Given the current options that the Eagles have available, Mychal Kendricks seems to be their best option at weakside linebacker.
Linebacker Mychal Kendricks was not moved before or during the NFL Draft as many people believed. Either the Eagles didn’t receive an adequate offer, or they feel that Kendricks can be a significant contributor this season. Then again, they could be waiting for June 1st, which would allow them to move him with less of a cap penalty. Although he only played in 27% of the defensive snaps last season, the case can be made that Kendricks could be a solid contributor in 2017.
What can he bring?
Truthfully, what other options do the Eagles have? The only other linebacker on the roster that saw significant time on defense, outside of Kendricks and the two other starters (Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham), was Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch is no longer on the team which leaves Kendricks as the third most experienced linebacker in the system.
The Eagles did potentially draft his replacement in Nathan Gerry, but he is making the transition from safety to linebacker. It will take at least a full season for Gerry to learn the nuances of the position and the scheme. He’ll also need to add weight to his 218 pound frame if he wants to be able to take on NFL linemen. He played close to the line of scrimmage a lot in college, but the NFL is a different game. Kendricks has experience, and that’s just as important physical ability.
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Secondly, we know that Kendricks can play. It wasn’t that long ago that Kendricks played at a level consistent with pro bowl players. In 2013, he had 113 total tackles, 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles in 15 games played. In comparison, Carolina Panthers standout Luke Kuechly had a similar stat line in 2015 when he made the Pro Bowl (118 tackles, 1 sack, 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles in 13 games played). Let’s be clear, no one is saying that Kendricks is as good as Kuechly. Kuechly is a once in a generation talent that will probably be in the NFL Hall of Fame when his career is done. Kendricks has put up numbers that are comparable to the pro bowl linebackers, and that does deserve recognition.
What needs improvement?
Although Kendricks’ past performances have been good, his output, as of late, has been below average. He misses far too many tackles. Linebackers are supposed to be the cleanup crew when ball carriers make it past the first level. Missed tackles by linebackers leave the secondary one on one in the open field. Although there are some safeties and corners that can bring the boom, most of the time the advantage in that situation goes to the offense.
Kendricks also had issues in coverage last season. One game that stands out, in particular, is the game against the Detroit Lions. It seemed like he was getting consistently worked by running backs when he was in man to man. For someone as athletic as Kendricks, he should be able to cover much better than he has.
The Eagles would be best served to keep Kendricks for the upcoming season, unless they’re intent on releasing him due to the salary cap issues they have. At the very least, Kendricks is a solid option at weakside linebacker for 2017. If he plays well, he adds an athletic playmaker who can become a big time contributor on defense. If the team decides not to hold onto him, then he at least allows the team the financial freedom to make roster moves.
The worst case scenario is that his play continues to slip as it did last season. In that case, the team might do the same thing they did in 2016 and limit his snaps. If so, hopefully one of the younger players (Gerry for instance) is ready to come in and play.
Barring any unforeseen roster moves, Kendricks, currently, is the best weakside linebacker option for the Eagles moving forward. Fans can only hope he plays at the level he did in the past.