When the Eagles and Vikings line up on Sunday, there will be two brothers competing for a spot in this year’s Super Bowl. Both linebackers. Both alumni from West Coast universities. Both drafted in the second round of the NFL draft. The Kendricks brothers, Mychal and Eric, will try and see who the best football player in the family is, as two of the NFL’s best defenses battle it out for the NFC title.
“I mean it’s pretty cool because we’ve been talking all season and kind of talking back and forth about how good our defenses are,” Eric Kendricks said, according to the Star Tribune. “And it helped us get into the position we are.”
Seriously, the career trajectory of these brothers is very similar. The older of the two, Eagles’ LB Mychal Kendricks (27 years), was drafted by Philly in 2012 in the second round of the draft at No. 46 overall. Younger brother, and Vikings’ linebacker Eric Kendricks (25 years), was just a few years behind, being drafted by Minnesota in the second round of the 2015 draft at No. 45 overall — just one spot higher than Mychal.
This will be the second time the two brothers will face off at the next level, the first coming during the 2016 season when the Eagles bested the Vikings 21-10 at home in the Linc. During that matchup, Eric led the Minnesota defense with eight total tackles, with Mychal claiming three total tackles for Philly. The elder brother wasn’t as involved in the defensive game plan in 2016, and should see a big increase in production during this go-around.
Things change fast in the NFL, and just months after fans were calling for his head, Mychal Kendricks was an all-star during the four preseason games in 2017 and suddenly was back in the good graces of Eagles Nation. It was good that he looked as impressive as he did during those preseason matchups, as it likely took some heat off Howie Roseman for signing the LB to a new 4-year contract worth $29 million.
After being drafted by Philadelphia in 2012, Kendricks’ performance has been less than consistent. His second-year (2013) was a career best, with the linebacker claiming 106 total tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and three picks -- a stat line he’s yet been able to replicate. Even with an expected drop off in 2014, Mychal didn’t bounce back, although that was in no small part due to Chip Kelly’s emergence on the scene and a defensive coordinator that did not play to Kendricks’ strengths.
Down and defeated, things were even rougher during the 2016 season, in which the team welcomed head coach Doug Pederson and DC Jim Schwartz. Kendricks only lined up for 26.8% of snaps that season (273), a career-low for a player who averaged almost 750 snaps per season the other five years of his career. With a new defensive scheme to work with, Kendricks was slow on the uptick, but finally caught on this offseason and earned back his spot in the starting lineup. The Eagles’ LB took nearly 60% (612) of the defensive snaps in 2017, a sign of Schwartz’s renewed trust (and of the litany of injuries that blasted the Eagles linebacker corp).
While things could just as quickly shift back, at the very least the Eagles created a much better trade opportunity with the 2017 performance by Kendricks — that is, if they don’t decide to just keep him on roster through his contract.
Still playing on his rookie contract, Eric will hit the free agency market in 2019. This gives the Vikings another season in which to determine if they’d like to offer a longterm, big money deal -- his results over the past three years shouldn’t give the team reason to hesitate for long.
Coming off a career-high season, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Minnesota offered him a new deal early to avoid conflicts down the road. He certainly made a case for a new contract (or extension) having finished the 2017 regular season with 113 total tackles (67 solo), one sack and a Pick-6, along with seven stuffs for 15 yards.
Throughout his first three seasons in the league, Eric Kendricks’ workload has gradually increased. Despite earning a starting role in most of the games his rookie season, he still only lined up for 71% of the snaps. Since then, he was on the field for 84% of snaps in 2016 and 97.6% of snaps in 2017. This season alone he was about game away from breaking 1,000 snaps on the year.
Eric hasn’t quite had the same roller coaster of success as Mychal, but his upward trending performance could lend to a big fall-off next year.
So, which brother is better?
For the Eagles sake I really hope Mychal has a better day than Eric on Sunday at the Linc. The younger Kendricks brother probably has a much higher ceiling for his overall career, but he’s still young in the league and Mychal’s experience could prove useful.
“I always make jokes, I feel like my brother gets a little bit of an advantage as far as who the family roots for because he’s the firstborn,” Eric said, via the Star Tribune. “But it’s all love though.”
Adding a bit of sibling rivalry to an already motivation-filled matchup should keep things interesting long after kick-off.