Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
At the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, Bruce Arians shed a little light on what Arizona will look to address in the draft. "In the draft, it's still speed," Arians said. "Speed at running back, speed at receiver, speed at linebacker, another interior player." Arians called the crop of running backs in this year's draft the best he's seen in the past decade, adding there are about 15 "really quality" running backs available. Arians hinted that the Cardinals could opt to wait until the middle rounds to draft the type of big, fast back they are looking for to replace Jonathan Dwyer after cutting him mid-season. Another position the Cardinals may address early in the draft is cornerback. After losing Antonio Cromartie to the Jets in free agency, Arians said he doesn't want to sign a veteran corner to compete for his job with incumbent veterans Jerraud Powers and Justin Bethel (opposite Patrick Peterson). "I'd really like to add a young one," Arians said. "A young, long, fast one because I think we have enough depth with the guys we have." The Cardinals can afford to draft a developmental player at the position in the middle rounds to sit behind their veterans and learn.
As this mock plays out, the Cardinals are left in a tough situation at the 24th pick. None of the pass rushers they were sacrificing lambs for dropped to them a la Bud Dupree and Arik Armstead (it's a bit too early for Eli Harold), they miss out on their savior at RB by a pick in Melvin Gordon (regardless of the "15 really good RBs" smokescreen) while Todd Gurley is a no-go as he still can't find his other ACL, and the Cardinals have one of the best secondary's in the league which allows Arians to wait a couple rounds for a developmental player as the better option. However, one position that the team may not have the luxury to wait on is at linebacker. Cardinals' ILB Darryl Washington was suspended for at least one year for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy before last season, and he still faces possible suspension for a domestic violence incident. Under NFL guidelines, Washington won't be able to apply for reinstatement until sometime next month. In this case, the Cardinals might not know Washington's status before the draft, and have made it clear that they intend to move Deone Bucannon back to safety. This leaves the Cardinals going into 2015 with Sean Witherspoon and Kevin Minter as the starting ILB duo and no established depth, which is probably not the best plan. Luckily, Bruce Arians and newly promoted DC James Bettcher find themselves in the perfect position to check off their "speed" requirement at linebacker by selecting 2014 Butkus Award winner Eric Kendricks of UCLA.
Career: Totaled 480 career tackles, 10 career sacks, 5 INTs and 3 Defensive TDs in his four year college career; three year starter.
2014: Second-team AP All-American. Butkus Award Winner. Lott IMPACT Award Winner. Second-team All-Pac-12. Led team with 149 tackles (101 solo), 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three interceptions. Had 10-plus tackles in 11 games (school record). Team captain.
2013: Honorable mention All-Pac-12. Led UCLA with 106 tackles despite the fact that he missed two games, and limited in a variety of other games due to playing through injury. Named team captain.
2012: Honorable mention All-Pac-12. Led Pac-12 with 150 tackles. Had most tackles by a UCLA player in a single-season since 1978.
2011: 76 tackles and 2 sacks.
Eric Kendricks has seemingly modeled his game after Mychal Kendricks, and has done so with gusto. Like his big brother, he is instinctive, aggressive and a more explosive hitter than his frame suggests. He has a knack for always being around the play, closing quickly and with force in the run game. One of the most productive tacklers in college football over the last three years, Kendricks plays confident with a downhill, attacking mindset and good feet to slide, follow and burst towards developing run plays. Kendricks drives with his lower body and finishes tackles with his upper body, so players will rarely break his tackles. As well, Kendricks is a very dependable player in coverage for a linebacker. He looked very smooth and natural while defending backs, tight ends and even wide receivers in college. The Cardinals have had a lot of trouble in recent years defending the tight end position, so drafting an athletic linebacker with natural coverage skills like Kendricks will only help the team in that department. These coverage skills are on display in the following clip.
In this clip, against Virginia, Kendricks shows his presence in man coverage. He allows the running back to begin the route and does not over-anticipating it. He shuffles his feet quickly and reads the quarterback's eyes while jumping the route, intercepting the pass, and bringing it to the house. He was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week after this game against Virginia. He totaled 16 tackles, forced a fumble (returned for a touchdown by a teammate) and returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown.
The following clip provides another example of Kendricks' superior athletic ability and diagnosis of the play:
Covering a receiver to the flat, his head on a swivel, he noticed when the quarterback decided to keep it as the play broke down, and made a great play to tackle him around the line of scrimmage.
Despite the high tackle numbers, Kendricks does not meet the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage as much as he could. At 6'0 and 232, he could use more weight on his frame to help with the larger lineman that he will go up against in the NFL. Kendricks was not much of a factor as a blitzer at UCLA (as noted by the 10 career sacks), largely due to the scheme run by the coaching staff. Relies on agility to avoid blockers, rarely taking them on and shedding. Highly aggressive, which can work against him in run support where he found himself overrun the play. Kendricks has shown that he can keep up in man coverage, but he has been shown to struggle in zone coverage and when he has his back to the ball.
The immediate relevance of this pick to those here at BGN is that his brother currently dons an Eagles helmet and is an absolute cyclone on the field; how does this young buck stack up? Well I'm glad you asked (or didn't; I'm answering anyways), because the comparison by almost every draft "expert" is his big brother Mychal. When you look at their pre-draft measurable and college tape, it's not hard to see why:
Combine Eric Mychal
Height 6-0" 5-11"
Weight 232 239
Arm Length 31" 31 5/8"
Hand Size 9 5/8" 9 ¼"
40 yd dash 4.61 4.47
Bench Reps 19 (22*) 24
Vertical 38" 39.5"
Broad 10'04" 10'07"
3-Cone 7.14* 6.68
*Did not complete at Combine (Hamstring); 3-Cone & improved bench from Pro Day
From the above measurables, it is clear that the brothers are comparable is just about every way. Mychal has a slight edge in the 3-Cone (change of direction speed) and his 40-time (straight line speed), but the margin is slim. The two brothers have spent almost the entire offseason working out together to prepare Eric for the Combine and his Pro Day, so it's easy to assume that Mychal is teaching him a thing or two before his name is called on Draft weekend. If Eric becomes anything like his terrorizing brother, the Cardinals are getting a stud at the back-end of the first round.
When analyzing this pick, it came down to the team as much as the player. Bruce Arians is the kind of coach that wants playmakers at every level, offense and defense. He has taken chances on talent with baggage (Honey Badger) and can do so because he flushes his locker room with high character guys. Do the Cardinals have huge needs at edge rusher and running back? Sure could. Could they opt to go with a prospect like Harold or Gurley to fill these needs, respectively? Sure could. But at the end of the day, Eric Kendricks is the best player available for what Arians wants to accomplish in the Wild Wild NFC West. He is an intelligent leader with high football character. He plays with plus instincts against the run and pass, and possesses the athleticism and demeanor to be an impactful, productive linebacker for years to come. Kendricks has an inherent understanding of the game, when combined with his plus overall athleticism results in a playmaking linebacker capable of leading a defense. He'll have to bulk up a bit in order to handle tight spaces on the next level, but his natural playmaking ability will trump his less than ideal size regarding his prospects. If Washington ends up being restated post-draft, then the Cardinals will be pigs in shit by turning a current glaring weakness into a formidable strength (just like the Eagles this offseason!). As the Cardinals' draft clock winds down on April 30th, Kendricks is the prospect that their representative will be rushing to the podium for on because of his pedigree, production, IQ and overall athletic skill set to be the leader of their defense for years to come.
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24) Arizona Cardinals (ItownBallers22) - Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA - [Explanation]
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