With the 46th overall pick in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Mychal Kendricks, an inside linebacker from the University of California. Kendricks, who is listed at 6-feet, 240 pounds per NFL.com has been steadily improving statistically over his first two seasons.
In the fifteen games Kendricks started and played in for the 2013 season, he amassed 106 total tackles, four sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. His emergence as a playmaker has many fans excited, but key issues that have plagued Kendricks’ game since he was a rookie are preventing him from being looked at as a complete linebacker compared to fellow 2012 linebackers Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks, selected one pick after Kendricks) and Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, selected twelve picks after Kendricks).
For all of the things Kendricks does extremely well, having a playmaker doesn’t help the defense if they cannot be relied on to make the fundamental plays as often as the highlights. Kendricks was credited with 23 missed tackles in 2013 per Pro Football Focus, which tied him for first among Inside Linebackers in the NFL with Derrick Johnson (Kansas City Chiefs) and Mason Foster (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). PFF also credited Mychal as the second worst ILB in 2013 in terms of pass coverage, being “bested” only by Cleveland’s Craig Robertson. Does the occasional interception make up for unreliability?
I’m not completely sold on Mychal Kendricks, but it’s obviously too soon to close the book on him yet. His flaws are not career-fatal, as a player with his level of physical skill can be a threat to every offense if he can learn to wrap up and improve his coverage ability. Kendricks did finish the season with a positive grade (1.4) in Pass Rushing, but we already knew that he is capable of getting to the quarterback with his speed. It’s also worth mentioning that PFF graded DeMeco Ryans as the second worst ILB in the NFL in terms of overall grade, and even though he was far from perfect this year feels like a little bit of a stretch according to the trusty eye test.
It’s all about perception; what do the Eagles value in their inside linebackers? I’m as big of a fan of big plays as anyone and surely Mychal Kendricks was a big reason why the Eagles were able to close out the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17, but where’s the line? Kiko Alonso, a third round choice for the Buffalo Bills in 2013 who played under Eagles head coach Chip Kelly at Oregon, graded out as the 2nd best ILB in pass coverage, and the 10th best ILB overall. He also won defensive Rookie of the Year honors from the Pro Football Writers Association.
While that’s nice and good, the Philadelphia Eagles won’t be taking the field with Super Bowl XLVIII champion Bobby Wagner, PFWA 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year Kiko Alonso, or 2013 NFL first team All-Pro Lavonte David next season. It’ll be Kendricks going into his third season with the goal of improving his all-around play, which is a great goal but I’m not certain that the Eagles won’t be looking at inside linebacker in the early rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. Even though Kendricks is still young and finding himself as a player, it’s clear that the position is still a need for improvement and the Eagles have made it clear that they’re drafting for future need based on projections of a few years down the road.