Under the Microscope: Eric Kendricks


Over the past couple years, UCLA has been notorious for producing front seven players. Datone Jones, Jordan Zumwalt, and Anthony Barr have all been quality prospects, with two of them (Jones, Barr) being selected in the first round. With the tenure UCLA is building up for front seven prospects, it is no surprise that Eric Kendricks is as good as he is.

With the NFL Draft process still going slowly because the season is still underway, some players are not getting the attention that they deserve. Kendricks is one of those players. Athletically and fundamentally, Kendricks may be the most complete linebacker in the draft, but unwarranted size concerns and a linebacker class filled with other talented prospects has gotten Kendricks brushed under the rug.

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At Kendricks’ size, linebackers have to be able to quickly sift through trash and work across the line of scrimmage efficiently. In doing so, one has to be able to read the running back, find the gap, shoot it, breakdown and make the tackle. Kendricks has made this a staple of his game. He understands how to keep himself clean and when to strike in order to make sure the ball carrier is trapped. Below, defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa blows through the left tackle and forces the running back outside. Kendricks sees it and guns for the ball carrier.

Kendricks is an instinctive player. He quickly identifies where the ball is or will be and fires off like a bullet out of a gun. In run defense, this allows him to take sharper angles and get away with it, which either shortens the run with a tackle or forces the running back elsewhere. As a coverage player, Kendricks’ instincts and explosion makes him a menace when defending shallow routes. He gives quarterbacks the mirage that he is deep in coverage, but he reads their eyes and closes in on the receiver, leading to a minimal gain, if not an incompletion.

At the same time, Kendricks’ general speed, lateral mobility, and mental ability makes him a more than capable player in intermediate coverage, as well. Rarely does Kendricks seem lost. He knows who his assignment is and he gets physical with them to let them know. Kendricks forces guys off of their immediate route, not only allowing him to make his own adjustment to the route, but also forcing the receiver to take longer to develop his route. Kendricks’ capability in coverage almost instantly puts him above many other linebacker prospects because being able to be useful on all three downs, meaning in any situation, is necessary in today’s NFL.

But of course, Kendricks’ coverage aptitude is not the only trait setting him apart from the others. Much like Chris Borland from last year (who has been faring well in San Francisco), Kendricks thrives not because of amazing physical attributes, but because of being able to understand an assignment and execute it, find ways to keep himself clean and balanced between the tackles, and tackle well.

Though I am not convinced quite Kendricks is the most talented linebacker in the class, he is the most fundamentally sound. One could go through any sample of games from Kendricks and only pick out a few instances of him missing a gap assignment, whereas many of these other linebackers are often running themselves out of the play multiple times per game. These fundamental plays don’t look that flashy, but consistently holding your assignment and minimizing the opponent’s yardage is key in becoming a top tier inside linebacker.

Once Kendricks keys in on these assignments and makes his run for the ball, he efficiently and consistently breaks down, widens up and stoutly drives his frame into the frame of the ball carrier. Kendricks knows that he isn’t able to get away with arm tackles (so few are, honestly), so he makes an effort to get in front of the oncoming ball carrier and use his whole body to make the tackle. Textbook technique. But what about when Kendricks gets caught up in a block? Can he hold up?

Despite underwhelming size, Kendricks has a wide, firm base that allows him to take on blockers and hold his ground. Not only does he hold ground, but he has shown ability to shed these blockers and not get swallowed up, as well as get his arm out of the lineman’s frame to make a tackle or, at the least, slow down the running back. He is not the most impressive block shedder, but at the same time, he is so rarely washed out of the play that he still makes a positive impact, or at least a neutral one.

Eric Kendricks isn’t the “sexiest” looking linebacker prospect in this class because he doesn’t possess the daunting size or power that people want to see, but there are so many things that he does well, and not much he does wrong. Aside from being born into the body he has and not having dominating power, both at the point of attack and as a blitzer, Kendricks is as complete as a linebacker prospect can get.

Though his role in the NFL is likely as an inside linebacker in a primarily 3-4 defense (Kansas City comes to mind), a base 4-3 team could take him and use him as their weakside linebacker due to his range and coverage ability. Kendricks has some degree of flexibility and that only makes him more valuable. Come draft weekend, it is more than likely that Kendricks ends up under-drafted and some team will get great value for an inside linebacker who has the ability to be top seven or so in the league by his third year.