Despite recording over 300 tackles in the first three years of his professional career, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks has yet to be recognized with an accolade since being named to the All-Rookie team. That could, and should, change in 2019.
Through 8 games for the now 6-2 Vikings, Kendricks has racked up 68 tackles and a league-leading 10 passes defended. His production hasn’t just been empty tackles, either, Kendricks is currently Pro Football Focus highest rated linebacker against the run.
I looked into the film to see what has made Kendricks such a dominant force and ball magnet to this point in the season.
On this play, the Vikings linebackers shift right due to pre-snap motion. When the ball is snapped, the H-back traps across the formation on the running play known as “split-zone.” Essentially, the offensive line is tasked with running their inside zone blocking, while the H-back pulls to blocks the backside defensive end.
Because of the zone blocking, Kendricks can’t immediately attack the line of scrimmage as the gap he is responsible to fill is moving with the offensive line. Kendricks slow plays it, eventually lowering his upper body to avoid the block from the left tackle. Kendricks bend horizontally down the line of scrimmage, right around the rest of the offensive line, in order to close at an angle that chases down the running back.
The next play also came against the Oakland Raiders, who this time lined up in I-formation. Oakland is trying to run the play known as “Iso,” which is short for isolation. The idea of the play is to isolate a linebacker, and have their fullback block him with the tailback running behind him. The linebacker on this play is Eric Kendricks.
With an “open window” read, meaning both offensive lineman to his side block in different directions, opening a window in-between them, Kendricks gets downhill immediately. Not only does he meet the fullback in the hole, he delivers a hit that drops the fullback to his knees. Kendricks is able to tackle the tailback for a minimal gain because of how quickly he beat the block by the fullback.
Against Green Bay, the Packers offense aligned in a formation with two “extra surfaces,” meaning they had a tight end and two extra H-backs all aligned on the same side. With that entire side of the line on “down” blocks, Kendricks was tasked with replacing the gap to the outside.
This means that Kendricks, aligned over the “A” gap,” needs to get over the top of the blocks and fit outside of Packers tight end Jimmy Graham. As he works over the top, Kendricks sees the Packers left guard pulling across the formation, meaning Kendricks has to fit “off his butt,” or inside of his kickout block. Reading pulling lineman while on the move is no easy task, but Kendricks eventually finds himself right in the hole to meet the running back.
Against the Eagles, Kendricks was tasked with taking on a “base” block from all-pro center Jason Kelce. With the running play designed to hit directly next to this block, this is a difficult task for any linebacker against an offensive lineman the quality of Kelce.
Kendricks reads the block, and is the first one to initiate contact, getting his hands extended into Kelce. With the initial leverage battle won, Kendricks is able to read the backfield while performing a “push-pull” move, meaning he pushes one side while pulling the other, turning Kelce and disengaging from the block.
Finally against Detroit, Kendricks showed off his athletic ability while getting downhill towards the run. With the Lions running a zone blocking scheme, Kendricks attacks the backside “A” gap when he sees that the nose tackle has gained control of the frontside A gap. Kendricks’ speed allows him to penetrate the gap before the offensive lineman is able to reach him, lowering his pads in order to both avoid the block and tackle the running back for a loss.
Eric Kendricks has taken his game to another level this season, against both the run and the pass. However, his calling card will always be his ability to plug the opposing running game in the middle of the Vikings defense.
His athleticism, block destruction and quick reads all lend a hand to his run-stuffing, making him a complete linebacker in that regard. Look for his dominance to continue over the second-half of the season.