Minnesota Vikings sophomore spotlight: Eric Kendricks

Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks proved to be a vital piece of the team's defense as a rookie, but his long-term position on the team may still be undecided.

The Minnesota Vikings had 10 picks in the 2015 NFL draft. One year after their selection, it’s time to look back on their careers before joining the Vikings, their rookie seasons and a preview of what lies ahead of them during their sophomore seasons. 

Even though a lot of people felt it was necessary for the Minnesota Vikings to start addressing the offensive side of the ball in the 2015 draft, they elected to go defense in the first round with Trae Waynes. They then followed that up by going defense once again in the second round, selecting UCLA middle linebacker Eric Kendricks at No. 45 overall. 

Before the Vikings

Kendricks originally joined UCLA in 2010, but redshirted his first year on campus. He then played in all 14 games in 2011, including three starts. He went on to lead his team in total tackles the next three seasons, amassing a total of 481 tackles and adding on 10 sacks, five interceptions, seven passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery during his career. He led the nation in tackles as a senior (145) and went on to win the Butkus Award that year, which is an annual award given to the top college linebacker.

What analysts said

"Kendricks is an intelligent leader with high football character. Scouts don't see the same explosiveness in Eric as they see in his brother Mychal (Eagles LB), but they do see the same level of production and desire. Eric Kendricks plays with plus instincts against the run and pass. He has the athleticism and demeanor to be an impactful, productive outside linebacker in a 4-3 for years to come." - NFL.com bottom line 


"Kendricks, who is leaving UCLA with a ton of tackles (481) to his name, comes from a very athletic family; his father, Horace, led UCLA in rushing in 1970 and '71, and his brother, Mychal, plays linebacker for the Eagles. Eric Kendricks is very instinctive, which is crucial at the linebacker position. He also has the competitiveness needed to go along with that instinctiveness." - Gil Brandt, NFL.com

"Kendricks set a UCLA record with 481 tackles by using a seek-and-attack style during his four-year career. He had 10 sacks and five interceptions. Kendricks' performance as a senior earned him the Butkus Award and the Lott Impact Trophy. He was also named second-team All-American by the Associated Press." - Chris Foster, LA Times

"He has some limitations and needs to consistently control his play speed, but his read/react quickness and athleticism project him as a three-down WILL or MIKE linebacker who should start in the NFL for a long time if he stays healthy - borderline first-round grade." - Dane Brugler, CBS Sports

2015 season

Kendricks made his presence known from the first time he took to the practice field during the team's rookie minicamp. His success would then carry over into organized team activities, minicamp, training camp and the preseason. He earned the Day 1 job as one of the two linebackers in the nickel package, but was not named the starting linebacker. 

That job was given to Gerald Hodges, but it wouldn't last long. The Vikings traded Hodges during their Week 5 bye, which meant that the starting middle linebacker job then belonged to Kendricks, and he never looked back. 

He ended up playing in 14 regular season games, missing two because of a rib injury, and still ended up leading the team with 92 tackles. He added on four sacks and one pass defensed. There are still areas of his game that he needs to work on, but Kendricks proved to be an important part of the Vikings defense after just one season. 

2016 outlook

This will likely be an interesting season for Kendricks and it could end up deciding where he ends up playing down the road. When the Vikings drafted Kendricks, head coach Mike Zimmer said the plan could be to eventually move him to the weak side. After a great rookie season as the middle linebacker, though, it seems unlikely that they would choose to move him. 

If he continues to play well and improve, it would make sense to keep him in the middle of the defense and have someone like Emmanuel Lamur take over for Chad Greenway, on the weak side, whenever Greenway retires. The Vikings did draft Kentrell Brothers, though, and seem high on him as a middle linebacker, so Zimmer’s original plan may still be in place.  


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