Those who know Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman know that he doesn’t like to sit still on draft weekend. He moves up. He moves down. Depending on the scenario, he’s always willing to listen – unless he’s locked and loaded on a player he really wants.
Second-round draft pick Eric Kendricks was one of those players. The talented linebacker from UCLA was a borderline first-round prospect, and as he got closer to the Vikings, when the calls and messages from other teams looking to get into the Vikings spot arrived, Spielman wasn’t going to persuaded to move.
“Once Kendricks fell, we had a lot of activity,” Spielman said. “I got a lot of texts, but (said), ‘We’re good. We’ll stay here and take this player.’”
A tackling machine at UCLA, there was a lot that Spielman liked about Kendricks’ game. With a need at linebacker, the Vikings loved the specific skills that Kendricks brings to the table and how his talents can meld into Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme.
“We felt that he was the most instinctive linebacker in this draft,” Spielman said. “We feel he can play Will or Mike (weakside or middle linebacker). He’s very good in coverage. He’s very instinctive against the run. He’s not overly big as far as size, but he’s still over 6-foot and about 235 pounds. He plays very heavy-handed to shed, get off blocks and locate the ball. He has great range from sideline to sideline, has the athletic skill to be a three-down linebacker and we were kind of surprised that he fell to us where we were at.”
With only one inside linebacker prospect off the board when the second round began Friday, there were several prospects that the Vikings potentially could have had an interest in. But from what they had seen in Kendricks, it was a one-man competition. The only concern in Spielman’s mind was that someone might jump in front of the Vikings to take him. When that didn’t happen, calling in the pick was a no-brainer that didn’t take long.
Because there were plenty of factors that separated him from the rest of the inside linebacker crop.
“Watching how he played the game – his instincts, his ability to be a three-down linebacker, his ability to play multiple positions, his character and background that we felt very comfortable with and his intelligence,” Spielman said. “I know Coach Zimmer stresses that we want to have smart, tough, passionate football players and he fit every one of those boxes.”
The Vikings may have inadvertently started their scouting of Kendricks when they were breaking down film on 2014 first-rounder Anthony Barr – not only a teammate, but a roommate of Kendricks. So it came as some surprise when Barr told the local media that neither Spielman nor Zimmer approached Barr to get more insight on Kendricks.
It wasn’t that they didn’t want Barr’s input. It was that they know Barr’s penchant for getting on social media.
“He tweets too much,” Spielman said with a chuckle. “You know how I am about Twitter. Guys that we like we can just say, alright we’re good, we’re not going to mention his name anymore.”
Whether Kendricks becomes the long-term answer at middle linebacker – a position that has been a revolving door in recent years – will be for Zimmer and his staff to decide. But one thing that Spielman is confident in is that he will be a player who has every chance to be great, regardless of his role.
“We know he’s a great football player – there’s no question about that,” Spielman said. “Where he fits in this scheme – I know our coaches feel he can play Mike or Will – he’ll carve his niche out as all these young guys do once they get in here and get going. The coaches will figure out what’s the best fit.”
Vikings Found a Prize in Kendricks
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