After redshirting in 2010, Eric Kendricks began to earn playing time the following season, starting the final three games and recording 77 tackles on the year. As a sophomore, he started all fourteen of the Bruins' games and led the Pac-12 in tackles with 149 (the most by a UCLA player in a season since 1978), adding 6 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, enough to receive All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention honors.
Although he missed three games in 2013 due to injury, Kendricks still finished with a team-high 106 tackles (four TFLs and two sacks, again taking home All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention laurels. In 2014, he started all 13 games and again led the team with 150 stops (101 solo; 11.5 for loss; 10-plus tackles in a school-record eleven games), adding four sacks and a career-high three interceptions. For his efforts, Kendricks was awarded the Lott Impact Trophy and became UCLA's first winner of the Butkus Award, adding Second Team All-Pac 12 and multiple All-American honors to his trophy case.
Although he lacks the prototypical size and power for the position (which hurt him in take-on and stack-and-shed situations), Kendricks more than compensates with superb balance, burst and COD skills. He's a sideline-to-sideline defender who consistently makes plays against both the pass and the run, covering the entire field with exceptional range. Moreover, he unquestionably an "RKG"; he's a two-time team captain who eats, drinks and breathes football, and displays off-the-charts leadership and effort. Most scouts project him to have a long career as a three-down middle or weakside 'backer at the NFL level.
Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at his measurables:
And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com (note that this doesn't include Kendricks's 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle scores, which are from his pro day):
Note that this graph shows how Kendricks compares to other inside linebackers. To see how he stacks up against OLBs, go here and peruse until your heart's content.
Strangely, they only have three of Kendricks's games over at Draft Breakdown: the 2012 contest versus Stanford (where he logged 15 tackles) and two games from 2014: the season opener at Virginia (a monstrous 17 tackles) and the tilt at Texas two weeks later (eleven tackles).
Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Kendricks the Younger:
Gary Horton (ESPN.com) top-ranked ILB; 40th overall:
Instincts/Recognition: Makes a quick diagnosis against the run. Reads keys well and shows quick ball reaction on secondary read. Displays good patience and discipline as a backside run defender. Outstanding awareness in coverage. Also quick to sniff out screens.
Take-on Skills: Lacks ideal size and power. Doesn't possess a heavy punch and will never be consistent taking on linebackers. Can do a better job of taking on blocks with proper shoulder positioning and with more consistency to maintain gap integrity. However, enters contact with quality leverage and is not afraid to fire his gun at the point of attack. Also flashes the ability to absorb contact and possesses quick hands to disengage.
Range vs. Run: Strong overall range. Above-average agility and redirect skills. Closes quickly and can make up ground in a hurry. Will occasionally get caught up in trash. Also, will take the easy route by going underneath blocks instead of working over the top to stay alive in the play. Loves to chase.
Tackling: Very effective tackler in tight quarters. Lacks ideal power but flashes ability to strike. More often than not does a nice job of wrapping up and securing tackles. Good patience in space. Plays fast but usually under control. Will get in trouble when he comes in high and hot on occasion.
3rd Down Capabilities: Easy mover in space, gets quality depth in drops and shows above-average overall range in underneath zone coverage. Has enough athleticism to keep tabs on most RBs in man coverage. Flashes playmaking instincts to get into throwing lanes. Finds and plays the ball extremely well. Very good ball skills for LB. Not a highly impactful blitzer. Flashes a quick closing burst but lacks ideal power and often turned away once initially picked up.
Intangibles: Team captain as a junior and senior. Mature and accountable. Upbeat and positive personality. Loves football. Vocal leader on defense. Son of Horace Kendricks and Yvonne Thagon. Horace was a running back for UCLA in the early 70s. Older brother Mychal Kendrick currently is a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL Draft 2015 Preview) top-ranked ILB; 32nd overall:
Strengths: Exceptional eyes, anticipation and angles. Outstanding pre-snap recognition - thinks and reacts 4.4 and is often moving at the snap. Field fast. Covers a lot of ground in pursuit and chases down ball carriers from behind. Extremely competitive with a non-stop motor. Outstanding football intelligence - knows the responsibilities of everyone on defense and can get everyone lined up. Serves like a coach on the field. Very good lateral agility. Has a 38-inch vertical ump. Terrific awareness in coverage reading the quarterback and anticipating throwing lanes.Record-setting production. Has NFL pedigree and understands what it takes to play at a high level. Highly respected team leader. Outstanding personal and football character.
Weaknesses: Has an unassuming build with short arms and does not look the part. Lacks ideal take-on strength and does not play with explosion in his body. Struggles to match up with big bodies and can be overwhelmed in tight quarters. Could stand to do a better job of running through contact.
Future: A scrappy, football-smart tackling machine that compensates for his lack of size and length with superb instincts. Record-setting production is indicative of his playmaking ability and is every bit as advertised as a respected locker room leader, on-field commander and defensive heartbeat. Will make an immediate impact upon his arrival in the pros, despite physical shortcomings and emerge as a very consistent, productive pro.
Draft projection: First-round pick.
Scout's take: "He has the best instincts of any player in this year's draft. He is a quarterback on the field, with the smarts and intelligence to line people up. You see him doing it...He is all over the field. The dude is instinctive. Its just his size that worries you. Its kind of like Larry Foote or Johnathan Vilma, those types. Vilma hit with more explosion."
Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 3rd-ranked ILB; 42nd overall:
Strengths: Confident with a downhill, attacking mindset. Good feet to slide, follow and burst to developing run plays. Can turn and chase sideline to sideline. Diagnoses quickly and attacks run fits while avoiding blockers. Is always around the play. One of the most productive tacklers in college football over the last three years. Outstanding at sinking hips and changing direction. Exhibits good play speed and is able to cover man-to-man in space. Good zone awareness and makes plays on the ball.
Weaknesses: Despite the high tackle numbers, doesn't meet ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage as much as he could. Could use more weight on his frame. Will drop his head at times when meeting ball carrier in the hole. Wasn't much of a factor as a blitzer.
Sources Tell Us: "His production and character makes it easy for a scout to bang the table for him. The only blow-back I anticipate in my room is regarding his size, but if you stick him at the WILL spot, I don't think it matters." -- NFC West regional scout
Dane Brugler (NFL Draft Guide) top-ranked LB:
Strengths: Above average play speed with natural acceleration to cover every inch of the field...smooth footwork in his drops with the fluid lower body to stay low and unlock his hips...reads his keys with excellent reaction quickness and initial burst, staying patient, but trusting his eyes...terrific blend of competitiveness and smarts...sticks his nose in the fire with a motor that won't quit until after the whistle, no exceptions - not a spectator...above average spatial awareness with a great feel for his surroundings to leverage the sideline or operate in space...form tackler and loads into the contact point, attacking through his target with all his momentum...breaks down well in the open field, staying low and finishing...sniffs out screens and undercuts routes to get his hands on the ball (16 career passes defended)...knack for being around the big play with five interceptions, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and three defensive touchdowns in his career...understands situations and not often fooled...two-year team captain with a coachable attitude and attractive preparation habits - film junkie...leaves UCLA with the school record for tackles (481) and double-digit tackle performances in a season (11)...football bloodlines - father (Marv) led UCLA in rushing in 1970 and 1971 and older brother (Mychal) was drafted in the second round (46th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Weaknesses: Lacks ideal size/strength dimensions and maxed out physically...lacks overpowering strength to bully or dispose of blockers, struggling to jolt at the point of attack...will get hung up in the trash with average take-on skills...will take wild angles at times and miss tackles on the move - can be a runaway train and doesn't always properly control his nonstop motor...too hands on and grabby in coverage and will draw flags because of his hand fighting downfield...limited pass rush moves and needs work as an inexperienced blitzer...some durability concerns due to his size and ferocious playing style - ankle surgery (Dec. 2013) ended his junior season, also battled a shoulder sprain in 2013 and missed the 2015 Senior Bowl and was limited during pre-draft workouts due to a nagging hamstring issue.
Our collection of draftniks are in close agreement on where Kendricks shoudl be graded, ranking him from the 32nd to the 42nd best payer in the draft, which is the end of the first to the top of the second round. Although Brugler doesn't offer rankings, he does see Kendricks as a 1st-2nd rounder, so he would appear to be in agreement. Where shall I put him on my "little board"? Although he's undersized, he's a perfect scheme fit in Dallas, which raises his grade in my estimation. So, I'm going to place him in round one, where the Cowboys sit at #27, poised to take him.
If that were to happen, how would I feel? Generally quite pleased. My only hesitation would have to do with position; I believe there are other positions, defensive end being the foremost example, where finding a good scheme fit is more difficult and therefore should be addressed as soon as possible. Still, if they are to take a LB early, I'd prefer it be Kendricks. I think he's an ideal fit; what Rod Marinelli wants from his linebackers is what Kendricks has in spades: quickness, speed, instinctiveness, leadership. I love the player, and would welcome him to Dallas with open arms.
Next up; Washington OLB Shaq Thompson