We’ve already reviewed the Vikings first round pick, cornerback Trae Waynes, during our “Truth or Hype” series prior to the NFL Draft. We’ll now focus on the other Vikings players either selected or signed as undrafted free agents this year.
So we’ll start with their second round pick out of UCLA, linebacker Eric Kendricks. It’s a nice story that he’ll be reunited with former UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr in the Twin Cities, but how will he fare in the NFL with his physical limitations?
Kendricks finished as UCLA’s all-time leader with 480 tackles, compiling over 100 tackles in each of his last three seasons. This isn’t misleading when you watch Kendricks either. He’s an aggressive linebacker that always seems to find his way around the ball. He has really good instincts, and it’s a significant reason why Kendricks was so productive in college. Here are two examples in the same game. On a 4th and goal situation, Kendricks blew up the run play in the backfield due to great anticipation.
He had some good help from his defensive line to free him up, but it’s impressive to see how quickly Kendricks reacted to make that play. He moves well laterally, which I think coupled with his instincts was a big reason why Kendricks was always around the ball at UCLA. Here’s another example against the pass where Kendricks still made the tackle on a 3rd down situation despite the chop block.
The most impressive game Kendricks had last season was likely the season opener against Virginia. UCLA’s offense struggled throughout the game, but the Bruins defense accounted for 21 of the team’s 28 points. All three defensive touchdowns were scored in the first half, and Kendricks had a hand in two turnovers by forcing a fumble that a teammate returned for a touchdown and returning an interception 37 yards for a touchdown.
Weaknesses: There aren’t too many knocks on Kendricks, but he wasn’t selected in the first round due to his size. He’s listed at six feet and 232 pounds, which makes him the shortest linebacker on the Vikings roster and the second lightest after Brandon Watts (listed at 231 pounds). Kendricks was one of the many linebackers in the draft that lacked the prototypical size, which has become a noticeable trend over the last few years. He’ll need to add weight to avoid these situations against a fullback, tight end or offensive lineman.
Bottom Line: Kendricks overcame his physical limitations by displaying impressive instincts and recognition in college. If he was just a few inches taller, he would’ve been without question a first round selection and viewed as a possible top 15 pick. He’s a good supporting piece to this defensive unit built around cornerback Xavier Rhodes, safety Harrison Smith, linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive end Everson Griffen.
Kendricks has the ability to make an immediate impact for the Vikings at either middle or weakside linebacker despite his size, but we’ll see whether the same formula that worked in college will work for Kendricks against bigger and faster athletes in NFL. I think he’s capable, particularly with the defensive line Kendricks will have in front of him that will make his life a little easier.