injuries he still started 11 games, so he’s not shy about playing through pain. He works hard in games to stack and shed and knows how to keep his legs clean. He takes good angles and he rarely bites on fakes; he flows to the ball with his head up and his eyes on the target. He’ll have to develop his lower body somewhat more in the NFL and learn to anchor better. He’s always been known for a high motor on the field, though, and doesn’t take plays off. Last season he was named the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year among a sizable series of other awards.
He did have two occasions where he had to miss games as punishment for violation of unspecified team rules, so he’s not a total angel. He also has SC (Sports Center) Syndrome - going for big hits rather than wrapping up at times. Some running backs have gotten away from him because he failed to use proper form. However, when he hits, he hits hard, and he’s at his best as a downhill defender and run stuffer. He likes contact, but his speed does also translate into decent coverage skills.
He’s flown under the national radar, but as a Carlsbad guy for now, I can say that media attention out here has had no shortage of coverage and stories on him. I’ve watched this man play for Cal many times, and he impressed me repeatedly, although I may never get happy with Big Hit Disease. I did like seeing a guy who can drop in coverage or stuff the run, while knocking down the occasional pass, forcing a couple of fumbles, and even getting a couple of INTs. What I enjoyed during the Combine field drills was watching how smoothly he moves when he’s out of pads - fluid, fast, and supple in his movements, cuts and drops, you knew that he was one of the better LBs in a very good group.
What might appeal to Denver about him? First and foremost, John Fox, Jack Del Rio and Richard Smith will have to sign off on him. The Broncos are extremely fortunate to have Fox - who likes linebackers and who traditionally likes them slightly smaller, faster, and more athletic - as well as position coach Richard Smith, who has worked with linebackers on and off at both the college and NFL levels ever since he coached them for Arizona back in 1987. He coached them for the Houston Oilers back in 1988 before they moved to Tennessee, for the Detroit Lions, for the Denver Broncos back in 1993 and 1994 (as well as ST), for the San Francisco 49ers and the Carolina Panthers. Jack Del Rio was one in college at USC before he made the NFL's Pro Bowl as one, followed by coaching them in the NFL; he demands a very high level of competitive fire from those he coaches. If these three men agree on one, I’m going to assume he’ll do fine unless something proves it differently - among the three, there’s little that they don’t know about linebackers, and Smith and Del Rio understand exactly what Fox expects those ‘backers to do.
Kendricks will have to have had good answers for why he let his team down twice by violating rules. He’s going to have to explain the tendency to like big hits before wrap-up tackles. But he won’t have to explain to them that he’s the kind of speedy, uber-athletic, high-motor player that Fox has prized. That part they’ll already know.
There are other LBs who could be equally interesting to the Broncos in this draft, but it’s hard to argue that Kendricks has a lot of the qualities and skills that the Broncos are looking for in their players. So many options, so few chances. Dividing up their picks this year won’t be an easy job for the Broncos.