All-22: Deploying Mychal Kendricks
When looking for an opinion from Chip Kelly, sometimes simpler is better.
Present a bunch of background information before getting to your question, chances are he’ll get bored and cut you off.
So back in March at the owners meetings when we were looking to get Kelly’s take on Mychal Kendricks, we asked directly for Kelly to evaluate the inside linebacker’s play in 2015.
“When he was healthy, he played really well for us,” Kelly said. “But we missed him for… four games. And the health aspect was a difficult thing. We were a different team without him on the field. But when he played, he played really well for us.”
The answer was peculiar considering the Eagles’ other moves at the position. They had traded LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso, a player who had missed all of 2014 with a knee injury. And they were in the process of extending DeMeco Ryans, a player rehabbing from an injured Achilles’.
Kendricks’ name has surfaced in trade talks multiple times during the offseason. The Eagles took action to make sure Alonso and Ryans would be part of this team for the next couple of years. They also drafted inside linebacker Jordan Hicks in the third round. Meanwhile, there have been no indications that the team is talking extension with Kendricks as he enters the final year of his deal.
Yesterday, reader Dustin asked about Kendricks’ performance in coverage. Perhaps that was a reason the Eagles were a little cool on him?
So we went to the tape for answers. And the truth is, Kendricks was not only very good in coverage, but as the defense fell apart down the stretch last year, he was a true bright spot and played some of the best football of his career.
The games we looked at were Weeks 13 to 16 – a stretch that included two games against the Cowboys, one against the Seahawks and another against Washington. The stakes were high in these games as the Eagles battled for a playoff spot.
In those games, Kendricks allowed a total of two catches for 7 yards in man coverage. If you want to throw in his performance when also in zone, the numbers increase to four catches for 24 yards, and on one of those receptions, he forced a Marshawn Lynch fumble after the catch.
Kendricks did a tremendous job of matching up with running backs, making tackles in space and limiting yards after the catch. Here’s an example against DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys.
Kendricks sticks with Murray out of the backfield and battles to bring him down by the arm short of the first-down marker.
Football Outsiders keeps a stat called success rate defined as “the share of targets on which the defender prevented a successful gain (45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third down).” Kendricks had a 63 percent success rate, which ranked ninth among inside linebackers. Opponents averaged 4.7 yards when targeting him in coverage. That ranked seventh among inside linebackers.
Both numbers were career bests and huge improvements from his first year in Billy Davis’ scheme. In 2013, Kendricks ranked 63rd in success rate and 68th in yards per attempt.
But Kendricks’ true value is in his versatility and athleticism.
In a recent podcast, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com, a former scout for the Eagles, went over his “All Third-Down Team.” And Kendricks’ name came up.
“Mychal Kendricks is very athletic, and as a blitzer coming out, I loved what he could do in there,” Jeremiah said. “And I think in coverage if you want to match up with backs and tight ends, he’s outstanding. That’d be my sleeper.”
Kendricks really provided the pass rush with a boost down the stretch last year. According to Pro Football Focus, he went after the quarterback 26.9 percent of the time on passing plays in 2014. The year before, that number was 20 percent.
And Davis used Kendricks in a variety of ways to get after the QB. Against the Seahawks, he spied Russell Wilson and did an outstanding job. Here’s one example where Kendricks spies Wilson, closes and forces an intentional grounding.
Other times, Kendricks’ intentions are more obvious. Here against Washington, he matches up against left tackle Trent Williams, wins his matchup and sacks Robert Griffin III (who does not do a good job of reacting to the pressure or getting rid of the ball).
Kendricks can win in a variety of ways. Here he comes on a blitz through the A-Gap, blows up the RB and hits Griffin.
And finally, here is Kendricks slithering past the right guard and forcing Griffin to scramble.
Kendricks is not perfect. He will miss some tackles, and his personality might not scream “Chip Kelly Guy.” Maybe there are things behind the scenes we don’t know about. But he’s a difference-maker on the field with elite athleticism and unique versatility.
Davis says the plan is to use Kendricks, Ryans and Alonso during the regular season. Maybe each guy will accept his role, the rotation will work, and they’ll even be featured at the same time in certain packages. It’s also possible that whoever’s not playing as much will be unhappy.
A team could lose an inside linebacker to injury in August and call the Eagles about Kendricks. But given that he only has one year left on his deal, it’s unlikely that the Birds would receive attractive compensation. So for now, expect him to be a part of the team this season.
If the Eagles choose to have Kendricks play out 2014 before letting him walk in free agency, it’s likely that the linebacker will have a good amount of suitors around the NFL on the open market.